A few blocks down the road from The Yard Dog, funk music from an outdoor stage filled the air on the surrounding streets. It was The Soul Rebels performing at a day showcase titled “The Morning After Party”. Dressed semi-uniformly in camouflage pants and shorts, the eight-piece brass band kept an active audience who couldn’t stop moving along with them.
An advance RSVP was required to get in, but the event was otherwise totally free. Durable cloth bracelets comparable to what you’d receive at a three-day festival were attached to the wrists of approved party-goers. In keeping with the event’s theme, bloody marys, screwdrivers, and mimosas completed the three-item menu of drinks available behind the bar.
The Lone Below closed out the party with the last performance of the day. Their music was reminiscent of Mumford and Sons’ modern vintage pop sound, but with a greater focus on stripped down harmonized vocals. The sophisticated three-piece folk band from New York was accompanied by a drummer and upright bass player for this, their 13th or 14th (they really couldn’t remember) show of the week. Ailed by sore throats and a general lack of sleep, the band polled the audience for the highest number of shows seen in the week to discover who was as equally wearied.
Later, still hanging out in the SoCo District, I found myself at Freddie’s Place for dinner to interview the second Indiana band of the day. Sitting at a table on the outdoor patio surrounded by families out for an evening meal, it became apparent that this was an establishment that had managed to escape the clutches of SXSW tourism- a haven for the locals, if you will. When, Not If (formerly of Muncie, but now also locals to Austin) stood on a decorative, hand-painted stage that overlooked Freddie’s sprawling patio playing acoustic music with their guitars.
Travis Deardorff, vocalist and lead guitarist, explains, “We started When, Not If with just the two of us playing acoustic guitars. We’re back to that point now. Band members have come and gone. We’ve had horns, keys, and now we’re back to the roots of a couple of acoustic guitars.”
Vocalist and rhythm guitarist Steve Hopkins adds, “Our bass player Grady Ray is still in Muncie but he should be heading this way eventually.”
It’s not been an easy transition, either. Hopkins recalls the fan base they had built in Muncie and the familiar faces they were guaranteed to see at every show. Taking up root in a new city has forced the pair to work hard at cultivating a following in their new home city.
“In a lot of ways it’s a grass roots movement,” says Hopkins. “We’re trying to make two or three fans at a time. We enjoy the challenge and know it’s an uphill battle, but we’re ready for it. We’re excited about the opportunity.”
Based on their experience through that transition When, Not If encourages aspiring bands to follow their ambitions wherever it may take them.
Deardorff concludes, “Stay the course. Don’t stray. It’s tough when only your girlfriends and the other band’s girlfriends are watching you. You just gotta stay true to yourself and stay true to the music.”
We spent another hour reminiscing with the band about Indiana and the local music scene, as well as making comparisons between The Hoosier State and the friendly, musical mecca of Austin. Another hour later, we traveled downtown with Deardorff to check in on the rambunctious night time activities of Sixth Street. Having trouble differentiating between the endless venues and countless bands inside of them, we took a gamble on a bar called Friends and paid the unavoidable $10 cover.
The lesson I learned was twofold:
- Without a badge or wristband, it is not fiscally smart to barhop on Friday and Saturday night at SXSW. Pick a spot, pay your dues, and stay for the long haul.
- Do not arbitrarily wander into an event and expect the odds to be in your favor. I lost the bet at Friends and found myself in the middle of a Canadian showcase with a punk rock band named “Single Mothers” fronted by a man missing his front teeth. Do your research, consult your Twitter feed, and make an informed decision before blowing your money on an obscure show you know nothing about.
Stay tuned for the conclusion of SXSW 2013!