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!
Thursday began at The Dizzy Rooster on 6th Street as part of The Take Off Tour 2013. The bar was not packed at all, but a small crowd had assembled in front of the stage where Minnesota’s Heatbox was set up to perform his one man band show. His management team enthusiastically greeted us at the door and coerced me to sign up for the mailing list in exchange for a free CD of his newest material, Get Some Love.
It had been nearly three years since I first saw Heatbox at Summercamp 2010 and while I was secretly hoping to hear him bust out my best memory of that set, “I Need A Jack and Coke”, it was great to hear fresh music from his unique one-man-band. Seamlessly transitioning from bebop and groove to quirky sound effects-laden hip hop with little more than a loop machine and his mouth, Heatbox entertains on multiple fronts.
He closed with a hilarious new song called “Ladies Room” that graphically explains how he was banned from a mall for using one; it’s raunchy hip hop pop at it’s best.
The Tumbleweed Wanderers at Jackolope
After a quick check of my Twitter stream flooded with SXSW tweets, I took action on a recommendation from Jambase who were hosting a party a few doors down the street at The Jackalope. By the time we got there a soulful rock and roll band dusted in 60’s psychedelia called The Tumbleweed Wanderers were performing.
The Jackalope’s stage was rather small and its dance floor even smaller, tucked in the far corner of the room and largely obstructed by a central bar serving both sides of the same expansive room. The free alcohol thing you hear so much about at SXSW isn’t a lie, although I found it to be far less frequent than originally expected (see opening article, “Welcome to Austin”, about having no expectations). The Jackalope was serving free beer though, and it was a pale ale nonetheless. We stayed for two rounds and finished out The Tumbleweed Wanderers’ set before moving outside to explore more of 6th Street.
Here’s a fun video the band made while they were in Austin. After watching it, see my opening article (linked above) for a protip on catching a cab in Austin during SXSW.
One of my favorite things to do at SXSW was to wander 6th Street during the day with no specific objective. It’s a little less chaotic, several hundred fewer people are out, and the crowd is much less drunk during the day, so navigating the streets is significantly more relaxing and enjoyable. Soaking up the hot Texas sun while watching street performers became a regular pastime during my stay in Austin.
Over the course of the week, I managed to find all of the following performing along 6th Street:
- Charly & Margaux (Brooklyn) – this eye-catching pair of string composers returned to Austin for their second year at SXSW armed with a game plan to get their music into the hands of festival goers. Their tactics included an afternoon street performance, mobile iPad listening parties, and the creating of a wall mural, all of which can be seen in the video below.
- Kao=S (Japan) – a Japanese rock band (the first I’ve ever seen!) performing with authentic homeland instruments called Tsugaru-Syamisen and Shakuhachi. These instruments, paired with an acoustic guitar and the liquid movement of professional sword performer and actress Kaori Kawabuchi, captured the curious attention of many who passed by the street corner on which they were performing. (Seen here: https://vine.co/v/bdO7MVAr9FB – be sure to unmute it!)
- Although not a day performance, this band of percussionists marching down 6th Street on Saturday night was one of the biggest crowd draws I saw all week. The troop attracted so many lively fans following them down that street that the blob of people could be seen and heard from blocks away. (Seen here: https://vine.co/v/bdl1TmQmidU)
- Muncie’s own When, Not If looking like the Midwestern hippies that they are, playing acoustic tunes on the corner of busy Congress Avenue in downtown Austin. (seen here: vine.co/v/bdg2vYTTDPt)
- This guy, juggling knives while balancing on a rolling platform: https://vine.co/v/bdhhPb9ZLmq
- The Ugly Club
For a recap of my first day at SXSW, check out Partying with Sonos & Falling in Love With Oregon