Dan the Automator (photo: Ian Young)
It was cheaper to fly in a few days early, so I did some road-tripping around Texas for a few days prior. I was way ahead of schedule to drop off the rental car at the airport, so I thought I’d try to drive downtown to pick up my press badge on the way.
Whoa. Wow. No.
I basically got off the freeway into bumper-to-bumper traffic, and once I was finally able to turn a corner toward downtown…
A wall of people. So many people. Barricades. Police horses. People with lanyards swinging from their necks swerving around recklessly on scooters. Festival staff slowly approaching their last nerve.
I bailed on the next open street I could find and went straight to the airport, panic setting in.
But I couldn’t avoid it forever. After all, I have a duty to you, dear reader, to capture this experience in text. So after dropping my stuff of at the Airbnb I eventually made my way back.
The first hour consisted of just walking around (and eating the first thing I could find, seeing how the most substantial thing I had had that day was a cinnamon roll and latte at 8:30am — it was a slice of pizza from a kiosk on the street, and it was pretty bad), trying to get the lay of the land. I finally forced myself to walk in somewhere that didn’t look too crowded — the British Music Embassy (in the off-season, Latitude 30).
On was a perfectly passable English interpreter of the American blues tradition, Willie J Healey. His set was a bit of a departure from his regular catalog, which, as I understand it, is a little more laid-back. And maybe that’s why, more than paying attention to the show, I was looking around the room at all the insignia from Britain’s Department of International Trade, insisting the spot was to foster musical exchange between the the US and Britain. But, I gotta say, it’s weird being in a place bent on improving the ease with which we import Britain’s musical talent while they’re on the brink of Brexit.
The music festivities haven’t really gotten off the ground yet, so I just bounced around from venue to venue, based on mild interest and sometimes proximity — Gurr, whom I stumbled upon in a similar fashion at my first Airwaves, Quivers (all the way from Tasmania!) at Cheer Up Charlie’s, and Zola Jesus and Cautious Clayin the Patreon tent, where my view was compromised by poor stage design. Zola’s vocals were powerful and affecting, but I didn’t even know what she looked like until I saw Ian’s photos.
A few discoveries on Day 1 of SXSW.
SXSW Surprise #1: First surprise discovery goes to Philadelphia rockers, Godcaster, delivering a gleefully raucous set of jangly, funky, and discordant indie rock at The Volstead.
SXSW Surprise #2: The rock duo from Austin, Being Dead, has already earned multiple viewings. The multi-instrumentals packed in a crowd with with their lo-fi, but high flying sound and live show on back to back nights at Hotel Vegas.
SXSW Surprise #3: The Beef Curry at Domo Alley-Gato Tatsu-ya. When your timing is off and you miss the last band’s performance, find solace with this delicious comfort food.
Surprise #4: Must be something in the air here in Austin, but Texas locals, Sweet Spirit, definitely garnered deserved attention with their rollicking early day set at Mohawk. Kudos to lead singer, Sabrina Ellis, for amping the glam and charisma to the max.
Surprise #5: One can survive on Lone Stars and Topo Chicos alone.
SXSW Non-Surprise #1: Oh Sees put on a tremendous show.
Brisket sandwich and mac and cheese: The line for the Oh Sees at Hotel Vegas wrapped around the block and despite my best efforts to press pass my way in I wasn’t having any luck. So I did what any good journalist would do and crossed the street to eat this beast of a brisket sandwich instead.
Lia Lia: Chinese German-born 18-year-old Lia Lia played the CaoTai Music Showcase with a handful of other Chinese artists. Alone on stage, Lia Lia’s smooth delivery and confidence, paired with her undeniably catchy songs, quickly won over the crowd.
Dan the Automator: Bay Area legend Dan the Automator closed out day one (at least for this tired photographer) with a set that could only be described as fun. Spinning everything from the Gorillaz to ’90s hip-hop, the crowd was eating up everything Dan was dishing out.