Amanda Went To SXSW and This Is What Happened. PART 1

by | Apr 28, 2010 | MUSIC

I arrived in Austin a day early in an attempt to learn my way around town before the official showcases began. The bus ride from the airport was fairly short and cheap – $1. That beats the $30+ I could have paid for a taxi by far. After getting settled in my hotel room my friend and I registered at the Convention Center and got Pho at Mekong on Sixth Street. Cheap, delicious, filling, but mostly cheap.

I arrived in Austin a day early in an attempt to learn my way around town before the official showcases began. The bus ride from the airport was fairly short and cheap – $1. That beats the $30+ I could have paid for a taxi by far. After getting settled in my hotel room my friend and I registered at the Convention Center and got Pho at Mekong on Sixth Street. Cheap, delicious, filling, but mostly cheap.


Afterward I made my way to an outdoor venue that not only had cheap beer, but free margaritas, both made listening to Black Cock all the more pleasant. They were fronted by Whitney Lee, and it was less hardcore, and more screeching. But I had a free margarita, so it didn’t matter. Black Cock was followed by Cartwright a southern-rock, grunge band. It was during their set that the venue started to fill in, and the line for free margaritas began to grow. They and Black Cock were both from Austin and were a welcome introduction to the city’s music scene.


Later that night, DD/MM/YYYY (day month year) from Toronto played. Their sound is what I imagine putting any average indie mini-orchestra through the washing machine would sound like. They each played several instruments and moved around the stage through their set. The synthesizers didn’t dominate, but complimented the other instruments. The abrupt warbling was accompanied by backing harmonies creating what could have been a house party jam session, but with a better sound system.

To close the night, or maybe it was just the last band I saw that night, but The Daredevil Christopher Wright from Wisconsin played their take on folk pop. It was slow and ethereal and the audience was in a drunken haze as they moved from side to side. The weather that first night seemed to magnify the sounds and feelings being shared by everyone. And it was at some point while I was taking part in all of this that I lost my Music Badge and complained to my friend about it all the way back to our hotel.

I think I slept for about twelve hours. I didn’t make it out of my hotel that Wednesday until at least two, and even then, it was with a liter of Pedialyte in hand. I first made my way back to the venue of the previous night’s debauchery. They of course, did not have my music badge, or my lens cover. So, I made my way back to the Convention Center to see if it had been turned in. No dice. Thankfully, I had a friend who had an extra day pass.

Note to the reader: You don’t need to purchase a badge or a wristband, I just did so that I would have access to everything. If you decide to go just for the music, you can see any band you want, for free, during the day or at a house show on the East Side. And if you want to get into an official showcase you can, but you have to pay the cover and wait in line for longer than those with badges and wristbands.

Jukebox The Ghost

After interviewing Jukebox the Ghost, I stopped by the help desk for the second time that day. Again, to no avail. This was looking bad.

I made my way back “home” to my hotel. This was something that everyone started to do, your hotel became “home” and whoever you were staying with became you “roommate.” I was going to make dinner of some granola bars when I got a call from my next interviewee asking if I was hungry.

After departing I went to the Convention Center for the third time that day in hopes that my music badge would have been turned in. It was not. But the man, the very generous man, at the desk decided to be nice, “because it’s been a long day, I’m tired, I’m hungry and I want to go home.” He gave me an artist’s wristband, which is essentially the same thing as having a badge – it allows access to everything the badge would have. And he gave it to me for free. To replace my badge would have cost $600.

The Middle East

With my new wristband I made my way to the Brooklyn Vegan showcase to see The Middle East. The Australian band is more than a band, they may as well be an orchestra. I counted a total of thirteen instruments used throughout their set. They moved about stage with calm quickness to pass and play something new. The calm quickness became the embodiment of their set. They were alert, as was their audience, but the anticipation was not anxious. Patience is not something that you encounter at “it” band’s shows. But it was there, and as they began and ended each heartbreaking song, the audience swayed and closed their eyes and moved up and down with the chorus. The band’s words were brief, there was no banter and they didn’t try to turn reverence into a party, and by then end of their six song set, the only interruption came from a fan shouting “BEST SONG EVER” during the intro to ‘Blood’ that was followed by a short applause of agreement. The remainder of their first single returned to the calmness to close their set.

Frightened Rabbit

Afterward I made my way to the Scottish Arts Council showcase to see Frightened Rabbit. I waited in line for just under an hour before I finally made it in. They were halfway through their set. They were playing ‘Old Fashioned’ off 2008’s Midnight Organ Fight and the audience was a jumble of sweat and spilled beer. Such is a Frightened Rabbit show. Scott Hutchinson cuts in before they play ‘Nothing Like You’ with “We did a fucking video crap version of the Killers, it was picked by MTV.” Heads turn in an effort to understand through his thick accent. During the song he changes the line “I find I’ve come in a dream again” to “I saw the cunt in a dream again.” From there they slow it down and Scott begins ‘Backwards’ walk solo before the rest of the band breaks the near silence. They close with ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ another crowd favorite and what quickly turns into a sing-along as everyone shouts “it takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm!”

On my walk back to my hotel I found a lost Irishman who had been walking in the wrong direction for an hour. His name was Craig and he had left a show earlier than his bandmates and had assured them that he would meet them back at their hotel, instead he found a stone wall about a block from my hotel to perch on. We walked back to my hotel where a taxi driver was able to read the directions he had and take him home.

Marianne Dissard

The next morning, Thursday morning, I was running late to meet with Marianne Dissard at the Convention Center. I called her to tell her what I was wearing and she did the same, “a headscarf and bright pants.” They were bright and flowed and so bohemian. She epitomized the word as she ordered her coffee and explained how she had seen the greatest band the night before and stayed out dancing in the street. She didn’t hold back, there was no question, no detail too personal.

After interviewing Marianne Dissard, I headed over to the East Side of the city. This is where most of the day shows happened and if you weren’t registered for SXSW you probably spent most of your time there. It’s Austin’s version of a “bad” neighborhood at night, it’s also where college students gather in group houses.

We get cut off and she has to get ready for her set. When she takes the stage she is just as chatty with the audience. “I would like to make a special thinks to the sun, but not really, it’s a fake thanks…Thank God the sun is warming my beer.” She speaks and sings with the same raspy voice, it’s charming and real. Her 1950’s attire is contrasted sharply by the rest of her band, all of whom seem to have kept with the same grunge attire since 1994. The audience is small, but interested and quickly drinking their Lonestars before the sun warms theirs too. Most of what they play is off Do You Want Power. “So Say So” and “No home” seem particularly popular as the crowd aptly bobbed their heads. Their set was short, but displayed their skill set despite the lacking sound system.

I had made plans with a friend to meet up for dinner and we ended up at the Hilton Hotel bar where I overheard this gem, “Jay-Z, famous as fuck, rich as fuck. 50 Cent, famous as fuck, rich as fuck. Successful people, those are the people that influenced me, successful people, if you aren’t successful, why are you here?” Apparently this dude is successful. I didn’t interrupt his interview to get his name, but I really hope he puts those words in his next single.

After dinner, I made my way to Central Presbyterian Church for Sally Seltmann formerly known as New Buffalo. The Australian songstress had just started playing ‘Emotional Champ’ a song so simple, but so honest of lost love. As I took a seat in one of the pews, I became aware of everyone’s stillness. Seltmann’s voice is soft and struggles for the high notes – it only added to the intimacy. ‘Harmony to my Heartbeat’ built steadily as she lead her band in. She followed with ‘Misery’ a song she wrote while feeling homesick on tour on the West Coast of the U.S. She is humble and slightly uncomfortable on stage. She relays a story about how she had to go to a police station to identify a man after catching him break into her neighbor’s house, “All those sad faces, I felt sorry for them.” That was the inspiration behind ‘Heart that’s Pounding’ the title track on her next album and the closing song for her set. The audience has stayed with her the entire time, it was a break from the bustle downtown.

Each night had a list of shows that I wanted to catch, it included several choices for each hour, just in case I couldn’t get into my first choice. Seltmann was first string that Thursday night, so was Marina and the Diamonds. Marina was set to play across town, like way across town, at midnight. I figured that there would be a long line so I headed over a little early. Forty minutes later I was at the venue and there was no line, apparently everyone else knew how far away this venue was.

It wasn’t like any of the other venues I had been in that week. It was a proper family restaurant downstairs with a bar and stage upstairs. On my way up the stairs I was stopped and told that I could not take my camera in and that only photographers with SXSW issued photography badges for their cameras could take a camera upstairs. Well, I wasn’t going to miss this show. So, I asked the bartender downstairs if they could put my camera behind the bar, the only place they were willing to put it was within reach of anyone who would want to take it. A man sitting down the bar told me to go up the back. What? The back, the back stairs. Won’t that look suspicious? No, act like you’re going to the bathroom. There’s not a restroom downstairs. THANK YOU TOWNIE! I stuffed my camera in my already full bag, walked outside and around the back, and went up the stairs, to the bathroom and then to the stage.

It was perfect. If I had come up the front stairs I would have had to push my way through a packed crowd. This way put me right next to the stage.

The current performer was a boy wearing very tight, but low slung jeans and a t-shirt he had cut into a very deep V, and if this wasn’t bad enough, he was wearing several large necklaces. He was exactly the type of person who I could imagine being really popular in high school, he played lacrosse, and performed – and won- the talent show every year, not because he was talented, but because he was popular. And since then people have just gone with it because the after parties were always fun. These people need to stop going along with it. His fratty, hip-hop was terrible, though, his band was incredibly talented. It was bizarre to see such talented musicians working with someone so obviously untalented. The crowd didn’t seem to care though. They were eating it up.

By the end of the set my friend who had provided me with a day pass the previous day showed up. He is much taller than I am, and I explained my camera dilemma and how it would be great if he could block the security’s view of me. To which, for the second time that week, he saved my ass. He pulled a photographer badge out and gave it to me, because oh, he just happened to have it. I attached it to my camera and waited patiently for Marina to take the stage.

It was sometime during the shuffle that a very short man, that looked exactly like the oompa loompa from the Johnny Depp “Willy Wonka” had somehow found his way next to me. He was the most inebriated person I encountered that entire week. And while I was speaking with the band as they were setting up, he felt the need to tell me not to, that I was somehow a distraction. Just before Marina took stage, the security moved him to a place not so close to the stage.

She, accompanied by several security men, made her way to the stage in a lamb sweater – the hood had the lamb’s face and ears on it. She opened with ‘Girls’ and followed with ‘Seventeen’ before greeting her “American jewels.” She reminded that crowd that, “I am Marina, you are the diamonds.” Her brand of bubblegum pop was only emphasized by her outfit. In addition to the lamb sweater she was wearing Planet Hollywood overalls (rolled up) over a skimpy black tank top with five inch, black pumps – something only a true pop star could have pulled off.

She was humble and somehow managed to make everyone else think that they were somehow the life of the party that she was so obviously the center of. ‘I Am Not A Robot’ started slowly, slower than on the album, and before breaking into the chorus she pulled out a disposable camera and snapped pictures of all her diamonds. Her charm has officially convinced everyone that she would be interested in being their best friend. “How many of you just heard of me?” she states with a confused confidence. “For those of you who have known my music for the past year, this is ‘Obsessions.’” She takes a seat at the keyboard, an instrument that she has only been playing a few short years – you wouldn’t know it- and the crowd quiets, but maintains a steady sway as she sings about the things we hide.

Her voice is low and sultry and she works this into her set, especially during ‘Hollywood.’ “It’s not just a song guys, I really am obsessed with America,” she says about her song of all things stereotypically American. I look around and this is obviously a favorite; behind me Perez Hilton is singing along and surprisingly not drawing more attention to himself.

She closes with ‘Mowgli’s Road’ and briefly interrupts herself, “People in the back! I can’t see you clapping. Come on! It’s South by Southwest!” The clapping gets louder, and she goes back to her cuckooing.

After Marina leaves the stage Perez Hilton is swarmed, but again keeps his cool. For someone who has such an outrageous online personality, he is incredibly laid back in person. After having him sign various scraps of paper and take a picture with them, the fans slowly make their way out.

Yes Giantess

By the time Yes Giantess comes on, the room is mostly empty. The electro-pop group from Boston is easy to dance to, but lacks any substance. Though, that’s not what they’re going for. Their sound is so obviously ripping off Michael Jackson, one can only imagine that he is rolling in his grave (or is he?). The vocalist is even wearing a Michael Jackson shirt and imitates his dancing style. It begins to grain on the ears of those who have stuck around by the third song. Despite their energy on stage, the audience grows bored and slowly trickles out. By the end of their thirty minute set there are maybe twenty people left, most of which are closing their tabs at the bar.

I have found some friends from LA whom I haven’t seen in over a year and we decide to walk to the Pure Volume party. By the time we make it, the line is long, and people are leaving and I’m tired. After being told repeatedly that I am 1.) Not drunk enough and 2.) Partying weird, I make my way back to my hotel, thoroughly pleased with how my week is shaping up.


RVA Staff

RVA Staff

Since 2005, the dedicated team at RVA Magazine, known as RVA Staff, has been delivering the cultural news that matters in Richmond, VA. This talented group of professionals is committed to keeping you informed about the events and happenings in the city.

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