A Freelancer's Guide to Must-See SXSW Shows


The South by Southwest music festival in Austin is a Cerberus, sprouting multiple heads in various locales for each one lopped off. It's a labyrinthine excursion through the small, congested Texas capital wherein, year after year, the myriad music blogs of the internet take form and walk en masse, usually around 6th St. or Red River.

It's a week-long aural adventure where no one can possibly have the same experience, a test of character and a microcosm of the speciality of human existence (if one is willing to get that deep with it). It could be amazing, or the total pits, for the $950 badge holders, just as much as it can rule or be the equivalent of a week-long Donald Trump presidency for the broke crashing-on-the-friend's-couch-running-through-Showlist-Austin (or a handy dandy article like this in your friendly, neighborhood alt-weekly) and Do512 to RSVP to eeeeeeeevvvvveeeeeerrrrrrrryyyyyyttttthhhhhhhiiiiiiunnnnnnggggggg; theater, bar, parking garage, gutted out mall store alike.

Thus, it's also a week where planning is key, all up until it isn't. So here's what I, a kind-of vet at this, schlepping up to Austin for the better part of a decade like a swallow to Capistrano, am thinking I might see this year.

For the last four years, the jazz blog I edit, Nextbop, puts on an unofficial day party of jazz acts – because it's kind of silly that in a music festival that engulfs a city, no one has done this before. The Jazz for the Masses day party on the east side at El Sapo on 1900 Manor Road, otherwise known as El Sapo Turns 2!, features a couple groups out of Kansas, City, Missouri who bring a heavy groove: The Project H and Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle, Spain's Maureen Choi Quartet – wherein Choi plays a mean violin – San Antonio's own free-jazz freakout, The Whale (who have played this show every year), Seattle free-jazz duo Bad Luck and New Orleans' shredding weirdo Cliff Hines' experimental outfit, KL¥PH. It'll be a full day, definitely not what you hear everyday, and bound to be interesting and not that jazz you think about when the word comes up.

Otherwise, this is a week dedicated to discovery. It's a week where there are so many acts one may have never heard of that figuring out what to see could best be judged through peripheral awareness, the essence of I-have-read-that-name-somewhere-I-should-go-see-that. Were I not throwing an event that serves as an annual capstone to my jazz reputation, I'd probably be trying to see my Canadian hip-hop jazz friends, BADBADNOTGOOD, in one of their few shows in Austin this go around, likely at Lagunitas' CouchTrippin' party at Scoot Inn. Or perhaps surf rock bums The Blank Tapes at Carousel Lounge at 2:30pm, or psychedelic freak Shmu, one half of Zorch and with brand new material, at Wonderland at 4:30pm, or the always uproarious Thee Oh Sees in one of their numerous shows that week, one of which is at Hotel Vegas at 6pm, and maybe come back to see Nobunny at 1:15am. What I'm saying is Wednesday has a lot of options for what is essentially just after the early start.

From Thursday onward, one must find peace with the plan, with the two or three ideas in a timeslot and the notion that one can barely see a fraction of one's plans, if one planned at all. Should I see Austin's best guitarist, Jonathan Horne at Beerland? Or actually try to see The Blank Tapes at Obsolete Industries on E. 12th at 7:20pm as opposed to Basketball Shorts at 7pm at The Brixton on E. 6th? The constant chill atmosphere of Spiderhouse Ballroom will host The Rich Hands, but the constant chill atmosphere of the Music for Listeners parties at the aforementioned El Sapo will have Hinds, one of the big bands worth talking about, in probably the easiest and most intimate show they'll have that week at 6pm, though their 4:20pm set at The Container Bar should be cool, too.

On Friday, the curiosity surrounding the idea that Bloc Party is still, like, a thing, is too much to not investigate Empire Garage at 5pm. Try being there already for the somewhat less Up, Up, Up though still talented Givers at 4:30pm next door at Empire Control Room. Speaking of anachronistic curiosities, Deftones is also still around and playing SPIN's party at Stubb's at 3pm, followed by Vince Staples at 3:40pm and CHVRCHES at 4:10pm. If that major publication party with mad long lines isn't your cup of tea, Pitchfork has one, too, at Barracuda on E. 7th with Waxahatchee at 2:20pm, Anderson.Paak and the Free Nationals (another one of those acts worth seeing this year) at 3:20pm and Chairlift at 4:05pm who are sure to please. Closing out with the band that's seemingly everywhere lately (but I still keep missing), Golden Dawn Arkestra at Sahara Lounge on Webberville Road may change things up a bit.

By Saturday, Austin is a madhouse. Day 4 exhaustion is setting in. There are plans, there are friends, there are performances and the like, but everything seems to be on some bacchanal autopilot. One could go see Peelander-Z and No Age at Fun Fun Fun Fest's party at Mohawk, or Har Mar Superstar at The North Door at 4:30pm, or Nina Diaz, Golden Dawn Arkestra, or Thao & the Get Down Stay Down at Hotel San Jose, but that all kind of depends on the moment and proximity to non-frilly tacos. One may hear about how Zettajoule is one of the best bands in Austin (and super awesome friends who always let me crash at their house when I'm in town), and their SouthBy appearances are like a rare bird sighting, so their Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. set on W. Oltorf should definitely ping your radar.

Of course, none of this may matter at all. This is all a microcosm of some schedule that can shift and change. Such is SXSW and our own little place in it, because plans are great all up until the moment when they're absolutely useless in the face of the machinations of the universe, or the Austin festival scene.

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