Tuesday, March 23, 2010

SXSW Adventures 2010 (part 1)

It seems absurd on the surface, but I actually made the trip to SXSW as a means of relaxation. Looking at the various schedules of conferences, films and live music events was anything but relaxing, and figuring out exactly how I was going to navigate this behemoth of a festival ended up stressing me out all over again.

I had planned on spending the day before my flight assembling a matrix of events I’d like to see so I’d have an easy to reference road map of what interested me, thus narrowing down the infinite options to a manageable handful or three.

Yeah, right.

My focus was on anything but filtering all the information I had stumbled upon, so in the end I simply marked up a printout of a spreadsheet of unofficial events, referred back to the official SXSW web site when I could, and winged all the rest. Though I missed a few shows I would have liked to have attended (not to mention any and all films that looked interesting to me – maybe next time), approaching SXSW with a loose idea of what I’d like to see and an “anything goes” attitude for everything in between seemed to be exactly what the week called for. And being that I was staying with my friend Josh the whole week, keeping things loose made sense in that regard too. It allowed us a balance between going out and chilling out that might not have been as easy to get into had I ended up sharing a hotel with hardcore festival goers.

I considered the hotel option, but that only would have worked if this was a work trip. I made no plans to cover this festival in any way, and even though this post kind of does that, it kind of doesn’t either. As you’re about to see, my view from the ground is pretty modest in terms of following the pulse of the festival compared to other accounts you’ll read.

Tuesday the 16th was the day I arrived, and rather than head straight into the action, I started off the week away from the fray, with a guitar in my hand. After Josh and I rendezvoused with our friends Nate and Levi for some dinner, we headed back to Levi’s place for a little jamming. We mostly stuck to simple two chord progressions, with Nate setting the tone on an electric keyboard, Levi fleshing out the sound on piano, and Josh switching between another electric keyboard and sharing the piano with Levi. I stuck to acoustic guitar, picking out melodies, scales and progressions to complement the hypnotic minor chords flowing all around me. This went on for a good long while, though I couldn’t really say how long. Time stood still I suppose. Suffice to say, it was a great little session that left me feeling higher than any recreational substance might have achieved. I really couldn’t have imagined a better start to the week.

While Josh took care of some business during the day on Wednesday, I got my first taste of the many completely free daytime shows that were happening all week. First stop was at the Red Eyed Fly, where I ran into all three of the Happy Hollows during and after an awesome set by The Henry Clay People on the Red Eyed Fly’s outside stage. The Henry Clay People are an L.A. band whose name has been dropped around me numerous times, and it's funny that it took a trip to Austin for me to finally see them. They had that fire in their belly, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be seeing them again on the west coast.

Of course I knew the Happy Hollows would be at the Red Eyed Fly (it was the first of eight shows they played in Austin that week), so I made a point of being there to show some support and congratulate them on all the success they’ve had so far (most recently, they had a brief cameo appearance the previous night on ABC’s Parenthood). But before their set (which was typically awesome, no need for me to gush any more than I already do), the Austin band Brazos played a short but impressive set on the inside stage. They’re a trio, like many of the indie rock bands playing the festival, and though I don’t remember many specifics about their set, I can say that for a trio, they had an intriguing mix of subdued vibes and semi-confident energy. I’d see them again for sure.

Not taking notes didn’t serve me well for the last band I saw at the Red Eyed Fly before meeting back up with Josh, but I was moved in a very positive direction by the lead singer’s pronouncement of death to that terrible old feeling called fear. His invective encouraged me to stab that invisible beast a few more times in the heart, and as you’d imagine, a good rest would be needed after such a purging. And that’s just what the rest of the night had in store – chilling out, talking, resting and relaxing. There would be a ton more to come.

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