Up until several days ago, only a handful of people probably knew the great country singer would give a keynote on Friday. And up until only a few days ago, those same people probably knew he would perform a free concert on Saturday for badgeholders and Austin residents. Although once he was confirmed as a speaker, it would have been difficult to believe he wasn’t going to perform in some fashion.
As a lifelong Brooks fan, Friday’s goal was to get a good photo of the man.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t invited to Brooks’ early press conference, which included some supposedly tense moments regarding Kelly Dearmore’s question about Brooks’ strong stance against individual download offerings. Instead, I was able to take a few photos during the early minutes of his afternoon keynote with Steve Boom, Amazon Music VP, before being ushered out of the room. I never understood why fans rush stages until I realized I was about five feet away from someone whose music I’ve listened to since I was seven years old.
I refrained from rushing the stage—you would have heard about it otherwise. CRAZY PRESS PHOTOGRAPHER RUSHES KEYNOTE STAGE TO HUG GARTH BROOKS. Needless to say, it would have ruined a lot of people’s day. I was also too busy listening to his reasoning behind choosing Amazon Music versus its competitors, noting that it allowed the latitude for album-only streaming which is how he wants his music heard. Understandable, but not a strong enough argument against giving what a lot of listeners want to buy: individual songs. But that discussion can continue at another time. Brooks would later perform a surprise impromptu concert later that night at Austin’s revered country music dance hall, The Broken Spoke.
Again, my only goal was to listen to Brooks and take his photo. Mission accomplished. Everything else was gravy. So I went about the rest of my day trying to catch as much live music and soak up the city and festival—a hard thing to do when you’re running around all the time.
The Aussie BBQ was great for three reasons: free food, good music, and its proximity to the convention center. The event was literally across the street. At this particular moment, electronic solo artist Sui Zhen was performing. Zhen is an example of an artist whose recorded music sounds differently than the live performance, and in a positive way. You’ll notice with a song like “Take It All Back” that there’s a lot going on; however, in a live setting, Zhen and her band peel it back enough to let her and the other vocalists tell the stories, so to speak. It was a much welcome change, as other styles like bossa nova became more apparent.
Austin indie rock legends Spoon played to a packed Radio Day Stage inside the convention center. Promoting their just-released ninth studio album, Hot Thoughts, Spoon performed a bunch of new songs, including “I Ain’t the One” and “Can I Sit Next to You” before getting kicked off stage for running past their allotted time.
I had a moral conundrum between watching Half Waif and Snail Mail, who were performing at the same time on different stages at Cheer Up Charlie’s. I hadn’t seen much rock that week so I chose to exclusively listen to the latter Baltimore garage pop trio led by teen singer/guitarist Lindsey Jordan. I’m always amazed by teen musicians because I remember what I was accomplishing at that age, which was nothing. Here, Jordan and her cohorts were performing quite poignant rock tunes like “Dirt” and “Static Buzz.”
SXSW can be a dicey proposition for unsigned bands since they’re usually paying their entire way here. Dulguun Bayasgalan-led Magnolian fit that bill, having traveled all the way from Mongolia to perform and hopefully get noticed enough to get a record contract. I’m not a record executive, but I can say the band’s “exotic” folk tunes were enjoyable. Many of their songs were raw but poetic like “Banquet (English Version)” and “Bride and the Bachelor.”
I stayed at CU29 after Magnolian’s performance for what I thought was Lilly Among Clouds, but I later learned it was actually Annabelle Cazes’ solo electronic project Glockabelle. I was confused for a few minutes when I couldn’t recognize any songs. Cazes’ quasi-experimental electronic songs were a bit out there but still somewhat accessible (“Ne Touche Pas”). Cazes invited a drummer from the audience to participate in one of her songs; she promised it would be worth it, but Matt ended up laying on the stage the entire time while Cazes sang a song about BBQ. I still don’t understand what I saw.
After Glockabelle’s performance, I headed over to Central Presbyterian Church and ended up being denied entry. In three years, I’ve never been denied entry into this church, but apparently, people had been camping there for hours in order to see singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers. Earlier in the day, I stood in line for about 20 minutes to try to see Rogers at the YouTube showcase but was turned away. I ended up 0-2 after waiting in line for a few minutes and being told by the bouncer I was probably not going to get in.
Unfazed, I headed over to Buffalo Billiards to check out Karen Elson. I failed, as the set time I originally wrote down differed from the actual posted time. The result: I missed her set completely.
Again, this is all gravy. Still unfazed, I headed back to CU29 to see who was performing. German singer-songwriter Helen Fry was already performing. I got there just in time to see a few songs before Fry closed out her set with “L’amour Toujours” with its lullaby melodies.