I’ve never been more confused at South by Southwest more than I was on Tuesday in Austin. One of my biggest complaints about the official SXSW Go app is it doesn’t display non-showcase day events, so it’s up to you to keep track of them.
I use a personal spreadsheet that mostly replaces the SXSW Go app, but I must manually change any schedule updates. It turns out organizers hooked me on the app because I forgot to check my spreadsheet and missed a few day shows I wanted to attend—most notably The Current’s PledgeHouse at the Blackheart on Rainey Street, which meant missing British female singer-songwriter Jade Bird and indie rock trio Sunflower Bean. Instead of seeing those two acts, I treated myself to a rather interesting discussion on the rising popularity of comedy festivals such as San Francisco’s Clusterfest.
For those not in the know, let’s rewind: A lot of companies sponsor both official and non-official showcases. These can be either day shows, night shows, or both. Regardless of affiliation, SXSW does not help market day shows, so you are always responsible for keeping track of them – hint: when in doubt, check the band’s Facebook page – and their venues. (And I get it, SXSW wants to encourage festivalgoers to attend panels and sessions.)
To repeat: Plan accordingly if you care, otherwise feel free to casually enter and exit venues at your leisure.
One of my top reasons to attend SXSW is the ability to see musicians perform in unique settings. My favorite venues are the downtown churches: St. David’s Episcopal and Central Presbyterian. British female singer-songwriter Gemma Ray serenaded St. David’s with an early evening show of solemn blues and soul punctuated by “Flood and a Fire.” Folk female singer-singer Grace Joyner sang with an intimate and vulnerable passion in her set at Central Presbyterian Church. That passion possibly bordered on melancholy as lead singer Amber Grace Joyner and her band weaved through heartache, love, and more heartache. The highlight was an uptempo rendition of “Knees.”
French solo producer-singer sarasara provided counter programming with her electronic beats and dark lyrics that fit perfectly inside the dimly lit Iron Bear bar and club. While seeming abstract on the onset, sarasara slowly but surely revealed an ethereal soulful vibe that required much patience, especially when she unveiled a medley/remix cover of “Heroes” by David Bowie.
As an opposite to sarasara, I caught the loveable pop rock of British female singer-songwriter Jerry Williams at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30. Williams is the first artist this week to completely engage with the crowd to tell stories and respond to drunken shout-outs (God bless her for the latter). Her most poignant song, which doesn’t seem to be available on Spotify, was a song about a man she met at a bar who decided his life was over as an alcoholic and a father-to-be (“David at the Bar”). Williams displayed tremendous thematic range, from her favorite nut (“Pistachio”) to world apathy and cruelty (“Let’s Just Forget it”) to living life to the fullest (“Grab Life”).
I closed my evening with a special show by indie rock legends Low at St. David’s. Accompanied only by an organ, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker wowed the capacity crowd with harmonies that are hard to describe. I think only devout fans would have been able to determine which songs were sung, as Sparhawk and Parker reworked their set as downtempo and raw ballads. Not all were love songs, but it didn’t matter, as the pair’s pitch and tone movements were hypnotic. It was the best SXSW performance I’ve ever seen.
- Gemma Ray – “There Must Be More Than This”
- sarasara – “Euphoria”
- Grace Joyner – “Dreams”
- Jerry Williams – “Mother”