It was difficult to not notice how gorgeous the weather was on an Austin Thursday. Austin weather has never been more pleasant to a Bay Area resident attending South by Southwest with sunny and 70 degree temperatures, which made it all the more frustrating that I spent most of the afternoon listening to SXSW Showcase Artists at the indoor Radio Day Stage.
But early on I was put at ease by a noontime set by indie folk band Midlake. The Texas natives ended an eight-year hiatus to perform a set with songs mostly from their new album For the Sake of Bethel Woods – the combined result of jitteriness from COVID-19 lockdowns, personal highs and lows, and collective sadness having not played together for so long. The unfortunate low for the band also helped inspire the poignant ballad “Noble,” written in honor of drummer McKenzie Smith’s infant son who was born with a rare brain disorder and who continues to beat the odds (please consider a donation).
Then, there was Sunflower Bean that performed a set with songs mostly from the upcoming album Headful of Sugar (May 6 release). The highlight was the mellow rock jam “Who Put You Up to This?” where the only thing missing on stage was a lava lamp. This is actually the third time I’ve seen the New York indie rock trio perform at SXSW, and it’s still a treat to see them despite them getting more popular and not being able to see them play up close and personal on smaller stages anymore. I know, poor me; but, great for everyone else who gets to see them in bigger venues.
Radio Day Stage attendees got another treat with Indiana alternative blues band Houndmouth who performed mainly songs from their 2021 album Good for You. For those looking for new road trip songs, look no further than the easygoing “McKenzie” and John Denver-esque “Miracle Mile” that could easily tether to one of those loving pitstop memories.
A NEW SPACE
By the way, did I mention Radio Day Stage was moved from the cavernous Ballroom D on the fourth floor to the intimate ground floor Ballroom A? The change definitely made sense, even if it felt cramped. Bands want to perform to crowds, which a smaller room provides. And attendees don’t want to go out of their way for anything, which a first floor room provides. The best of both worlds – even if that means getting turned away when the room hits capacity. When in doubt just ask yourself: When was the last time you regretted arriving too early to a show?
I spent the remainder of the day/evening listening to female singer-songwriters. Chloe Zelma Studebaker’s San Francisco-based music project Zelma Stone performed a set at St. David’s Sanctuary where she mixed songs from her last two EPs Dreamland (2020) and The Best (2021) with poignant songs (“Money Honey”) to the deeply personal “Dreamland” about her late brother.
At Driskill, I saw Ireland-born country folk singer Holly Macve who serenaded the crowd both solo and with a couple friends. I arrived late but was welcomed with a lovely cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” Macve sang songs from her recent sophomore album Not the Girl, but my favorite of her’s was “Bring My Soul in from the Cold.”
I could’ve ended my night and would have been satisfied, but I decided to head over to Parker Jazz Club to see New York vocalist Danielle Ponder. The former public defender was charismatic and smooth as she spoke about her passions in-between soulful numbers like “Creep” (Radiohead cover) and “Poor Man’s Pain.” It’s unfortunate the country lost who was most likely a good public defender in a country that struggles to employ these unheralded public servants, but when you hear Ponder sing you realize her positivity simply radiates while she’s on stage. Which summed up my Thursday: positive.[photos via Tan The Man]