I always refer to South by Southwest Wednesday and Thursdays as the dog days of the festival. They’re a grind, noticeably more this week since the Music Festival portion of SXSW started on a Monday. I generally compensate by drinking more liquids and walking more leisurely.
There are many benefits to this approach. The biggest is being more aware of my surroundings. For example, I noticed there was less swag and merchandise around, although SXSW now sells stickers. International musicians can’t sell anything stateside because it would violate their visitor visas. Usually, they would give away their merch and/or take donations. But I noticed fewer merch tables for even local artists. No way to grab or buy lovely pins and posters—definitely easier to get while here than buying online and waiting for stuff to be shipped. Oh well.
My Wednesday began with a soulful set by Mongolian solo R&B artist Amra, who spent 17 hours traveling here. Much respect to those artists who travel halfway across the world to perform here. She shined on the International Day Stage with “Close to You” and “Farewell” (the latter about a man who keeps wanting her back).
I wandered around Congress Avenue for a bit and drank lots of White Claw before heading to the British Music Embassy and seeing Manchester-based indie electronic rock band W.H. Lung with their infectious energy. The band’s most recent album, Vanities, was born during COVID-19 lockdowns, and songs like “Showstopper” were written to get people to dance, which the SXSW crowd was more than happy to do.
As always, I aim to mellow out during the early evening hours. New Jersey native singer-songwriter Jenny Owen Youngs was a revelation at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary, with folk songs inspired by the X-Files, poignant love stories, and past trauma – the latter being the subject of a story that Youngs shared before ending the set with the beautiful “Knife Went In.”
But I’m not going to lie. The rest of the night felt like a blur. Bay Area native Nari (Narisa Khamvanthong) had only arrived a few hours before her scheduled set at Seven Grand, and Khamvanthong couldn’t wait to grab herself a Lone Star Beer. Her original soulful numbers now come with a country-folk twang, as the recent Louisville, Kentucky transplant was accompanied by a whole band – songs like “Julia” and “Dan” truly sounded like covers.
Like I said, the night felt like a blur, as I made a mistake I swore I wouldn’t repeat: cram a lot of bands in a single night. From catching 20 minutes of Austin’s all-female folk quartet Ley Line to several songs of Liverpool’s folk singer-songwriter Strawberry Guy, I remember spending more time walking than I did listening to music. It didn’t help that technical difficulties stole minutes here and there throughout the night. It happens, but it definitely reinforced the need to plan for multiple options and not stay married to any one schedule. You need to be able to go with the flow and move on.
As a case in point, I really wanted to see two artists: Horsegirl and Perfume Genius. I left Central Presbyterian Church after a few songs from Strawberry Guy to head over to Cheer Up Charlies and catch the last half of Horsegirl‘s set. With a highly anticipated debut album, Versions of Modern Performance, to be released this June, the Chicago indie rock trio wowed the crowd by performing recent singles “Anti-glory” and “Billy,” a ’90s post-punk throwback.
I returned to Central Presbyterian Church to see Perfume Genius only to find the longest line I’ve ever seen there. Dejected and wishing I stayed through Strawberry Guy, I went back to Cheer Up Charlies to see Copenhagen-based composer Astrid Sonne, whose mostly non-lyrical harmonies and electronic sounds were a surprisingly welcomed change of pace from the usual hard riffs and heavy bass at the outdoor venue.
I think I was still so bitter over missing Perfume Genius that I abruptly left Creek and the Cave after impatiently waiting for Deap Vally, who seemed delayed. I then journeyed to catch Japanese Breakfast (aka Michelle Zauner) at the 3TEN Austin City Limits Live venue because the SXSW App informed me of a lightly packed crowd.
Only later did I realize that Deap Vally actually performed in the Creek and the Cave backyard stage. Only walking closer to the ACL door did I soon realize there was a ginormous line to enter for Japanese Breakfast. It slowly sunk in that the app failed me and that I wasted quite a lot of my time when I could have seen other bands. And only later did I remember that one of those bands I forgot to see was Kansas City dreampop band Dreamgirl after I decided to drink my sorrows at the end of a rushed late Wednesday night.