Road Closed. Detour.
The sign on Sixth Street in downtown Austin was a clear indication that something was going on. The place was the epicenter of the South by Southwest music festival.
Sixth Street was a musical mecca with an estimated 1,900 bands during the five-day musical mayhem that started March 18. More than 400 bands played Saturday – some for the first time and others for the third or fourth – in the 87 designated venues throughout Sixth Street and the surrounding neighborhood.
As the afternoon dust settled down, the sounds only became louder and the sights more vibrant on the fourth day of SXSW. Men and women, most of them in tight jeans and imaginative T-shirts and many with piercings and colorful tattoos, strolled downtown with a purpose – to listen to some good music.
Music was everywhere. From the crowded Sixth Street to the comparatively calmer neighborhood near San Jacinto Boulevard and West Second Street, people walked toward the places their ears led them. Though there was music for every style – rap and hip hop, pop, bluegrass and electronic – rock and punk sounds reverberated through every other club or bar.
While some people enthusiastically lined up to listen to their favorite bands, others took a chance and hopped into a place that didn’t have a cover charge.
People lined up in two separate lines at Emo’s, one of the popular live music venues on Sixth Street, to hear a band from Australia.
A few blocks away, a crowd of people lounged on the rooftop of a bar, gawking at women on the street. And on the same block, the Dizzy Rooster welcomed a large crowd with a “no cover” poster at its entrance. Here, people were more interested in talking among themselves and watching the men’s college basketball game between the University of Texas and Duke University than listening to Waltz for Venus, a rock band from Indianapolis.
While Sixth Street swarmed with people, venues off the popular destination were relatively calmer. Only countable fans were present at Solid Gold’s performance at Club 115, but two hardcore fans of the Minneapolis band in their Solid Gold T-shirts and Ray-Ban Wayfarers made the crowd dance to their infectiously catchy brand of rock.
SXSW attracted musicians from all around the globe. Holger, a group from Brazil, danced to Solid Gold’s music and mingled with the crowd while waiting for their turn to play at Club 115. Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant, known locally as the Rio, hosted six bands from the United Kingdom on Saturday as a part of International Music Industry Week. While female artist GoldieLocks mesmerized the crowd with her rapping style, The Gin Riots livened the ambience with “The Polka,” one of their blistering punk rock songs. Austin club Elysium hosted “Japan Nite” on Friday and Saturday showcasing various Japanese musicians.
A group of musicians performed in the middle of Sixth Street. Armed with guitar, trumpet, violin and vocals, they performed for free in front of a large crowd.
But Sixth Street and its musical neighborhood were not only about music.
The smell of food, the sights of stores promoting SXSW souvenirs and tattoo shops attracted a large audience. Hungry stomachs prowled pizza shops and mobile hot dog trailers on Sixth Street and sat on sidewalks. As they gobbled their food, conversations about shows and bands were heard at every appetite junction.
As the lights dimmed at the venues and final calls were made, people exited with memories hanging in their heads, talked about the shows and their likes and dislikes. By 2:30 a.m., the crowds were thinning out. People disappeared into dark corners that were brightly lit up only a few hours before. The sounds of music faded with the hollering of drunks stumbling off into the night. The only sight left over from a night of music was the trash that covered Sixth Street – a reminder of the sea of people and the sights and sounds of SXSW.