This year I devoted the better part of my Spring Break to Austin’s colossal South by Southwest music conference.In past spring breaks, I’ve returned home to spend time relaxing with family and friends. This year, however, my experience at SXSW left me feeling more exhausted than rested.
Held annually, SXSW features more than 1,400 bands over four consecutive nights at 60-plus venues, all within about six blocks of one another.
Although getting lost in a maze of conflicts and choices is almost inevitable, I enjoyed spending the latter half of my break in downtown Austin .
Beginning on the 15th, my friend and I made our way through thick traffic to the Austin Convention Center where we picked up our wristbands.
Moments later, I realized that I’d forgotten my driver’s license.
Of course, you can’t go far on 6th Street without a valid ID, and my lack of proper identification locked me out of the first set of the conference by Swedish troubadour Jose Gonzalez at The Parish.
I had owned an import copy of Gonzalez’s debut album “Veneer” for nearly two years, and my desire to hear his live set was at an all-time high. It was my can’t-miss show of the conference.
And I spent it pacing around 6th Street, trying find an all-ages’ show.
Trying not to fret about the possibility of missing the one act I cared most about, we marched on to Antone’s to see Willy Mason and Beth Orton. While Mason sounded well beyond his 21 years, Orton sounded every bit her age, and the show lacked a little magic.
Unfortunately, for every show you see at SXSW, you miss another. This time we missed a surprise performance by The Flaming Lips at the Fox & Hound.
With day one being somewhat of a bust, we headed home to prepare a little better for our next day at SXSW.
Day two of our SXSW experience shaped up to be more fulfilling than day one.
At Emo’s IV, Islands, the latest quirk-pop project from ex-Unicorns Nicholas Diamonds and J’aime Tambour, put on quite a show for a full crowd.
Clad in all white clothing and bathed in blue lights, Islands’ eclectic ensemble of musicians played a set that highlighted SXSW’s importance as an outlet for up-and-coming acts seeking exposure.
As the second day faded into the third, we found ourselves back at Emo’s Annex for the Pitchfork media day party.
Now, with my driver’s license in hand, I was finally able to get front and center for the showcase’s second act, Jose Gonzalez.
Perched at the edge of a folding aluminum chair, Gonzalez shined as he played his cover of The Knife’s song “Heartbeats;” an adaptation that’s made it into a Sony television ad in which thousands of colorful bouncy balls are turned loose.
Before finally heading back to school, I headed to 6th Street one more time to see Gonzalez perform at Eternal.
Standing 10 feet from Gonzalez as he plucked his way through another bold set, I began to realize how important an event like SXSW is for promotion and, most importantly, accessibility of underexposed music.
Just make sure to bring an ID along.