By the time the music portion of the South by Southwest conference began, I was really excited for what I knew the week ahead of me would include. I had already started to plot out the ultimate schedule in my mind and on sched.org, and through the wonders of my MacBook Pro and my iPhone, I had a handy mechanism for keeping up on what was going on all across town and what I could possibly see while in attendance. The ultimate schedule was impossible, but I had a good run through the entire fest and started out strong with about 15 bands on day one.
The day started out solid as the LMB and friends crew got together at Las Manitas for a quick lunch before heading out into the Austin urban wilderness. We wandered through town via Sixth Street and ended up at the Mohawk for the Gothamist/Austinist party at Mohawk. We saw a bit of Anathallo, A Place to Bury Strangers, The Forms, and Jukebox the Ghost before deciding to jet up the road a bit to stop in at Emo’s to see what was playing there.
I’m pleased that we stumbled upon the Jason Collett set at the Emo’s outdoor tent. It was a strong set by a set of musicians clearly locked in on the same groove, and we knew that the songwriting power was there and above and beyond what I had seen earlier in the day. I vowed to follow up more on this guy and we moved onto the next show: donewaiting.com’s party at the Creekside Lounge. When we were getting close to the venue, our mini crew got totally drawn in (under my recommendation) to the Beauty Bar where Shout Out Out Out Out were blasting their disco punk onto Seventh Street.
I was digging on it. After that, we headed to the donewaiting.com party as planned and ended up seeing a bit of The Spinto Band, the only group I’ve ever seen that works kazoos into part of their songs and/or concerts. It was quite kitsch if you’re into that sorta thing.
The crew split up and agreed to meet later at Stubb’s for the R.E.M. show, so I made plans to head over to see Simian Mobile Disco at Antone’s on the other side of town. I was happy that I had paid for the music badge as I opted to do last year, because this was a show that you were not getting into unless you had a badge. Some people do the wristband thing and it can really work well if you know exactly what you want to see when you get there. For me, I like to bounce around and, for example, be able to hop into this club and see a DJ set before heading outside and passing Greg Kot and Jim Derogatis of Sound Opinions fame on the street. That’s what this festival means to me.
From there, I headed back across town to meet up with the rest of the guys to get a good spot at the R.E.M. show we knew was going to happen at midnight. It was well worth the wait, even though I wasn’t too into all the openers. Jonathan Rice was solid and I really dug the sound and the set, but Paper Cranes and Dead Confederate both dragged on a little longer than I would have wanted. I knew what to expect and it was worth it considering how close we were able to get for the headlining slot. And finally, when R.E.M. made it out on stage and the crowd went slightly mad, it was worth it.
Seing R.E.M. in an environment where we were that close is definitely fortunate. I was totally into the set at the very beginning and knew that I was seeing some true legends on stage that were not at all ready to accept that could be past their prime. This was a set of proving everybody wrong on that. They showed no signs of weakness throughout the night, even if Michael Stipe proclaimed that “we miss you, Heath!” at the end of one of their songs (dedicated to Heath Ledger at the beginning). That seemed just slightly weird to me, but everything else was pretty cool. They encored with “Man on the Moon,” which definitely sent me off happily into the night on a two-mile quest across town via my tired legs.
I was so tired at this point, but I was also completely psyched at how productive the first day was. I consumed a lot of music and beer for one day’s time, and I had three more days of it ahead. I spent a half hour or so planning my schedule when I got back to the hotel, and then subsequently had a hard time falling asleep thanks to my busy brain. Note to self for next year: plan in the morning when you’re awake so you know what you’re able to handle that day.