I’ve been on a ticket-buying binge lately. Many of the shows I have lined up the next few months - Tom Petty, Hall & Oates, Guster and Elvis Costello - are known commodities I have followed for decades. For some, I own every album. (I even named one of my dogs after one.)
But as much as I love some summer retro fun, I also love that moment of “discovering” a new act live. I don’t get to do that all too often from Columbus. (Although I did first see Walk the Moon and Fitz & The Tantrums as openers for other acts I saw at the Newport. Subsequently, they've both had national radio play and I’m seeing Fitz headline at Riverbend this summer: so it does happen.). But where I understand it happens at an insane level and where the entire festival is set up to allow you to dabble and catch as many new acts as you can pack into each day & night is the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.
I’ve never been to SXSW. Yeah, I know it’s been going on for like 25 years but back when it started, at first it was too small for me to even hear about in Ohio and by the time it became a “thing,” I bought into all the stories about it being a big frenzy of corporate branding, selling out, traffic and overcrowding. Lately, I’ve heard really good music coming out of it and now I really want to go but the best I’ve been able to do so far is live vicariously through some of the coverage. This year SXSW was March 10-19th, which overlapped my daughter’s Spring Break and gave me some hours to do some online exploration of the giant list of the more than 2,000 participating artists.
I was just randomly cruising through the A-Z artist listings and selecting acts to listen to on Youtube, when I noticed that Overcoats had a link to a song “Hold Me Close” right on the SXSW website. I clicked and that was it. I listened and re-listened. I wanted more and went to Youtube and found the story of two college friends from New York who, after five years of friendship, discovered last year that they could write and make music together. Here’s “The Fog” and “Smaller Than My Mother.” I love their amazing harmonies and the little dance parties in the middle of the songs. So, of course, if I was at TV Party Tonight! Virtual SXSW, I would definitely go catch Overcoats.
I would also catch the New Pornographers to hear new stuff from their seventh album, Whiteout Conditions, including the completely catchy title track “High Ticket Attractions” and the incomparable Neko Case (who I’ve seen solo at Nelsonville) singling lead on "Play Money". New Pornographers never fail to deliver songs with a satisfying hook that I instantly love.
Next up is Real Estate. I’d catch this act in the afternoon performing poolside and just chill for a while to “Darling” and “Stained Glass” from 2017’s In Mind.
To rev up back up for a full night of acts, I’d head to see Minneapolis band The 4onthefloor rock their way in 4/4 time (while each play a bass drum) through “Lionhearted,” “Workin’ Man Zombie” and “Fancy.”
Even though I have tickets to see them at the Newport in May, I’d have to catch Austin’s own Spoon for the release of their latest album, Hot Thoughts.
Then off to see indie rocker Hello Nico from Taiwan who is so good it does not matter that I don’t understand a single word.
And, just for kicks and out of pure curiosity, I’d have to check out at least one of the international sensations like Red Velvet, here performing their chart-topping single “Russian Roulette.”
Now it’s the early morning hours of my virtual SXSW experience. NPR’s All Songs Considered team always asks selected artists to close out the night in a quiet space with a “South X Lullaby.”
Last year, my favorite South X Lullaby was 16 year-old Deckan McKenna’s Brazil. One year later, it’s like this song has been around forever, but I had never heard it then and it betwitched me and I could not stop playing it over and over and over…. Not only did I love the song, but I loved the kid, from his first “Cool” to his last “Was it good…Is that a wrap or…?”
To close out this TV Party Tonight! Virtual SXSW, I’d have to choose a South X Lullaby 2017: but I’m torn between the densely beautiful lyrics of Phoebe Bridgers’ “Smoke Signals” and the bizarre but completely mesmerizing “Deep Six Textbook” by Let’s Eat Grandma. Maybe you have a different favorite because all nine lullabies are included.
Anne Marie hopes to attend SXSW one day. Until then it will be a yearly TV Party event.