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The evolution of the festival from Hill Country-focused regional music gathering to A&R feeding frenzy to hectic promo junket to brand activation nuclear blast site, the rise of Interactive, the exponential explosion of day parties, all these things are just comments on the deeper thing for all its touristic excess, for all its overload, there’s a yearning soul to SXSW that merits some cherishing as each year passes.

YOUR SXSW PREVIEW

How Can You Be Ten Places at Once with Guide Jeff Leven

So here we are once again at the start of my annual, giant SXSW itinerary (wish list?  death march road map?) in what feels like its 95th edition. As always, I’m literally hopping up and down as I write this, and this year the annual Austin pilgrimage comes with the added bonus of a much-needed thaw from an N.Y. winter. In the interest of keeping things (at least somewhat) fresh, I’ve decided to tweak the format this year. 

As most of you know, this list is usually simulcast as the first entry in a week of running SXSW coverage in the esteemed (!?) HITS magazine, and this year is no exception.  However, I usually spare you the journalistic lead-in and skip to featured artists and the actual schedule.  This year, however, I’m going to give you all the full deluxe edition, but broken out into sections so those (understandably) less eager to indulge me can just cut to the chase and kick out the jams.   

I arrive in Austin Tuesday afternoon/evening and will be around until Sunday afternoon.  I’ll be reachable at all hours by email or on my cell 310-388-7048.  Or, as I told one manager friend, you can also just throw a Rush T-shirt over a flashlight and point it at the sky...

As always, the Davis Shapiro client base will be out in full force (I think I lost count at the 135th band) and my partners and I will be as well. The party is still in venue-driven hiatus, but again, like all reunion tours, it’s only a matter of time!!! 

Plus, pretty much every publication I’ve ever written for (Paste, Revolver, Alternative Press, Aquarium Drunkard, briefly even Pitchfork) is having a party, so check them all out, too.  Plus, this year the HITS crew has their own showcase as well, so be sure to pay your respects!

Apologies if I seem to be missing your band/your showcase/your party, etc.  I’ll do my best to be everywhere I can so hit me on the fly and I’ll try to pull it all off!!!   

The Journalistic Bit 

A lot of the standard storylines about SXSW tell themselves, and are essentially amplifications of the obvious.  The evolution of the festival from Hill Country-focused regional music gathering to A&R feeding frenzy to hectic promo junket to brand activation nuclear blast site, the rise of Interactive, the exponential explosion of day parties, all these things are just comments on the deeper thing for all its touristic excess, for all its overload, there’s a yearning soul to SXSW that merits some cherishing as each year passes... 

One way into the festival is to look at its keynote speaker, Dave Grohl.  This week, Grohl comes to town at the crest of an astoundingly large, but tastefully constructed wave of publicity (the kind of campaign it takes a John Silva to build) for his Sound City film and album.  Produced in part by none other than Fireball Ministry’s Jim Rota, the film in some ways benefits from the rails already laid by the Oscar-winning Searching for Sugarman about Detroit troubadour Rodriguez and its spiritual predecessor Anvil: the Story of Anvil.  Like these other two documentaries, Sound City is, in a way, about finding nobility in (commercial) decay, and trying to give a moment to the undersung. While that particular story arc is in a way, a natural metaphor for the music industry’s last brutal decade (and arguably that of the country as a whole), both Sugarman and Anvil search for a happy ending... in both cases a redemptive foreign concert packed to the gills. Off-screen, however, you can’t help but wonder how deep the (commercial) redemption runs or how long it can last, even as you hope for the best. Sound City doesn’t attempt to indulge in the more magical wish that the studio itself is due for a renaissance or that the vibe and dream that was lost in its closure can ever truly be recaptured. Instead, it turns to celebrate the things that can’t die: the long and varied succession of amazing records that was made there.  Like DJ Shadow in Scratch, Grohl makes no attempt to position himself as the patron saint of the musically undersung... more an open-eyed worshipper of that which remains. And in Sound City, Grohl then attempts to take this past and meld it with the new showing... a brief window into the process of making music, using a classic console to craft a new record from scratch. Tinges of mild (and understandable) vanity aside, this is perhaps the most thoughtful touch in what could otherwise be a 90-minute eulogy--an attempt to renew and build.  And isn’t this what it’s all about, this SXSW very much included?

At this point it’s perhaps axiomatic that everyone loves Dave Grohl, but aside from his general gum-chomping aimiableness, I think what most people love about Dave Grohl is the very sincere breadth of his musical passion.  With the Probot recor,d he took time to place some candles at the altar of a relatively underground slice of classic metal and punk, while Sound City finds him giving wider voice not only to undersung heroes like Chris Goss and Alain Johannes (twin gurus to the rest of the collected Queens of the Stone Age/Kyuss/Them Crooked Vultures/Eagles of Death Metal crew), but also celebrating as diverse as a cross-section of artists as Stevie Nicks, FEAR  and Rick Springfield.  Here’s someone who seemingly listens without bias, and absolutely loves it all.  If his ensemble’s SXSW is anything like the NYC edition, it’s a thing to behold, indeed.  And more than that, it’s an example for the week ahead.

Taken together, these two traits-- the small “c” catholic love of music (on a related etymological not,e the over/under on Pope jokes delivered from stage this week will probably be about 9,647.7) and a commitment to the redemptive power of making more of it make Grohl more or less the perfect spokesperson for what SXSW is, or at least should be about.

If Grammy Week is people in evening wear patting themselves on the back for past successes and looking around the room figuring out who else to talk to, SXSW is a trip back to trenches. Shitty sound, sweat, beer spilled on amplifiers, too many bands in one place, zero bars and zero batteries on your iPhone, a thousand people trying to find the needle in a haystack, a thousand haystacks melting in the sun, all mixed into a brutal but somewhat quixotic marathon of everything louder than everything else.  I dunno, man, sounds a lot more rock n’ roll to me.

As the stats suggest, the first uptick in our business in well over a decade, a couple thousand bands will keep playing on in Austin this week, some on their way to stardom, most on their way to somewhere a lot less lofty with nary a documentary in sight.  But for this moment, it doesn’t even really matter.  This is part of the ritual that renews, this is part of the splatter on the cultural wall, part of the thing we do to remind of who we are, where we came from and why we care.  If I over-romanticize it or over-glorify it, so be it.  I’m from the tribe that loves janky studios and slightly-out-of-tune guitar takes and even if we don’t inherit the earth, we can harass its eardrums as we strut and fret our forty minutes on the stage this week.   It’s time for SXSW folks…

 

NEAR TRUTHS:
THE AGENCY SAGA
What do you want from live? (6/11a)
REVENUE CHART: OLIVIA’S ARMY
Looks like she's got staying power. (6/11a)
SIGNS OF HITS LIST
We're reading the tea leaves. (6/11a)
WATCH THE FIRST OFFICIAL VIDEO FOR "FEELING GOOD"
The Black Music Month celebration continues with a classic from a legend, (6/10a)
MUSIC’S HOTTEST FIRMS: HERTZ LICHTENSTEIN YOUNG & POLK LLP
Is there a lawyer in the house? (6/11a)
RHYTHM, BLUES AND THE FUTURE
The musical tapestry we know as R&B.
WHO'S NEXT?
Predicting the next big catalog deal.
JUST THE VAX, MA'AM
Once we all get vaccinated, how long before we can party?
WORLDWIDE GROOVE
How is globalization bringing far-flung territories into the musical mainstream?
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