It’s downright impossible to have a definitive SXSW experience. The festival is so massive — seemingly infinite — that trying to wrap the whole thing up into an easily explainable package is a bit like trying to hug a swarm of bees. Even examining it from a local angle has been a challenge, as there are easily several dozen acts from Minnesota playing shows of all magnitudes throughout every corner of Austin this week. But the most incredible thing that I’ve observed so far about the Minnesota contingent is that everyone has their own unique set of motivations for being here; there is no one shared reason bands to come to Austin, and there is no one right way to go about it. It’s these stories that seem to give the experience a deeper meaning.
Like this one: last night, after working all day at the trade show in the convention center to promote his nonprofit fundraising organization, Rock the Cause, founder Scott Herold suddenly found himself being pulled out of the showcase he helped organize at Lambert’s, across the street, past rows of security, and into the backstage area at Bruce Springsteen’s star-studded performance at the Moody Theater, where he watched in awe as Jimmy Cliff climbed up on stage to join the Boss. It turns out an employee working the SXSW festival was impressed by how hard Herold and his team had worked to put together their showcase, and wanted to do a little something to say thanks. “It was unreal,” Harold recalled later.
Speaking of the Rock the Cause showcase, it was the first of several all or nearly all-Minnesotan events taking place this week, and it proved to be a re-energizing kind of party for attendees from the North Country. Where else can you see Adam Levy of the Honeydogs looking on with eyebrows raised as Tommy Stinson derails and then patches back together ramshackle renditions of songs like “Friday Night (Is Killing Me),” or see Rogue Valley assemble all of their gear on stage only to play a few Vic Chesnutt covers in honor of a fledgling charity compilation and pack it up again?
Over the past few years, the Minnesota presence at SXSW seems to be growing as rapidly as the festival itself — which is to say, it’s happening exponentially. I don’t even know how many Minnesotan acts are in Austin at the moment due to a large number playing unofficial showcases, but a statistical analysis would seem to indicate, based on the number of times I’ve stumbled onto other locals while simply walking down the street amid the thousands upon thousands of other attendees, that we’re here and representing in large quantities.
But what does it all mean? Does it really matter if Peter Wolf Crier is playing to one full room while Polica, Howler, and Birthday Suits entertain others across town, if we’re the only ones measuring locals in both quality and quantity and connecting those dots? It’s hard to say. But what I can say for certain is that in my five years of attending this festival, this year has the highest number of “high-profile” local acts by far; whether the rise of several acts across several different genres will have any sort of trickle-down effect on the community back home still remains to be seen.
Speaking of Peter Wolf Crier, the newly expanded trio played one of the opening slots at this year’s packed Jagjaguwar/Secrety Canadian/Dead Oceans showcase, and despite a lengthy soundcheck and extremely low stage lighting the band brought a lot more energy to their set than they did at the SXSW send-off show at First Avenue earlier this month. The group still seems hesitant to pull out any material from their first album, Inter-Be, but after seeing them perform twice recently it seems like that might be an intentional, stylistic decision; it certainly helped them to maintain a steady vibe throughout their set.
Today will be the biggest day yet for MN music smorgasboards, with both First Avenue/Gimme Noise and IPR/Vita.mn hosting their day parties this afternoon. I’ll have more on the artists playing those parties and some more interviews from the festival up later today.