Greg M. Schwartz
What a great week in Austin for the 2009 SXSW conference and festival. It was an honor and privilege to be down on the scene for such a great event, with Austin proving once again that it has one of the greatest music scenes on the planet. Walking down Sixth Street at certain times was like being barraged with a zillion radio channels at once, with music coming from everywhere - no escape!
The musical lineup provided just about everything a fan could hope for in such a multi-day extravaganza — the chance to see some big bands in unusually small settings (METALLICA), the chance to see some up and coming bands that you’ve been wanting to check out but hadn’t caught yet, plus a plethora of opportunity to discover new bands that you weren’t familiar with. This could happen via recommendation from randomly chatting up other attendees or it could happen just by randomly winding up in the right place at the right time, which is always a treat.
The other cool thing about SXSW is how there’s so much going on that you could send ten people to cover it and get back ten totally different reports. There were somewhere around 1,900 bands playing over five days! I didn’t make it for much in the way of daytime conference events due to other demands, but felt duty-bound to see as much music as possible in the evenings.
Wednesday March 18
The first band I was able to catch was The Heartless Bastards at Stubb’s BBQ. The more I visit Stubb’s, the more I am convinced that it is one of the finest concert venues in the world. It’s decent sized yet still intimate (2,100 capacity), has a great sound system, is easy to get around, has plenty of bars, good food for cheap with pulled pork tacos going for just $2.50 and has a breezy outdoor vibe. It’s no wonder it’s the nighttime epicenter of SXSW.
The Heartless Bastards rocked a big sound, especially on “The Mountain,” the title track from their latest album, which soars with pedal steel guitar on top of a Zeppish garage rock sound and the booming pipes of guitarist/vocalist Erika Wennerstrom. But since I’d just seen the band at Sam’s Burger Joint in San Antonio last month, I bailed early to head over to Maggie May’s on Sixth Street to catch San Antonio’s own Girl in a Coma.
The all-girl punk trio were rocking the lower room with high energy, especially singer/guitarist Nina Diaz, who seemed like a woman possessed, with her wide-eyed and powerful vocals often appearing as if they were being channeled from a past life as a Yaqui medicine woman or something. This gal has got some mojo working. Bassist Jen Silva and drummer Phanie Diaz were rocking it hard too, but the band was unfortunately battling a weak sound system that robbed their music of its full power.
The sound system in Maggie May’s lower room has a mere one speaker on each side of the stage, which gave the band a thin sound, especially in comparison to the big sound the Heartless Bastards were putting out at Stubb’s. Later shows at the Convention Center’s Bat Bar with its booming sound system that is actually way too big and loud for such a small space had me wishing that Girl in a Coma had been given a better draw on venues. But the girls gave it their all, with a set mostly focused on tunes from their upcoming new album that rocked hard and kept the audience’s eyes glued to the stage. I’ll be looking forward to their CD release show in San Antonio at the end of May.
After Girl in a Coma, it was back over to Stubb’s, where I wanted to catch The Avett Brothers and then The Decemberists. But a lot of other people had the same idea. The Avetts went on at 11 p.m., but I spent most of the 11 o’clock hour waiting in the badge line to get back in and the only bit of the Avetts I caught was what I heard from afar. But the North Carolina trio has a new album produced by Rick Rubin coming out this year which I suspect will be a good one. For more on the Avetts, see my review of a San Francisco show they played last year.
There was a big buzz for The Decemberists, with postcards being passed out announcing that their set would consist of their new album, The Hazards of Love, in its entirety. The place was absolutely packed and I soon understood why. This was my first time seeing the Portland band, but it sure won’t be the last. The album had the feel of a rock opera of sorts, with the dynamic array of songs smoothly flowing one into each other. Lead vocalist/guitarist Colin Meloy is the ringleader of the band, but it seemed like a democratic affair, with a variety of female vocalists and other instrumentalists all receiving a share of the spotlight. The tunes varied from heavy rock to pop rock to wistful melancholia, percussion jams, quite a varied affair. You could tell the band members were psyched to be delivering these goods, and it made for a memorable ending to Wednesday night’s festivities.
Thursday March 19
I heard that Quincy Jones’ keynote speech on Thursday afternoon covered a wide variety of interesting ground, but I was otherwise detained slogging through the voluminous files that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has regarding the toxicity issues surrounding the former Kelly AFB in San Antonio (this was a working trip after all.)
I must say I like Jones’ idea about having Uncle Sam create a Secretary of the Arts position, as well as his viewpoint on how musicians “are conduits” for a “higher power.”
After spending all day in TCEQ’s Central File Room, I was ready to rock and made my way back over to the Convention Center to catch The Von Bondies at the Bat Bar, one of several venues set up right in the Convention Center for video taping of performances. The Detroit indie-alt rock band rocked loud and hard, perhaps a bit too loud considering the smaller capacity of the room. This space couldn’t have held more than 500 people or so, yet had the same type of huge sound system that you see at venues like Stubb’s or the Fillmore. Or maybe The Von Bondies just turned it up a bit too much. If you didn’t have earplugs, the band’s talent was somewhat obscured by the ear-crushing volume.
But the quartet rocked out with a tight precision, and it’s always nice to see bands that have a 50/50 male-female mix. Lead guitarist/vocalist Jason Stollsteimer is the frontman, but the band was at its best when bassist Leann Blanks and rhythm guitarist Christy Hunt were contributing their sugary power-pop vocals to the mix. Drummer Don Blum was also a force to be reckoned with.
I was about to exit the Convention Center to look into some other matters when a gal who was entering informed me that I would be missing out if I didn’t catch The Airborne Toxic Event in The Bat Bar at 8 p.m. Turns out she works with the band, so she wasn’t exactly the most objective observer. But upon being queried about the band, she described them as having a singer with a David Bowie-esque vibe, as well as having a female violin player. That sounded interesting, so it was back into The Bat Bar to catch the Silverlake, Calif., act.
The band’s name sounds like the type of environmental disaster I’d been researching earlier in the day at TCEQ, but their vibrant sound turned out to be one of the most pleasant new discoveries of the week. The band are actually label mates with The Von Bondies, but have a much different sound. They delivered a dynamic set that had the packed Bat Bar’s full attention, with lead vocalist Mikel Jollett sounding like a star in the making. His band delivers a rich sound behind him, combing elements that recall such acts as the Arcade Fire, the Strokes and indeed David Bowie. The band is not as hard rocking as The Von Bondies, but rather has a up-tempo, feel good vibe that fans could also dance to. Violinist Anna Bulbrook exuded an uplifting charisma as she joyfully added her sound into the mix, with a big smile on her face throughout the triumphant set, and why not? This band is clearly going places.
It was back to Stubb’s afterwards for one of my personally most anticipated sets of the week with The Meat Puppets. Guitarist/vocalist Curt Kirkwood sounded fantastic, ripping off smoking hot leads on almost every tune while bassist/brother Cris Kirkwood sounded great as well, combining with drummer Ted Marcus to form one of the hardest hitting rhythm sections of the week. The Meat Puppets are a power trio in the best sense of the term.
Originally out of Phoenix, the band now calls Austin home. The alt-rock trio were a little known but hugely influential band upon the alternative rock explosion of the early ‘90s, as none other than Kurt Cobain covered three of the band’s songs in Nirvana’s acclaimed MTV unplugged performance, even inviting the Kirkwoods onstage. It was particularly heart-warming to see bassist Cris in such fine form, since he had been out of the band for a number of years before 2007, battling substance abuse problems.
With that rock solid rhythm section behind him, Curt Kirkwood tore it up with his melty, echoed leads contributing a tasty dose of alt-style psychedelia to the SXSW mix. “Plateau” was an early highlight, with most of the crowd probably thinking it was a Nirvana song, and Kurt’s spirit most certainly seemed present. Later the band also threw down “Lake of Fire” in a more up-tempo, rocking version than the haunting arrangement that Cobain delivered. The set was a pure triumph.
I skipped Gomez to go meet some friends on Sixth Street who wanted to see a hip-hop act, a venture which turned out to be a mixed bag. Let’s just say that Austin’s finest are to be commended for taking a tourist friendly approach to law enforcement that encourages festival goers to want to come back instead of feeling like the cops are out to hassle people.
I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing Andrew Bird, but feared I might have trouble getting back into Stubb’s for Ben Harper & Relentless7 if I didn’t get in early. Bird’s set was not bad, although his softer indie-folk sound seemed like it would have been better suited for a smaller club than the bigger audience at Stubb’s. He’s played big festies like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza though, so he must be doing something right. But his sound didn’t particularly grab me, although melodic whistling in a pop context is always cool.
Ben Harper & Relentless7 saw Harper putting his Innocent Criminals on hiatus and unveiling a brand new band composed of Texas-based friends. Harper is going to deliver the hard rocking, soulful goods no matter who’s backing him up, but this band definitely brought the heat. “Shimmer and Shine,” the lead single from the group’s impending debut album White Lies for Dark Times, rocked the house early with a powerful sound as Harper threw down his signature bluesy slide work and gritty, soulful vocals.
With a setlist focused on the new material, the performance couldn’t deliver the sing-along unity of the greatest hits-type affair that Harper and the Innocent Criminals delivered at San Francisco’s Outside Lands Festival last August.
But SXSW is generally considered to be the place for bands to deliver new material, so the crowd wasn’t expecting to hear a bunch of old stuff and was into the new material. Harper and his new mates more than rose to the occasion by throwing down a 90-minute set of high-energy tunes, whereas the average SXSW performance was about 45 minutes. The band also threw in a great cover of the Queen/David Bowie classic “Under Pressure” that was a festival highlight.
Sixth Street circa 2 a.m. was still a thriving nexus of activity, with music fans pouring out of every venue looking either for food or to connect with others to plot further late night adventures.
Friday March 20
Since there’s way more music than a single human being can hope to catch, tough choices are a constant obstacle to navigate at an event like SXSW. I’m looking forward to the day when human bio-evolution gives us all some powers like Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen so that I can be in more than one place at a time. But until then, it takes strategy. You’ve gotta decide what your top priorities are and then augment with whatever else is near by. If you’re all about seeing a certain band on the east side at a certain time, then it’s just not really going to be feasible to catch artists you might like to see at Antone’s or La Zona Rosa, way on the other side of downtown, in adjacent time slots.
My musical activities on Friday started at 5 p.m. by catching Ben Harper & Relentless7 again at the Convention Center’s Bat Bar. This was too good a band at too convenient a location not to see them again. And just as in the previous night, the band surpassed expectations by throwing down a lengthier set (75 minutes this time) than was the norm for that stage.
This caused the set by Third Eye Blind at the adjacent Lone Star Lounge that was scheduled for 6 p.m. to be slightly delayed, but it was worth the wait. The San Francisco pop rockers were often on the receiving end of critical derision as “corporate rock” sellouts when they first hit the scene about a decade ago, and I had long considered them something of a guilty pleasure myself. I never bought their albums and had never seen them live, but always found myself turning up the radio when their songs would come on the airwaves. So I was intrigued to check them out.
It was interesting here to catch the band’s brief sound check before the audience was admitted. Several media folks attempted to take pictures, but were told by a stagehand to please not take pictures during the sound check. Singer Stephan Jenkins showed some sincere humility by thanking the folks for just being interested in trying to snap some shots.
Once the doors opened, the room quickly filled up with eager fans who went on to display one of the highest levels of enthusiasm that I witnessed all week. I soon found out why — Third Eye Blind not only write some darn catchy tunes, they rock them out with a tightness that makes those hooks hit home even deeper.
The band tossed in a couple of their hits, but the set was mostly focused on tunes from their new album and it’s clearly going to be a strong one. Jenkins’ down-to-earth and even socially conscious lyrics demonstrated that he’s anything but a stuck up rock star, and is actually a sincere and humble artist of a high caliber. “Red Star” epitomized the band’s current sound with a melodic rocker where Jenkins sang with heartfelt emotion while guitarist Tony Fredianelli filled in with tasty licks in all the right places. Drummer Brad Hargreaves is a beast and the bassist who currently goes unnamed at the band’s site displayed pure coolness while delivering one of the warmest, clearest bass tones of the week (whereas many bands suffered from somewhat muddy bass in the mix.)
“Why Can’t You Be” was another winner, as Jenkins introduced some comic relief by explaining the song as a tale of how he’d told an ex-girlfriend that he thought he was her first true love and she had responded that her first love was with a high-powered shower nozzle. The song takes a he said/she said lyrical approach and the comic overtones combined with the emotions from a breakup made for one of the most uniquely compelling tunes of the week. “Non-Dairy Creamer” was another standout, with Jenkins saying the melodic rocker was about being fake versus real, with lyrics that encourage conscious consumerism — take that “corporate rock” critics!
I would have liked to have seen Austin supergroup The Arc Angels at the Auditorium Shores Stage at 8 p.m., but that would have been both a lengthy hike and a conflict with Bassnectar and the Silversun Pickups at Stubb’s. Not to mention the semi-secret performance from Metallica that was to follow. I had also caught The Arc Angels in December at Antone's, although I would suspect their SXSW performance was a better show.
I got into Stubb’s right at 8 p.m. looking forward to catching Bassnectar, a trip-hop DJ whose rep has been booming in the jam scene. But Stubb’s entire schedule for the evening wound up getting moved up an hour, so I missed Bassnectar altogether but arrived just in time to see The Silversun Pickups takes the stage for a hot set of the guitar-driven alt rock that made the Silverlake, Calif., rockers one of the breakout artists of 2007.
The new “Panic Switch” from the band’s upcoming Swoon album picks up where Carnavas left off, with Brian Aubert’s guitar alternating between atmospheric and crunchy, while bassist Nikki Monninger and drummer Christopher Guanlao hold down a mean low end. Keyboardist Joe Lester augmented the sound with keyboard psychedelia as the band heated things up for that impending Metallica set. Guanlao is an absolute monster, and it’s his rhythmic fury that really brings on those Smashing Pumpkins comparisons. Monninger’s infectious energy doesn’t hurt either.
Aubert confirmed what everyone already knew, which was that the band would be followed not just by a mere “Guitar Hero Metallica Madness Competition,” but rather by a full performance from the masters of metal themselves. He admitted to being slightly daunted at the opening task, but the Silversun Pickups did an admirable job in pumping up the energy with their hit “Lazy Eye,” which delivered a frenetic sonic assault that ended their well-received set with a flourish.
There was already a good crowd but it filled in even more now. Three winners of the Guitar Hero competition, the Metallica version of which is soon to be released, got to take the stage and play a Metallica tune as a plastic power trio, surely a thrill for any music geek. But it was nothing compared to the sonic thunder when Metallica hit the stage with a one-two gut punch of “Creeping Death” and “For the Whom the Bell Tolls," both from 1984's seminal Ride the Lightning. Heads were banging and fists were pumping at the rare thrill of seeing an arena rock behemoth like Metallica in such an unusually intimate setting. Lars Ulrich was his usual dominating self on the skins, while guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett reveled in throwing down some of the heaviest riffs in music history. Bassist Robert Trujillo no longer seems like “the new guy” either, holding down that massive low end just like those who preceded him.
It wasn’t quite the typical Metallica crowd of course, with so many industry folks present, but there was still a high level of energy in the crowd as the band threw down a mix of classic hits as well as some strong material from their new album Death Magnetic. New tunes like the dynamic “Cyanide” certainly conjure a similar feel as some of the band's classic material, with this one having a killer riff that recalls 1988's “Shortest Straw.”
“We are a young band from Norway... and we want get signed,” guitarist James Hetfield joked early in the set with a very fake accent. The upstairs VIP section looked packed as well, with such stars as Perry Farrell from Jane’s Addiction (who played their own secret guest list only show at a warehouse the previous night) observing from the stairway. Farrell and his wife never seemed to so much as nod their heads though, but watched with rapt attention.
An actual moshpit broke out midway through the set, and while at least one person was reported to have been carried out, it mostly seemed to be in good fun. “Harvest of Sorrow,” “One” and “Sad But True” all delivered signature sonic fury, but the energy only seemed to keep building into a colossal closing trio of “Sanitarium,” “Master of Puppets” and perhaps best of all, “Blackened,” the scintillating tale of apocalypse that opens the band's 1988 masterpiece, And Justice For All. It was straight up kick-ass folks!
Some have decried Metallica’s presence at SXSW as not keeping in tune with the festival’s historic indie vibe, but if throwing in a surprise treat from one of the greatest bands ever to rock the stage isn’t cool, then I’m not sure what these folks are looking for. There were a gazillion opportunities to see indie bands, so having an arena rock headliner for Friday night was just a bonus and it wasn’t a guest list only show either.
After having been a huge Metallica fan from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, I’d soured a bit on the band when Lars Ulrich came out so strongly against Napster in the late ‘90s file sharing controversy that still dogs the music industry. Metallica had always been a people’s band, so something about that just didn’t seem right. I often wondered if the RIAA had gotten some kind of blackmail goods on Ulrich. So I actually hadn’t seen Metallica since 1994. But I sure won’t be waiting that long to see them again. A “Breadfan”>”Whiplash” encore drove the fury home, but it was a second encore of the obligatory “Seek and Destroy” that would have threatened to tear the roof off, if Stubb’s had a roof. What an electrifying show!
Metallica is a very tough act to follow, as Dokken found out the hard way back on the 1988 Monsters of Rock tour, but SXSW wisely switched up the vibe altogether by having San Francisco’s DJ Shadow close out the evening at Stubb’s, appropo since Metallica are a Bay Area band as well. Shadow is known as one of the most influential DJs in the biz and while much of crowd departed after Metallica, those who stayed had a groovy good time as Shadow threw down his patented mix of trippy dance beats and psychedelic samples. The only drawback was that the music was not accompanied by his standard psychedelic lightshow, since Metallica’s roadies apparently needed the house lights up in order to load out all of the band’s gear.
Sixth Street circa 2 a.m. was once again pure mayhem, with a massive crowd of music fans from all walks of life parading back and forth in what seemed to be various states of delirium.
Saturday March 21
Saturday’s musical activity started for me at 2 p.m. with Great Northern at the Convention Center’s Day Stage Café. I would have liked to catch their late set the previous night at the Karma Lounge, but such travel just wasn’t happening after being a little worn out from the Metallica show and with DJ Shadow being right there afterward. But I was eager to see what this act had to offer, since the Los Angeles band’s new album Remind Me Where the Light Is has a strong mix of atmospheric psychedelia, pop hooks and soaring vocals from Rachel Stolte.
This 20-minute acoustic performance was just Stolte and Solon Bixler in an unplugged performance on a pair of acoustic guitars, but they sounded superb. You know you’ve got great vocalists and winning tunes when the songs can stand on their own with just a pair of acoustic guitars.
After a lazy lunch and a little NCAA March Madness, I dropped a friend off at the airport and then headed over toward the Auditorium Shores Stage at Lady Bird Lake, where I wanted to catch Erykah Badu at 7 p.m. This was the only time of the weekend that I attempted to drive anywhere in Austin. But as I was headed toward the park, I heard some melodius music coming out of a restaurant called Threadgill’s. Since there didn’t seem to be anyplace to park at Lady Bird Lake anyway, I parked at Threadgill’s and went in to see what was happening.
They have a great little patio out there with a small stage and a decent number of arm-chaired seats. The previous band was done, but while The Lee Boys from Florida were setting up, Amy Lavere of Memphis took the smaller sidestage with her trio and delivered a knock out set of bluesy, folk rock. She cites both Willie Nelson and Pink Floyd as influences, which gives a good idea of her well-rounded vibe. The dark-haired beauty rocked an upright bass, while also delivering some angelic vocals as her band conjured an infectious and well-received sound.
I only caught a couple songs from The Lee Boys, who bill themselves as a “Sacred Steel” ensemble, but they had a strong bluesy vibe going, and were said to be back on the same stage for a Sunday gospel breakfast. Pedal steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier (nephew of the Lee brothers) threw down hot licks that recalled Robert Randolph and the Family Band. The breeze was blowing, the setting was intimate and comfy, Lavere and the Lee Boys were both complete pleasant surprises and my trip to Threadgill’s was a perfect SXSW moment that wound up being more memorable than what I went over to that part of town for in the first place.
A large crowd was gathering over at the lake stage, which had a true festival vibe with the stage being on a large lawn with lots of vendors all around. But word on the street had it that Erykah Badu and/or her new cohorts the Cannabinoids were late arriving from Dallas, and an hour after their 7 p.m. scheduled start time, there was still no music. There was a great sunset though… Badu finally took the stage with what looked like just a handful of DJs and keyboardists and sang a mere two numbers before departing. It was nothing like her triumphant Saturday night headlining performance at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, Calif., two years ago.
Friends and I plotted to meet up back at Stubb’s later and I checked back into Threadgill’s to catch the end of the Texas-Duke tournament game. The #7-seeded Longhorns were right there with the dastardly Blue Devils, a #2 seed, which made it fun to watch with an Austin crowd. But alas the men of burnt orange couldn’t quite get over the hump and lost a perfectly winnable game that knocked them out of the tournament.
I totally forgot that I wanted to try and catch Tinted Windows at 10 p.m. at the Bat Bar, where the new band that included Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos and former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha would perform, and instead started heading down Sixth Street toward Stubb’s to try and catch PJ Harvey. It’s for this reason that I vow to own an iPhone or some similar web-enabled device by SXSW 2010 so that I can have my pre-selected schedule at my fingertips at all times.
Stopping at Death Metal Pizza on Sixth Street, I ran into Krayolas vocalist/guitarist Hector Saldana, who was snazzily dressed and feeling good about his band’s SXSW performances. I complemented him ontheir Luminaria performance last weekend and then we were both off to Stubb’s for PJ Harvey. But the dreaded line that caused me to miss the Avett Brothers on Wednesday was back and I only made it in for Harvey’s last song. She’s definitely got some powerful mojo working though.
Next up at Stubb’s were The Indigo Girls, who delivered a set that featured some strong new material, but opened and closed with classics “Closer to Fine” and “Galileo.” There was a bit of cognitive dissonance in the sense that the same stage that had featured Metallica just 24 hours earlier was now featuring two folky women on acoustic guitars, quite the sonic contrast. But the timeless harmonies of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers always come across well to those who appreciate fine songwriting in all its forms, from metal to folk.
The closing set of the evening was another performance by Third Eye Blind, who took the stage at Stubb’s with the same energy they delivered in their more intimate set the previous day at the Lone Star Lounge. This band has a devoted following — Stubb’s wasn’t quite as packed as for Metallica, but there was a big crowd on hand for the closing set that started around 12:30 a.m., and everyone was rocking out. The band was firing on all cylinders, and while they played mostly the same set as the day before, it still felt fresh and exciting. I predict 2009 will be a big comeback year for Third Eye Blind.
A friend and I were attempting to find a cab over to the Red Bull Moontower party, one of the exclusive SXSW late night events that I had RSVP’d for, but we were sadly informed that it had been shut down around 3 a.m. instead of lasting until 5 a.m. As we walked back up Sixth Street to our hotels, Austin suddenly seemed like an eerie ghost town, as if Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name might turn the corner at any moment. But after four nights of almost non-stop music, I was sated.
Sunday March 22
There wasn’t much official SXSW activity on Sunday, which seems a shame, since a sunny Sunday afternoon would be a great time to have one more show on that Lady Bird Lake stage. But alas all I could find to attend was a retrospective seminar at the Day Stage Café on Stevie Ray Vaughan, the highlight of which was the playing of some old sound clips from when Vaughan was just 15-years-old and clearly already wailing like the legend he would become.
One other extracurricular activity worth mentioning at SXSW was the totally awesome Flatstock 20 rock poster art convention, from the American Poster Institute. If you’re one of those music fans who likes to decorate your home with rock art, Flatstock 20 was like being a kid in candy store — a veritable Willy Wonka factory with all your favorite flavors of sugary sweets. There was something for every musical taste, and so many great artists.
Sean Carroll from the Sandusky Bay Poster Works in Ohio had an incredibly cool Iron Maiden poster from a show at Cleveland’s Blossom Ampitheater that featured Maiden mascot Eddie posed as the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo, swinging a bat with a tattered Ohio flag hanging from it, sort of like the art from “The Trooper.” If you were a Maiden fan from Cleveland, it was a must buy.
Then there was Gary Houston of Voodoo Catbox in Portland. His work featured mostly Northwest shows, but he’s also landed himself a gig as an in-house artist for the Grateful Dead family, with gorgeous posters from The Dead, The Other Ones, and Phil Lesh & Friends. He had a 2002 fall tour Other Ones poster that featured flying saucers creating Grateful Dead-themed crop circles. If you were a Deadhead who’s into UFOs, it was a must buy.
Lastly, I’ve got to put in a good word for Fuze beverages, one of SXSW’s official sponsors. Upfront disclaimer is that I had two friends there working for Fuze, but I wouldn’t tout the product if I didn’t dig it. I can’t vouch for all of their flavors (and I didn’t particularly care for their cranberry blend) but the Fuze black & green tea had me picturing Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction calling it a “a tasty beverage.” And a relatively healthy one too, with no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial colors and no artificial flavors. It also claims the antioxidant capacity of two servings of vegetables, as well as being loaded with vitamins C, E and B. When you’re out drinking beer all night, this stuff really helps restore the system the next day.
Well, I can’t believe I just wrote over 5,000 words about SXSW 2009. But it was a world-class event that I’ve just had the privilege of attending for the first time, and I’m fairly certain it won’t be the last. I wish I had caught more San Antonio bands, and will have to plan better for that next year. Viva SXSW!