While dealing with long lines, sore feet, little sleep and a city (Austin) busting at the seams with corporate brands screaming for your attention, these moments make it worth it. My memorable moment breakdown:
Best Sing Along:
Foster the People — Pumped Up Kicks
(I was above the stage at Filter Magazine’s Cedar Street showcase looking down at the crowd and watching them sing every word back to the band. It was also the first time I’ve seen them play the song live, so it was a double whammy of joy)
Best Voice to Send Chills Down your Spine:
James Vincent McMorrow
(Listening to the record cannot prepare you for the greatness that is James’ haunting voice. A must see if you like singer songwriters like Bon Iver, Ray LaMontagne, etc…)
Worst Music Trend of 2011:
(seriously, there was a lot of metal around this year. And for some reason it’s always outside so it’s pretty much unavoidable. Not even earplugs could save me.)
Best Band That’s Ready to Break Out Big:
The Head and the Heart
(Killer harmonies, well-written songs, great stage presence/live show. They have it all)
Best Food of SXSW:
(Queso and Pancakes. Not together. OK even together. If I had the money I’d start one in LA.)
Most Anticipated Band that Lived Up to the Hype:
Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr
(I had already seen Dale in LA but everyone who was at KCRW’s showcase loved their set. I kept hearing about it throughout the week).
Band Worth Running 4 Blocks For:
Lead Singer with Most Effortless Charisma
(Saw them by mistake and have been singing/whistling the chorus of their single ever since!)
Best Surprise Backstage Moment
Liz Phair at the brand new state-of-the-art ACL venue during the Perez Hilton party.
(She played songs that Perez personally requested, which included all my favorites. He’s a big fan of the station and it’s clear he knows his music.)
LA Band People Were Buzzing About
(My sources tell me their new songs are great and it was just announced that they will be touring with Robbie Robertson as his backing band.)
Runners Up: Belle Brigade, Grouplove and Odd Future. OF had the biggest hype of the festival by far but I didn’t get to see them for myself.
Most Soul StirringMoment:
Watching Charles Bradley & the Menahan Street Band
His break may be coming late in life, but all the years Bradley have lived are evident in his soulful voice. He sings his heart out and the Menahan Street Band get you moving.
The World (Is Going Up In Flames) by Dunham Records
Album I Listened to Hours After Landing Back in LA
Bands I Really Wanted to See but Missed
Cults, Walk the Moon, Beach Fossils, Yuck, Reptar, The Stepkids
Special Shoutouts: Best Wingmen
Wendy Fonarow (also know as The Indie Professor, and columnist for the Guardian UK) and Thrillist LA editor Jeff Miller
Nothing at SXSW is more important than flexibility and willingness to abandon your plans and takes chances. Some of which pay off, some of which don’t. But having friends who are also willing to walk into any venue without knowing anything about a band makes it a lot more fun.
AND Sara Berger of Austin’s Soft Healer:
Sara is an employee at Tequila Mockingbird studio and, for two years in a row, gave me a ride downtown town after our MBE live sessions – this year in her super sweet pink BMW! Finally she revealed that she’s in a local band called Soft Healer. Stereogum is already hip to them and now we are too.
Closing thought: This year I came home with far fewer physical CDs than years past. I also saw fewer bands, but I think I saw much better music overall than the last two years. Go 2011!