Thursday, March 19, 2009

South By Southwest, Day 1: Asleep at the Wheel

Posted By on Thu, Mar 19, 2009 at 12:20 PM

For many of us from Pittsburgh, including punk band Kim Phuc and poster artist Mike Budai, this year's South By Southwest festival started off on a brutal note: A 5:30 a.m. boarding at the Pittsburgh International Airport. Most, like Kim Phuc bassist Corey Lyons, hadn't slept at all -- a rough start to nearly a week of rock 'n' roll, parties, beer, and walking the length and breadth of Austin, Tex. several times a day. It did feel like a worthy start to an adventure, though, and the blinding sunlight and balmy temperatures that greeted us in Austin made it feel already worthwhile.

After retrieving my credentials at the convention center and meeting up with the friends who are hosting me here in Austin, it was time to hit the first day party. The day parties in Austin are typically unofficial events -- not part of SXSW proper -- sponsored by various corporations and music-related businesses. The one I started with was A Breath of Fresh Air, an outdoor, wind-powered showcase of indie bands at the Threadgills venue, sponsored by PR companies Organic Entertainment and September Gurl.

As the boy-girl duo KaiserCartel began their set, with drums, acoustic guitar, glockenspiel and folky vocal harmonies, I spotted famed Austin singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo, leaving the club and making his way out to an enormous pickup truck. KaiserCartel's set was just about perfect for the outdoor, garden-like venue and a couple of frosty late-afternoon Lonestar brews. Kaisercartel played Brillobox in February, and should be returning to Pittsburgh in the next couple of months, according to their publicist (no date is posted online yet). But by the time The Damnwells started their set, it felt like time to move a long -- there are priorities, after all.

Later last night, my friend Csaba Toth (another Pittsburgher, who's shooting some photos at SXSW) and I decided that, if all else fails, we must see the Scottish band Glasvegas. A showcase they were playing, with Peter, Bjorn and John and The Von Bondies seemed about perfect, so we got in early (and got to meet Bjorn Yttling, who was friendly and cool). Unfortunately, PB&J's set was plagued with technical problems, and never quite got rolling. At least, that's what I can remember of it: I'd underestimated the cumulative effects of no sleep, travel, walking and sun exposure, and was falling asleep on the shoulders of people next to me in the club. Ah well, sometimes you have to cut your losses and try tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, I'll be posting updates from SXSW daily, so keep checking back -- especially as I'll be heading to a number of showcases for the Pittsburgh-based musicians playing this year.



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