We set our expectations low for SXSW. “This is going to suck, you guys,” Darwin braced our band, as Mash Deez drove him, Miles, Greg, and me to JFK airport. “We’re going to be rushed on and offstage, the sound is going to be bad…” I had my own reasons to be wary of our week in Austin. In 2007, I had a memorably lame time playing some hyped shows at CMJ in New York City. I remembered the transcendent fun of the rock show being practically exterminated by a sullen, jaded crowd of badge-sporting industry heads. From everything I’d heard, SXSW is the sibling festival of CMJ, and there seemed no reason to not expect similar results.
Fresh off the airplane, Miles and I lined up at the convention center, in awe of the outrageous population density of dudes in bands occupying that building (including ourselves, of course). To our delight, we realized that one of those dudes in bands was none other than Orlando Higginbottom aka Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs! We had just parted ways with him in Berlin 72 hours ago, after a rollercoaster of a tour and a smashing finale. Miraculously, there we were, an ocean away, running into each other in line. We hugged, proceeded to a Korean BBQ taco truck near 6th Street, feasted upon Austin street food bliss, and our week in Texas was off to an optimistic start.
Miles and I lined up outside of Emo’s to see Zachary Cole Smith, our old guitarist, play the Pitchfork showcase in Beach Fossils. When we entered, they were already tearing up the stage. Cole was in the center, in top form, doing his pivot foot trick, his one leg bent trick, his whole rolodex of poses and movements that had become so familiar and endearing to me after playing alongside of him night after night. I kept trying to catch his eye. Tried to call his name in between the songs. I started to worry. Is Cole mad at me? Shunning me? Are we no longer friends? Or is he just immersed in the performance? When the Beach Fossils set ended, I went out on a limb and yelped “Cole!” one more time from the foot of the stage. Cole glanced up from wrapping up his guitar cable, spotted me, walked over, and gave me a sloppy kiss on the lips. Relief flooded over me. Still friends.
I ducked under the highway and found a happy cluster of NYC friends of Darwin and mine, antifolk darlings from back home, Preston Spurlock, Yoko Kikuchi, and Sarah Lautman. I watched Sarah and Yoko’s band, Tight Little Ship, kick out the jams and then caught a ride with Preston ten miles south to the suburbs, where the Deez had set up camp.
Greg’s friends, Jeremiah and Mandy, housed us for our entire SXSW stay. We sizzled up hashbrowns, scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee. Greg set up a can on the porch fence and shot at it with a pellet gun, true Texas cowboy style. Beyond their backyard fence stretched a luscious expanse of twisted trees, a soothing sight after two months of touring concrete city after city after city.
Wednesday was our day to work. Our first show was the Brooklyn Vegan showcase at Emo’s. Out of the hundred-plus stages in that festival, we ended up on the same stage that Cole had played only 12 or so hours earlier. A Place To Bury Strangers was on before us. I used to share a manager with that band, and sure enough, there he was in the audience, Stephen Matrick. I said hi. Wyatt, Darwin’s Baba Lover friend who had housed us in February (see Feb blog) was in the house. Sibsi, a longtime essential antifolk ally from Berlin, and Deenah Vollmer, a New York antifolker and neighbor, were there, too. This is the magic of SXSW. Your entire music world comes together, sucked in by an all-powerful magnet, in this sunny sunglasses Southwestern paradise.