This year, writer Kyle Huth’s band was invited to perform at the prestigious South By Southwest music festival and industry conference in Austin, Texas. Rather than tell us how great his band was and about all of the offers they got to sign major-label contracts, we figured he should just keep a little diary. From what he remembers, it sounded like a good weekend.-Gavin Adair
Friday, March 15
Southeast Portland, 5:40 a.m. It doesn’t feel particularly rock ‘n’ roll at this point. It has been some time since I woke up at this hour and even the prospect of playing SXSW, one of the largest music festivals in the U.S., is not motivating me. In 13 hours I will be on stage. Zombie-like I load my equipment into the car.
Portland Airport, 7:10 a.m. Before boarding I submit to my first random search by airport security. Though these searches are billed as random, I am “randomly” searched at each airport I enter throughout the weekend and still have no idea how this is making travel safer.
Austin Airport, 3:20 p.m. Sleep and vitamins have made me feel close to normal again. We have arrived, the sun is shining, registration awaits us at the Austin Convention Center.
Red River Way, Austin, 5:35 p.m. I am returning by bus from a music store that I needed to visit before our show. This is unremarkable except that buses only cost 50 cents in Austin and our bus passes right by the Texas Capitol Building. The reason I know this is because four Texans point it out to me as we rode by.
Sixth Street, 7:15 p.m. With the setting of the sun the transformation is incredible. Streets are cordoned off and music emanates from every conceivable direction. On the corner I run into Chris Spence, a man I seem to run into in every city in America. He tells me he played Wednesday, but what is most noticeable is the volume of his voice. He is booming like someone who has been standing in loud halls for the last 48 hours trying to be heard over the ringing in his ears. Similarly, as he talks veins pop out of his neck and his eyes bulge. He looks much like he does on stage: Pent up and more than a little tired, but very intense. Will I look like this in ten years?
La Zona Rosa, 7:55 p.m. I was actually hoping to say hello to some friends playing here tonight but they are sharing the bill with Clinic and the crowd is thick. Clinic, along with Anti Pop Consortium seem to be the only huge buzz bands at this year’s festival. The crowd is made up of industry people. I can tell this right away because everyone has a larger or more elaborate laminate around their neck than me and they all seem largely humorless. I saw that fat guy from MTV order a Heineken. Everybody knows only assholes order Heineken.
Casino El Camino’s, 8:20 p.m. Relieved to see no one is drinking Heineken. I order the first drink of the day: Jim Beam, neat, and a Corona.
Room 710, 9 p.m. Nerves, from Chicago, are just going on. Their live show is not to be missed. They are able to sound both stripped to bare essentials yet feel so electric, much like the name implies. And Seth, their bass player, sports an impressive mustache. It takes balls to sport a mustache.
12:05 a.m. We manage to play a very tight and energetic set despite lack of sleep and borrowed equipment. This delights John and Julie from our label who were quite concerned we were going to get all wasted and fuck up. This is one of their constant concerns but tonight we came through. Seth has me in a near headlock and is explaining to me why girls love the mustache.
1:55 a.m. The conversation Seth and I were having has degenerated into a near wrestling match, fueled largely by bourbon. Some spectators look on with a mixture of humor and horror at our juvenile antics. Others might call this bonding. The bands exchange goodbyes and talk about playing together again soon. Everyone updates their e-mail lists and promises to write. It is a lot like the end of summer camp.
Saturday, March 16
Steve’s House, 11:45 a.m. End of the West, a fine Austin band and old friends have put us up. I discover that it gets cold in Austin at night in the spring and that I am getting a little old to be sleeping in a recliner. I awake cold and sore.
Stubb’s BBQ, 1 p.m. The band has convened at Stubb’s with our labelmate Simon Stokes and his band in hot pursuit of the grand party treat: FREE DRINKS. I could not tell you who hosted this one but it featured free Bloody Marys and music by Seattle’s Supersuckers.
Simon, as they say, is a music industry veteran. What they really mean is that he has been releasing records since before you were born and is old. He carries it well, though, and has had his songs covered by the likes of the Stooges and the Cramps. He is something of a biker-rock legend but looks more professorial these days than anything with his black suits and gray ponytail. Whenever he leaves the table someone walks over and asks who he is. No one wants to miss out on seeing a legend. Usually they walk away disappointed.
1:50 p.m. A brief panic ensues as Jerry Cantrell takes the stage briefly. Jerry was in Alice in Chains and looks like a guy you would cast as a kind of burnt-out crystal meth dealer in a made-for-TV-movie. If it came down to watching this guy play or go elsewhere and pay for drinks I would be reaching for the ATM, but as it turns out he’s only finishing his sound check. The Supersuckers are playing inside.
2:45 p.m. The Supersuckers play their country set and sound as good as ever. “It’s a long day, so pace yourselves,” singer Eddie Spaghetti warns from stage. I am four bloody Marys and a Pabst into the afternoon.
Room 710, 3:30 p.m. On the same stage I played the night before, Jeff Pinkus, former Butthole Surfer, performs with his band Honky. The Surfers utterly pushed the boundaries of art, music and good taste when I was growing up, and are truly pioneers. This man on stage has seen and been a part of things I cannot even fathom. And this afternoon he is playing in front of a handful of friends on a Saturday afternoon in his hometown. His band is an amalgamation of Black Flag low-end and Southern rock bombast. They close with a cover of Skynard’s “Simple Man.”
Emo’s, 5:30 p.m. In the midst of a conversation I spot a flier for the band the Baseball Furies. They are old friends and I quickly interrupt. “Sorry, but I’ve gotta go. The Furies are playing at a record store right now!” With a flier and directions in hand I depart in the closest cab and arrive just to see them packing up their gear.
Some bar, 7 p.m. At this point it is important to reflect on this whole South By Southwest thing. Sitting at some anonymous dive in Texas and being able to talk with friends I haven’t seen in years makes the whole weekend worthwhile. In 36 hours I was able to see a dozen people from all over the United States. that I don’t normally see in the same town doing the thing they most love to do. Play music.
Pay phone in front of Beerland, 11:15 p.m. After the above epiphany and seeing sets by the Gospel Swingers, the Cherry Valence, the Immortal Lee County Killers and High on Fire, I inexplicably call my parents. I haven’t talked to them all week and wasn’t even sure if they knew this was the weekend I was in Texas. It just seemed important. I explain to my mother the sheer beauty of the streets being blocked off and a city opening its arms to hundreds of bands and how all of this is a community of people that do this purely out of the love of music. My mother asks me if I’m on drugs.
The Acoustic Room, 12:55 a.m. Backed by crack team of L.A. punk rock legends Simon Stokes takes the stage. His music is filled with darkness and his own demons but also has a romantic and almost contented feel. Like Leonard Cohen if Cohen hung out with Midwest bikers instead of in Buddhist monasteries. And like Cohen or Neil Young or Lou Reed or even Dylan his music is still poignant because he takes his years of experience and still spikes it with passion.
Sixth Street, 2:20 a.m. As the clubs let out every one makes their way down Sixth toward the night’s final event, the Spin party. It’s no surprise to find it already packed beyond capacity and the line getting longer by the minute. I can faintly hear Guided by Voices playing inside. The place is surrounded by drunk hipsters and anxious police and firemen. It has all the makings of a riot, albeit a chicly dressed and well-behaved one. My guitar player Rives and I call a cab and head for the End of the West house. Perhaps it’s fitting we don’t end up at the big event but instead see Simon play an intimate show surrounded by friends on our last night in Austin..