Most of my friends, family, co-workers (and that dude with the sarcastic personality I see in the mirror every morning) will tell you that I complain about a LOT of things… but, living in Austin, Texas is certainly NOT one of them. I LOVE Austin, TX! (Please… don’t move here!). I especially love Austin during the month of March, when Spring Break comes to town, and South by Southwest (SXSW) showcases the best in indie film, music and interactive from around the world. In my humble opinion, this is the time of year that Austin more than lives up to its rightfully earned title of the Live Music Capital of The World. What? Don’t believe me? Come and listen for yourself.
When I got back to work on Monday morning, a co-worker asked me a simple question… “What was your favorite part of SXSW 2012?”. Then he shoved a microphone in front of my face and told me “Smile! You’re on national television.” Then I yelled out “I LOVE BACON!” and ran screaming from the building. OK, I made that part up; but, I truly had to think about it. If you’re anything like me (if so… I’m sorry!) then your answer would be “… it depends”. Kind of like asking somebody “What is your favorite travel destination?”. I’m not good with statistics; but, probably 8 out of 10 times, you’re going to get a different answer. In case you were wondering… my favorite travel destination is New Zealand (so far). I’ll get to my favorite part of SXSW 2012 before I finish the blog. Promise.
I have a LOT of friends who live in Austin and say point blank “I don’t do SXSW”. I also have a LOT of friends who live in Austin, do ALL the research, know everything about every band, party, event, and can tell you when, where, why and how to be an intricate part of SXSW Culture. I am neither of these people. I don’t despise SXSW. And I don’t eat, sleep, and breathe SXSW either; But, oh mama! I do like to EXPERIENCE SXSW.
This year, my SXSW 2012 Experience happened by accident. My wife and I were planning a 24hr overnight break from our boys (ages 4 and 2). Hopefully, no explanation necessary; but, if you need one… sometimes folks gotta get away! Even if it’s just for 24hrs. I think you understand. Anyway, I digress. March 17th. That was the day of reckoning. Marked it on the calendar, and then came up with a GENIUS idea to take Friday, March 16th off work. Why? Because, it just seemed like the right thing to do the day before I was going out of town. I’m telling you… I REALLY need to come out from under that rock more often, because I I quickly realized that the week of March 12-16th was Spring Break here in Austin, TX. Wait a second… the music portion of SXSW starts during this week! Good thing I accidentally took off work for Friday, March 16th! And Oh snap! March 17th is St Patrick’s Day and I’ll be at La Cantera Resort in the San Antonio – Texas Hill Country with my wife (Anna)! Woo! Hoo!
It’s unfortunate that I was too stupid to actually take the whole week off work. Nevertheless, I knew my 2012 SXSW Experience was going to be good. I just didn’t know HOW good. After exchanging texts and emails on Facebook with my friend Paul in New York the previous week, he informed me that he and the Dos Equis Team would be in Austin for SXSW interactive. They live in New York. A 20-25min drive downtown was a no brainer for me to spend time with them (again).
I was a little bit overwhelmed by the annihilation of what used to be downtown Austin, Texas; but, I have NEVER had a bad time with my friend Paul, so I put on my big boy SXSW boots and saddled up ready for the rodeo. Not literally. Just figuratively. I was ready to go with the flow and take on whatever the night had in store for us. He calmly says “well… we can grab a drink, bite to eat, walk around, or try to catch some live music somewhere.” You know me! Well… the 7 of you reading this blog really don’t know me; but, I was game for whatever. Then he nonchalantly says… “Oh wait, I forgot… we got tickets to see Jay-Z [at Austin City Limits (ACL) Moody Theater]”. I think I may have dropped a few four letter words at this point.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it maybe 15 or 16 times… “The greatest surprises in life are the adventures never expected”. That’s my sarcastic way of saying “It ain’t a surprise if you already know what’s gonna happen!”, and this was certainly unexpected and definitely a great surprise. Sincere Thanks to my friends Paul, Greg, Stephen and the rest of the crew from Dos Equis for their kindness and generosity. Also, to American Express – AMEX Synch Show for bringing one of (if not THE) greatest hip-hop artists to Austin City Limits (ACL) Moody Theater. I would show you my horrible attempt to capture part of the show; but, what’s the point? AMEX put together a rebroadcast of the show which is definitely worth exploring. Song after song after song. I forgot just how many hits Jay-Z has. Heart of the City, Izzo, 99 Problems, Hard Knock Life, Where I’m From, and Public Service Announcement (just to name a few). THIS is why Jay-Z is such a great artist and global phenomenon.
As if the night couldn’t get any better (or more surprising) we eventually made our way to the infamous 6th Street for a little adrenaline rush with Dada Life – Stockholm, Sweden. You know you’re in for an adventure when a musician’s motto is… “Destroy dance music and have fun. Don’t look back in the past. Always go forward. Don’t think too much. Always follow the money. Do the Dada.” Probably one of the craziest shows I’ve ever seen in my life. Granted, I really don’t get out from under that rock a whole lot; But, when a bunch of people get on stage in banana outfits and jump around while the crowd is going bananas with glow sticks all juiced up on one too many red bull’s, it was clear that at 41… I was too old for this $@#%! But, FUN FUN FUN FUN. Dada Life was a great SXSW Experience. After all, I got to partake in my favorite pastime… PEOPLE WATCHING!
Might I remind you that this was all on a MONDAY night? Lucky for me, I had to be at work on Tuesday morning, so at almost 1am CST, I said goodbye to the Dos Equis Crew on W. 6th Street, thanked them for a wonderful time at SXSW, and called it a night. That gave me Tues, Wed, and Thurs to rest up for my Friday SXSW Experience. Knowing my wife (Anna) is Numero Uno on my list for fun and adventure, I knew she was working all day and could not partake of the festivities. Rats! That meant I had to recruit a “partner in crime”. Insert my good friend Kathryn aka Kate, aka K-Bone, aka “Cinnamon”. Fun, cool, great attitude, fellow music lover, fun, and awesome friend. Did I mention FUN? What’s not to love about Kate?
Breakfast is supposed to be the best meal of the day; therefore, Kate and I started out our Friday SXSW Experience at an Austin culinary staple – the original Kerbey Lane Cafe on Kerbey Lane. Go figure. I guess that’s why it’s the original, because the one by my house is on Highway 183. You know you’re at SXSW when a group walks in for breakfast with a film crew entourage. I have no idea who the heck they were, or why the were being filmed. Irrelevant. Besides, nobody except Kate (or maybe Beyonce) was going to distract me from eating my blackberry pancakes and bacon that morning. Dee-licious!
When I travel and/or go to music festivities, I typically have something in mind that I MUST see/do. Everything outside of that… I’m game. For the Friday SXSW Experience, I wanted to see Iceland’s “Of Monsters and Men” at Filter Magazine’s Showdown at Cedar Street (1pm CST). That pretty much left the whole day open. We arrived just after 11am, and decided to show our love and support for my friends from Dos Equis, by paying homage with a cold and frosty Dos Equis cerveza! Yeah, I know it was only 11am; but, it was happy hour somewhere in the world. Why not Austin, Texas? Right?
For the 7 of you who actually read my blog, you may recall that my wife (Anna) and I are planning a trip to Fjord Norway this year (2012). Ranks right up there with Patagonia (Argentina/Chile), Machu Piccu, Tibet/Nepal, Switzerland, South Pacific (Bora Bora, Fiji) and Africa (Tanzania, Mozambique, S. Africa, Kenya, Botswana) on my 1000 places to see before I die list. So who the heck knew that I would be watching a Norwegian band on a Friday morning in Austin, Texas while drinking a Mexican beer? Not me. Enter “Team Me” from Norway.
Unknown to the US… OK, that’s really not fair. Unknown to ME… They won the Norwegian Grammys for best pop group 2011, for their debut album “To the Treetops!” My day was shaping up nicely, and for the past 3 days now, “Show Me” by “Team Me” has been occupying space on my iPod Playlist as a recurring favorite song. There’s a reason why they are a SXSW 2012 Showcasing Artist.
A pure delight to hear them play LIVE. Great sound. As if my opinion of “Team Me” couldn’t get any better… we somehow ended up talking to the drummer, Bjarne. Just a fantastic person, and true representation of how taking timeout to say hello and have a conversation with a couple of new fans at SXSW in Austin, Texas gains you some supporters for life. I’ve been telling everybody about them. Bjarne probably won’t remember me to save his life; but, I told him I was already planning a trip to Fjord Norway, so would look them up and try to catch a show when we come through Oslo this year (2012). I already said it earlier in the blog; but, I’ll say it again… “The greatest surprises in life are the adventures never expected”. You heard it here… TEAM ME. BRILLIANT!
If you’re still reading this blog, about 2hrs ago, I mentioned that my co-worker asked me a simple question… “What was your favorite part of SXSW 2012?”. Without question… listening to the Icelandic indie folk band Of Monsters and Men LIVE at Filter Magazine’s Showdown at Cedar Street. They were beyond great. There’s something to be said when you’ve watched YouTube videos of a band, and listened to live in studio recordings of them, as well as heard a few songs on iTunes, and it STILL doesn’t do them as much justice as seeing them LIVE in Austin, Texas.
They surpassed my expectations, and for that, Of Monsters and Men from Reykjavik, Iceland are my favorite part of SXSW 2012. Who would have guessed? If you don’t know them… you WILL know them soon enough.
Yelling “HEY!” with the crowd on songs like “Little Talks” and “Dirty Paws” in an electrifying LIVE setting was fantastic. I also enjoyed the melodic sounds on songs like “Lakehouse” and “King and Lionheart”. Awesome. Although “Little Talks” is probably their most notable song, I can’t help bursting out a hearty “la-la-laaaa… la-la-la-laaaa!” while singing “Dirty Paws” numerous times throughout the day.
Of Monsters and Men. Just a REALLY great band. And Yes, I’ve already pre-ordered the US debut album “My Head Is an Animal” on iTunes (Expected Release Date Apr 3, 2012). Do yourself a favor… check them out!
I could very well have gone home and been 100% happy with my Friday SXSW Experience; however, Kate set the expectations high by telling me about a one man band from England called Ed Sheeran. Then she described him. Small red haired white guy who can rap and play a guitar like a banshee. I really have no idea what a banshee is… but, somewhere in the world banshees are proud, because Ed Sheeran is the REAL deal.
He was pretty much amazing. Yet another surprise for my SXSW Experience. This was starting to become a habit. A good one.
I may have forgotten to mention that our friends Jeannie, Jeff, and Amy joined us at Cedar Street. After a great day (so far) of “Team Me” (Norway), “Of Monsters and Men” (Iceland) and “Ed Sheeran” (England), why stop there? Jeff really wanted to see a North Carolina band “Lost in the Trees”, so we took our happy smiles to Speakeasy on 4th and Congress for some more live SXSW music. I’m not even sure how to describe their sound other than “beautiful”. Something you would hear on Grey’s Anatomy, or as part of a movie soundtrack. Hopefully I won’t offend them by saying I could drink a cup of coffee and read a good book while listening to them. Very different than the Scandinavian filled live show we had just left at Cedar Street.
Before “Lost in Trees” came on, we were ever so lucky to catch Irish folk singer and Academy Award Winner Glen Hansard (The Swell Season) alongside Jake Clemons on the stage at Speakeasy. A perfect St Patty’s Day Eve treat. “Low Rising” was awesome. As was “The Parting Glass” sung accapella at the end of his set. BRILLIANT! And once again… another great surprise for my Friday SXSW Experience. Seriously… next year I’m takin’ the whole week off. Geez! I’m an idiot!
I could go on for hours writing about how we watched a couple of bands on a parking garage rooftop of an advertising agency in downtown Austin. Along with free bratwurst from The Best Wurst in Austin, Texas and Shiner Bock beer; but, it’s all just too much to put in a single blog. I lost track of all the live music we heard at 96 Bar, Lustre Pearl, and Icenhauers. Nevertheless, by the time the evening made it’s way to a close, Kate and I found ourselves saying goodbye to my friends CHILL and Dina at Blackheart Bar on Rainey Street.
As we made the vicious hike across downtown towards my car, it was like an unspoken language of smiles across our faces that silently said… “GREAT DAY! GREAT DAY!”. That thought didn’t last long, because inevitably, how can you end a great day without great food? You can’t. We bee-lined for Austin’s finest food trucks at 3rd & Congress Ave. This wasn’t fast food. It was great food – made quickly. “I’ll have the blackened gulf red snapper poboy… and a bottle of ice cold water… Please!”. Kate had the pulled pork tacos. Dee-lish! As we humbly sat there on our cheap white plastic lawn furniture overlooking downtown Austin, Texas, it was the perfect way to end our Friday SXSW Experience. All I could think was… SXSW 2012: I LOVE Austin, TX! (Please… don’t move here!). Bring on SXSW 2013! I’m ready!
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