During this year's SXSW music festival someone asked me how many times I'd been to Austin, Texas, for this event. I had no idea. Eight? Ten? Since the mid-'90s I've certainly attended many times, most as a panelist, but always as a music fan. And that's the problem - if one approaches this event hoping to see everything that is being promised they will probably leave disappointed. Most everyone attending this event loves music, but make no mistake, this is a business event. Companies are all over attempting to induce viral branding; labels are shoving bands in your face hoping for recognition; bands are desperate for any attention and some even think labels might be attending their showcase looking for acts to sign; and tobacco firms set up huge tents to give away their wares to passers by. Even natural gas companies set up parties with giveaways and free food attempting to convince folks that they are hip and with it, or something. It's crazy. But I've learned how to ride the SXSW wave.
First of all, for the last four years we've thrown a Tape Op Party during one of the days of SXSW. Like many of the unofficial events going on in Austin during this week, it involves a rented club, live music, free drinks (I have to admit we are more generous than most) and an afternoon. We add lots of giveaways from our sponsors, and we try not to pick shitty bands, like some companies. Why throw a party? Where else are all the poor readers of Tape Op to go to met each other and have fun? We might be the nerds of SXSW, but we're the ones that know how to really have fun, we're mostly not on the major hustle (though talk to me about studio time, please) and our sponsors are happy to get us all in one place for an afternoon, but thankfully they are not pushy. The party is fun, but it sorta sucks up that whole day. What do I do the other days?
Well, if you come to Austin and don't check out the food you are crazy. Texas-style BBQ is well known, and deservedly so, but to get the best usually requires a little searching or a drive to the hills or down to Lockhart. But Tex-Mex flavors are everywhere, starting with breakfast tacos in the morning. Brisket tacos for lunch soon follow. There are all sorts of other restaurants to be found, and I have had some of the best seafood, French and Italian meals, let alone fine corn dog vendors on the street and Home Slice Pizza up the hill. But music, yes. I spend a fair amount of time digging through my emails before SXSW searching for day party info from PR folks. Then I hope that friends clue me in as well.
This year I got to see Tape Op's online guru Dave Middleton join his Boston buddies, Grownup Noise, as he moonlighted as a touring musician. It was at some party for a distributor or something? No one made that very clear. I tried to see Brendan Benson play twice, but missed out due to long lines or showing up late. This sort of scenario is typical - do not lose your cool. Tape Op writer Alex Maiolo clued me in to a fabulous dB's show one day, featuring sometimes contributor Chris Stamey and everyone's pal, Mitch Easter, filling in on bass. Way fun. A jaunt over to the Brooklyn Vegan Metal Party caught Alcest and their dynamic, awesome take on new, underground metal. New Roman Times and Poor Moon were also both excellent at a day party for some goofy app that lets one upload gig photos to he web and vote on them. What? Why? But the bands were great! A couple of shows at SXSanJose (at the fab Hotel San Jose) were a treat, where we caught Built to Spill and Alejandro Escovedo on different nights. We waited in line for a Merge Records showcase after bumping into M. Ward and company on the street, but damn, it quickly became apparent that we wouldn't even get in the door since it was so crowded. We heard Jack White played a show where people on his personal guest list didn't get in the door. Jeez. One of my favorite treats is to not make the mad airport dash on Sunday morning with the rest of the crowd, and to stay in Austin for a few extra days. South Congress Street is where I usually roam on Sunday, and catching Mitch Webb and the Swindles at Guero's outside party (and finding out their guitarist is a Tape Op fan) was a real hoot. The days slow down and the crowds disperse. And then one starts making plans for the following year's event. Oh man. I'll miss all that Shiner Bock.
Check out a video Avid shot of Laura Thurmond and I discussing the Tape Op Party!