SXSW started early this year, but despite the extra day and even more venues, the growing number of bands and fans are already overwhelming Austin, providing an increasingly difficult itinerary. Press passes aren’t what they used to be and it is quite easy to get stuck in line long enough to miss a few hours and a few acts. It’s important to have a few backup plans, and not to be discouraged when your first choices fall through. After all, the festival is supposed to be about discovering new talent.
The freaks and the fashionable parade the streets from noon until morning, making people-watching alone worth the price of the plane ticket. I joined the masses on Tuesday looking for something new, and I quickly found it. Making my way to the Paste Magazine/Newport Folk Festival’s showcase, I arrived just in time to see the start of Hurray for the Riff Raff’s set. The female duo from New Orleans played a riveting stripped down set of country-tinged blues combining cover songs by Billie Holiday and Fred Neil as well as a slew of originals. Alternating between acoustic guitar and banjo, backed by a fiddle and the occasional toy piano, their set seemed perfectly at home on the front patio of the rickety old house now known as the Blackheart Bar. Not only will Hooray for Riff Raff make their debut at the Newport Folk Festival this year, but they found out just hours before their set they will be the opening act for the Alabama Shakes upcoming tour.
From there it was on to Viceland to catch the Skaters’ Austin debut. The buzz around them, combined sharing a bill with Waaves and Japandroids created a line of about 2,000 people snaked around the block — a line that would only be trumped later by Deadmau5. This was the first show I missed out on, and I hope it’s my last.
After watching a few songs from the street, I decided to make better use of my time and headed over to the Mohawk to hear the Danish band, Indians. A three-piece consisting of more keyboards than people, the band layers loops, Moog synthesizers and a brain-rattling drum pad to create dreamy, slightly dancey music. The Copenhagen croon of lead singer Soren Juul works well with Enya-like atmospherics.
Looking to for some more traditional rock ‘n’ roll, I drifted off to The North Door to catch Vietnam. After taking the past five years off, Michael Gerner is back with a new six-piece lineup and a recent record, but their sound remains the same. It is dark, lengthy and often druggy narratives, which are delivered without traditional verse/chorus structure and set against a heavy shimmer of blues guitar riffs.
After seeing the line for Jim James a couple blocks from the entrance. I decided to go home and rest up for Wednesday. It’s going to be a long week.