Lost in Austin

Woodstock was three days of peace, love and music. South By Southwest is a week of music, booze, films, discussion panels, speeches, trade shows, energy drinks, celebrity sightings, bloggers, jerks handing out fliers for you to immediately toss, hip-looking people from Japan and Sweden, solid blocks of humanity trolling Sixth Street, pizza and bratwurst, cranky bartenders, restaurants you can’t get into because they’re full, concerts you can’t get into because you don’t have a badge, concerts you can’t get into when you do have a badge but the line goes around the block, VIP parties you can’t get into because you’re not “VI” (or even “I”), and women you can’t get into because they’re dating some tight-jeans motherfucker in one of the couple thousand bands that have descended upon Texas to play a 30-minute set (likely for free) and pass out fliers and get drunk and eat a brat and play again and get drunk again and then go home. If you’re lucky, however, there are also moments of near transcendence in Austin. I had a few. Like that time I was dancing with my friends to the holy, sweet, funky soul of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Or when I was dancing with strangers to the tight and delicious guitar pop of Peter, Bjorn & John, those Swedish re-introducers of the whistle to rock. (Speaking of that whistle, I got out my tape recorder and was recording them playing “Young Folks,” the song with the whistle hook in it, but I was worried the band’s whistling wouldn’t pick up, so I began earnestly whistling into my tape recorder along with them. Then I spewed beer on some guy’s sleeve. Later, I listened to the recording, and I sucked. Like I said: transcendent.)

Overall, SXSW is like a giant, 5-block-by-14-block bar crawl, with smaller bands playing in the middle and famous bands playing on the edges. It used to be that you could go without a wristband (about $100) or a badge (closer to $600) and see bands at the free day parties and maybe get into a night showcase by paying a cover.

But now, there are so many people that any concert, day or night, with any kind of buzz, will summon a clot of people from around the world to the door. Even for the mighty VIP, nothing is guaranteed. One day, it’ll reach the point where you might as well not go unless you’re famous. Like God. (Even then, you might get turned away, but at least you can smite the doorman later.)

For bands, it has become difficult for the little man to make it down. That’s why so few of our local bands went this year. As far as I know, outside of a single day party sponsored by Anodyne Records, with the Hearers and the Architects (and also the reunited Meat Puppets), no bands from KC or Lawrence played any gigs that were part of the official showcase. I don’t even think that Anodyne party was an official SXSW event, but it was at least heard of, thanks to the Meat Puppets, who, by the way, were sloppy, grizzled and charming. I’ll need to hear the record before passing judgment on the new material, but the old classics rocked.

Anvil Chorus and Ad Astra Per Aspera broke their backs playing three or four times each at day parties, finding their own fun at night because they didn’t have wristbands. Be/Non got on a last-minute bill somewhere. A DJ team from KC called Tactic spun a couple of off-the-radar parties, too, but I missed them.

So this year, at the national dick-showing contest, Kansas City arrived practically a eunuch. Oh, well.

We don’t need SXSW to make us legit. SXSW is great fun, and maybe there’s a chance in hell some little band will get something out of going, but it mostly profits industry bloodsuckers.

I came away feeling that what’s important for KC is what’s going on in KC. Sometimes I think Kansas City has a genuine scene, or at least the beginning of one. Other times, it seems as though the scene consists of just a couple dozen of the same people everywhere I go (including Austin), hanging out and amusing themselves.

But that’s OK. Home isn’t just where the heart is — it’s where you gotta find shit to do the whole damn rest of the year. Lost in Austin SXSW was a great party, but not much was in it for KC this year.

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