While I knew we were in for an amazing show from Valient Thorr (I am a die-hard Thorrier after all), I had no idea that they would, once again, decimate all my expectations by taking it to the next level and bringing Wayne Kramer from the MC5 up on stage to play with them. It's a story I'll tell my kids (after I explain who the MC5 and Valient Thorr are). It's a story I already told my mom (who, to her credit, has always known who the MC5 are and owns a copy of Kick Out The Jams).
The middle of a jazz bar/restaurant is the last place youd expect to hear an incendiary political speech from former Dead Kennedys frontman/Alternative Tentacles head honcho Jello Biafra, but he has never been known for his predictability. This restaurant, where people dined on Cajun cuisine, was the site for Jellos showcase.
In addition to listening to the master of spoken word as he ranted for an hour, we caught a bizarre acoustic folk-punk set from Fish Karma, and bore witness to the creators of edu-core, Bloodhag, as they attempted to educate the crowd often with a well-placed book to the side of the head.
Leslie is a staple of Austin, and of 6th Street, a wandering crossdresser/ homeless advocate/ mayoral candidate who epitomizes the liberal nature of Austin, especially when compared to the rest of Texas. And Leslie was in full evidence at SXSW.
Every day, he was in the middle of 6th Street, scantily clad in women's clothing, posing for photos and harassing the evangelists who were street preaching to the music fans (a scene which got rather ugly). New York's Naked Cowboy was also in town for SXSW, but he's really got nothing on Leslie.
4. 6th Street
6th Street is where the bulk of SXSW happens. It's Austin's version of Bourbon Street with all the outdoor drunken revelry. There's music, too. Virtually every business from stores to bars to restaurants has a stage, and if they don't, they find a spot for one at SXSW. This is the location of some amazing clubs, like Beerland (for punk bands), and Emo's, an amazing space where I caught both the Mountain Goats and the Clorox Girls.
If, for some strange reason, you are there with no destination in mind, just listen for something to lure you in. This lead us to discover, among others, the Lullabadeer.
5. Seeing Legends Live On Stage
While SXSW is a place for up and coming bands, there are plenty of established names who manage to "sneak in" somehow. It amazing to add the experience of seeing people you've long admired but never seen to the whole SXSW experience.
In my case I'm referring to seeing former Husker Du frontman Bob Mould play a solo acoustic set, and catching former Dead Kennedys frontman/Alternative Tentacles ruler Jello Biafra. They made SXSW for me (along with the Wayne Kramer experience), and those three names are the first three names I mention when giving my SXSW recap.
This is my pick for the best live music venue in all of Austin. It has an atmosphere that simultaneously speaks of classiness and sweaty, gritty rock and roll, a dirty coziness that wins you over.
Despite the fact that the Continental Club is a cab ride away from 6th Street, the main area of SXSW, we ended up here three times, most notably to see Scott H. Biram, simply because it's a cool place. And you don't have to take my word for it; during SXSW both Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon popped into the Continental, and every year Southern Culture on the Skids books a five-night run here (starting on March 28 this year).
While Valient Thorrs set got its own spot, frontman Valient Himself deserves his own spot on the list because he must have seen more of the festival than anyone. He was everywhere!
He was at the Yep Roc party, and I ran into him multiple times on the street. When we were standing on the balcony at Maggie Mays after Creatures set, I looked out over 6th Street, and there he was, walking down 6th.
I wasn't stalking him, but his distinctive appearance (he was in his full Thorrier regalia the whole week) does make him stand out. In fact, we ran into most of the band over the week, although none as often as Himself.
Located a short cab ride away from the business of 6th Street, The SoCo (South Congress) neighborhood is a relief from the craziness of 6th during SXSW or any time of the year. Its here that we caught acts at the Continental Club and just wandered.
In addition to clubs, amazing Mexican restaurants (chorizo and egg tacos make a killer breakfast) and art galleries, the neighborhood has a series of small parks. During SXSW, the parks are turned into family-friendly fairs, with food, drinks, art and of course even more bands. We caught a ton of local and ethnic acts in these parks.
9. Random Fans In The Crowd Who Were Really Big Deals
SXSW being what it is, it's really not weird for an audience of a band to be filled with other musicians. Still, there is a bit of giddiness that kicks in when you realize that you're watching a band and standing next to someone who you respect and also had no idea they would be in Austin.
Case in Point - it was really cool to be in the crowd at the BYO showcase watching the Clorox Girls next to Keith Morris, the frontman of the Circle Jerks. Bonus audience appearances throughout the week included Mojo Nixon and James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins).
10. BBQ Beef Brisket
Austin is known for its BBQ joints, and I can see why. The beef brisket there is beyond awesome!
We managed to sample brisket from two of Austin's best places: Stubb's Bar-B-Q, which also is a live music venue and serves up some spicy habanero creamed spinach on the side, and Iron Works, which serves brisket by the pound and soda in glass bottles. Both can have lines out the door, and both are worth the wait.