SXSW can be an overwhelming, sometimes unforgiving beast to anyone attending the Texan music festival for the first time or for the umpteenth time. For US-based Aussie musician Lo Carmen, the programme saw her performing her own showcases as well as connecting with some important industry individuals and of course, seeing some of her favourite musicians do their thing! Carmen takes us through her time in Austin, read about it below!
On arrival at Austin airport, it is apparent that this is no ordinary city. Live music is emanating from the airport bar, rock’n’roll tour posters line the walls and guitar sculptures preside. I’ve never seen so many people lugging gear and instrument cases in an airport before. When I step outside, the air is balmy and smoky sweet wafts of BBQ drift by…feels like Texas alright! I check in as fast as I can, dump my stuff and head off for the Convention Centre to pick up my Showcasing Artist wristband so I can go see any bands that are playing.
First up is an American Songwriter party I’ve been invited to on the outskirts of town, so I grab a pedicab as the traffic is maniacal; sweet Scarlett weaves through the standstill swamp of cars, Bob Dylan blaring from her speakers, through the back streets, past the Weed Van and the SXSW Fuckit Lounge, to get me there just in time to hear Kacey Musgraves’ last song. It’s a very auspicious start.
The pumping, but laid back, party is in the backyard of a café/bar, Third Man Records have a Rolling Record Store out the back, so I pick myself up some Loretta Lynn vinyl and a Japanese vegan hot dog for the sustenance I know I’m gonna need and before I know it, Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires have hit the stage and from the first mindblowing note, I am mesmerised.
My next stop is to see Loretta Lynn; she inspired me to start songwriting when I was a teenager and I have always loved her, so I am beyond excited. Way beyond. I line up outside Stubbs an hour before her show and end up standing about three rows from the front of the stage. I can’t believe my luck and am almost dizzy and teary with excitement, like a twelve year old at a Bieber concert.
Her band finally appears and her son Ernie sings a kinda sleazy classic country sounding tune about needing Viagra to keep up his impressive record for sexual prowess, which seems a little odd as a stage warmer for his mother. What the hell, he sounds great, the band are great and then Loretta appears, resplendent in a red sequin ballgown and launches straight into hit after hit after hit, sprinkled with a few lesser known beauties.
I try not to be one of those annoying crowd members singing along with everything but I can hardly help myself, especially when she does “When The Tingle Becomes A Chill”. Everyone is singing along by this point, so I let go of any pride and just go with the flow. Her voice is gorgeous, despite being 83 she still sounds like a teenager and she’s sassy as hell, alternately slaying the band with smart ass comments then turning to the audience with a smile that’d break the toughest heart.
I am clutching my record and wondering if I’ll have the nerve to try to get it signed and I find myself still there staring at the empty stage long after she’s vacated it. I hang around at Stubbs and meet up with some friends and watch Sunflower Bean, who sound fantastic but I’m still dazed and lost in Loretta Land and don’t really take them in. Nor the next couple of bands, who are kinda poppy/electronic and not really getting me in, despite a some lovely singing voices and impressive pyrotechnics.
I tag along with some people to hear Marlon Williams at Barracuda. I’ve never heard of him and have no expectations except to get a drink and check it out. Turns out he is utterly sensational, as is his band and I just keep sidling closer to the stage to listen. By then, it’s 2am and the live music and bars are shutting down. Streets are still packed and wild and pulsing with insane party folk, but I eventually make it home and quite literally fall onto my inviting white hotel sheets and sleep.
I wake up full of vim and vigor and decide to hit the Convention Centre to try to participate in the one on one Mentor Sessions that are taking place. Trying to find my way through the complex, I can hear a beautiful voice and follow the sound and end up watching CHVRCHES play to a small crowd in a huge room, apologising for playing slow, sad songs.
I have to race off to get to the mentor meetings, but then everything is booked out and so I try to go a session called A Songwriters Revenue Roadmap, but mistakenly end up in the front row of a session called Extreme Metal in Violent Film. It takes me a confusing couple of minutes to work it out, the preponderance of beards probably, and by the time I make it to the right room with my aching feet, bad eyesight and general lack of sense of direction, it’s winding up. So I head to the infamous Aussie BBQ, which is pretty much across the road, but because of my poor navigating skills I end up walking in a big circle around it for 20 minutes. Stonefield are impressive and the Gooch Palms provide some very entertaining garage noise. I love their playing style, especially the drummer’s stand up attack.
It’s hard to resist the lure of hanging out and being festive at the BBQ, but it’s my showcase in a few hours so I head back to the hotel, via a stop to buy TWO pairs of padded inner sole liners for my most comfortable high heels that I thought I’d be fine in and could now happily throw out a window. I get organized for my show and then an extreme weather alert comes in for the next couple of hours, heavy thunderstorms and possible tornado warning expected. I grab a pedicab to Javelina, the fairy lit cowboy bar venue I’m playing at just in time before the storm hits and play a somewhat electric set!
I had plans to see a bunch of acts but all plans are out the window with the weather, so I go with my friend Jo back to Stubbs and watch Crystal Castles, Charli XCX and Sophie, (totally alien to me, really), followed by the sensational Santigold until it’s time for me to head off into the night to find Daniel Romano, who I am really keen to see. His set lives up to all my expectations, amazing band, splendid tunes and he reminds me of a slightly snarly Bob Dylan when he first went electric and I wander home through the madness with songs on my mind, walking on air….
This morning, I manage to meet with a Nashville manager who is super cool, sweet and helpful and I learn a surprising amount in a short time from her. I meet with an Americana publicist who is also great, really smart and thoughtful and after a couple more meetings, I head out to my next show at B.D Riley’s on Sixth St for the Sounds Australia showcase. I am very happy to get to watch Marlon Williams again soon after I play and then I head back into the fray before making my way to the beautiful old Paramount Theatre for an evening of ‘behind the songs’ with Nashville dream team songwriters; Kacey Musgraves, Josh Osbourne and Shane McAnally, who are alternately inspiring, fascinating and funny as hell.
I traipse on tired legs through the still wild streets to The Swan Dive and watch rising country stars Whitney Rose and Sam Outlaw, who put on great shows. I desperately want to hang out and watch Birdcloud, but they are the last band of the night and I am growing too weary of standing around and trying to avoid cowboys wanting to chat and I know my flight is in a few hours and I still have to pack, so I grab a delicious midnight samosa from one of the hundreds of food trucks in town and find my way back to the hotel….at 4am I’m in a cab on the way to Austin airport, watching the city skyline disappear, flickering neon and grabs of music wafting through the night. Stay weird Austin, I’ll be back.