For one week each year, Austin, Texas becomes the coolest place on earth. Sure, the locals (myself included) well tell you that regardless of the time of year you visit. But, for five days each March, it is gospel truth.
Austin’s annual South by Southwest Music Festival (“SxSW” or just “South by” to cognoscenti), now in its 23rd year, brings together over 1,500 bands from all over the world. Over five nights, in 80 venues scattered around town, an incredible range of music is showcased, including rock, punk, pop, metal, singer/songwriters, acts that defy any simple description, and of, course, country music in its almost infinite varieties.
What sets SxSW apart from America’s other big annual music events like Tennessee’s Bonnaroo, California’s Coachella, the New Orleans Jazz Festival or even Austin’s other big music extravaganza, the Austin City Limits Festival, is that SxSW is not a music festival in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a kind of trade show, oriented to the
music industry itself rather than fans. Does this mean SxSW sometimes has a certain level of musical snobbishness not found at other major events? Absolutely. But does it also make the event a vital gateway for bands to find labels, break out, or achieve
national/international attention? Equally absolutely.
Even the New York Times, a periodical that hardly trips over itself to say nice things about Texas, has called South by Southwest one of the most important annual events in the music industry.
For devoted music fans, SxSW offers an irresistible mix of promising up-and-comers, established legends, charter members of the “where are they now” file, and true oddities (Swedish country, Chinese punk, eccentric acts from Japan, traditional music from Central Asia, and electronica produced on a modified Atari 2600, to cite just a few examples).
There is an increasing awareness of the importance of country music in the pantheon of American popular music. Related genres like alt-country and rockabilly are more prominent now than ever before. These trends are well reflected among SxSW’s artists in 2010 and it is why I have chosen to dub my blogs from SxSW, “Country Music Rising.” This year’s lineup includes Justin Townes Earle, Hayes Carll, The Mother Truckers and Dash Rip Rock – among many, many others who are of interest to CMP readers.
For this writer, SxSW has become an annual rite: my Holy Week, my Hajj. Through my daily blogs, I hope you will allow me to escort you through the trenches of SxSW and serve as your friendly native guide to the good, the bad, and the just plain weird.