SXSW: Day One



Austin’s South By Southwest festival has always been a kind of Disneyland for music fans, an annual event where bands from all over the world — more than two thousand of them this year — come to perform showcases, attend panels, and try to figure out the secrets to a self-sustaining career.

And even as the record industry continues its freefall, the SXSW “networking event” keeps on growing, thanks in large part to the addition of overlapping film and interactive components.

That growth was very much in evidence Tuesday. Opening-night E-ticket events had people lined up for blocks at venues that were completely full and showed no signs of emptying.

Outside the 1200-capacity La Zona Rosa, close to a thousand badge and wristband holders stood in line hoping for a chance to see showcase performances by Theophilus London and Santigold. Unfortunately, there were already that many people inside, and over the course of an hour, maybe a dozen additional people were admitted to the venue.

Other shows proved considerably more manageable. Just a block from the Austin Convention Center, which is ground zero for SXSW, Jake Shimabukuro played Skinny’s Ballroom, a comparatively intimate venue from which few people were turned away.

Granted, Shimabukuro doesn’t have cheerleaders with pom poms onstage like Santigold did, but he still drew a wildly enthusiastic response with his ukulele renditions of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as well as a hushed reverence for his interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

In the indy music world, ukuleles are, of course, the new cello: Tune-Yard topped year-end critics lists with her electronically treated uke excursions, while Eddie Vedder did a full album of ukulele-accompanied bleatings just last year.

Shimabukuro, on the other hand, relies on nothing but four strings — although you could sometimes swear there had to be more — and an incredibly high level of musicianship. He’ll be coming to Colorado Springs in May for a performance at Stargazers, so look for an Indy interview then.

And finally, because it is, as Walt says, a small world after all, I’ll leave you with a couple of excerpts — brief ones, because YouTube uploading is virtually impossible during this event — from a conversation I had with Denver hip-hop musician Sole, whom I happened to run into while changing planes at Dallas Airport. A founder of the west coast’s much-revered Anticon collective, Sole has gone on to become a constant force in Denver’s Occupy movement. While his views on SXSW aren’t nearly as acerbic as his political raps, they’re still pretty amusing.

Sole’s SXSW shows, by the way, are the first dates of a national tour, which will come back through Colorado Springs in time for the What’s Left birthday bash at Zodiac on March 23.

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