For musicians, South by Southwest can be life changing. The exposure that comes with playing during Texas' biggest festival can catapult an artist's career. But no one ever said it would be easy — or profitable.
Dallas' own Fat Boogie is looking forward to this year's SXSW. Festival officials named the "Dirty Sprite" rapper an official showcased artist. After working the festival for two years, he's made a big enough impression to make the cut. And this Thursday, he'll be taking over the Swan Dive patio alongside fellow official SXSW artist and Dallasite, G.U.N. “You’ve got to be there and you’ve got to be in the mix," he says of the long road to festival acceptance. "Everything else will sort itself out."
For Denton's Fun Button bassist, Zachariah Preston Walker, the experience of playing as an unofficial SXSW artist is a rite of passage. "Everybody complains because most of the time you’re playing for free and whatnot," Walker says. "But if you’re a mid-level band, shit, you’re playing for free anyway. Why not play for people?"
Instead of feeling exploited, Walker views the gargantuan festival as an example of community support. "We like to talk about how it’s all corporate bullshit and marketing strategy, but most of the showcases are actually locally curated," says Walker.
He says people like Cheer Up Charlie's booking manager Trish Connelly and the folks over at musical networking site Solstice Live go above and beyond to incorporate both local and non-local artists for their events. (And speaking of Solstice Live, they are throwing their own unofficial, DFW-filled SXSW showcase featuring Fun Button, Pearl Earl, Animal Spirit and Mean Motor Scooter, this Friday at Carousel Lounge.)
The working conditions can be brutal as well. Dallas' answer to the Runaways, TriCounty Terror, lived every claustrophobe's nightmare during their 2013 stint at SXSW. Both frontwoman Tessa Byrd and guitarist Erica Pipes remember the heat, the crowd and the general inaccessibility of the venues. “Loading in was horrible," Byrd says. "We couldn’t even get to the venue because there were cars and people everywhere and the roads were blocked off. We literally had to park four blocks away and then carry our equipment to the venue. It was a fucking nightmare.”
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To make matters worse, the location where they were set to play was more of a "family-oriented" establishment. Which, if you're familiar the band, isn't the best fit. “Yeah, we’re not a child-friendly band," Pipes laughs. Byrd adds, "We’re nice people, but our music is very straight-forward and aggressive.”
Luckily, Fort Worth rockers the Hanna Barbarians were there to save the day and allowed TriCounty Terror to borrow some gear for their set. And once the punk rockers began to play, the mood turned into something a bit more encouraging.
"[The venue] was all open," Pipes remembers. "They didn’t have a fence around it. So, as soon as we started, that patio filled up and all of these random people walking down South Congress just collected there to watch us. It was really flattering to see that.”
The bands know they are there for the exposure, the community and most of all, to play in front of a new audience at a marquee event. As for Fat Boogie, who is playing this game to win, the most important thing is to stay positive no matter what and be a professional. "You have to be able to handle whatever you put on your plate," he says. "You can't be in a shell."