[Last week, we asked a few bands to check in with us from time to time over the course of the week to tell us about their SXSW experiences. Now, with the fest over, those diatribes are starting to show. Here's Telegraph Canyon frontman Chris Johnson's SXSW diary, for your reading pleasure...]
Playing in a band can feel like going to summer camp with your friends week after week. Our first trip to SXSW is no exception.
I'm sure someone did us a favor, or there was a clerical error that lead to us being here, but we didn't ask any questions.
Packed to the gills with enough video games, toy helicopters and junk food to ensure a good time no matter what, we set out for Austin on Wednesday morning. We arrived to find beautiful weather and tons of traffic. Fun always seems to start with no fun at all.
It could have been worse, though, and we knew it. We recently had our van totaled by a drunk driver, so we replaced it with a later model RV. The old van would overheat if you turned the AC on, so sitting in traffic in our surrogate living room was pretty much the shit.
We got set up and settled into the $10-a-night RV slot on Barton Springs Road and headed downtown to gather our wrist bands, tote bags, and free energy drinks full of enough sugar to make your sweaty ass feel like you need a whiskey drink to start turning this thing around. I spent most of Wednesday night show-hopping and running into old friends. A few unmemorable shows led to a quick cab ride back to the RV for some much needed rest.
Thursday was packed full of running around 6th Street trying to catch friends' shows and meeting with new managers for Telegraph Canyon. For a street that's really not all that long, you'd think you could get around quicker. I still seemed to miss every show I was hoping to see by a few minutes.
At some point, I gave up and gave in to letting music find me. That's when we spotted the Black Cab Sessions cab. I almost lost it. Well, OK, I did lose it.
For those who don't know, Black Cab Sessions is from Europe and they're essentially a little British taxi that picks up musicians, drives them around and films a one-take performance of a song while the world is going on just outside the window. Several of my favorite artists have contributed to this project, including My Morning Jacket, Spoon, Fleet Foxes, and Bon Iver. I love the concept, and the videos they have put up at blackcabsessions.com speak for themselves.
Apparently, I was so excited that I made enough of a scene for one of the guys to hop out and ask me if I knew what they were doing. I launched into a rant about how I spend most lazy Sundays watching Black Cab Sessions on my laptop and could I please, please, invite myself along to perform for them. The guy said grab your instrument and hop in.
That's when it dawned on me that all of our instruments were back at the RV park and it would be a $20 cab ride round-trip, and at least an hour in this crazy traffic for me to get our stuff and get back to them.
Naturally, I thought this would be completely doable.
He gave me his number, Andrew [Skates] and I hailed a cab and took off. An hour later, Andrew and I are lugging a banjo, a toy dog that has a bell set on it, and an acoustic guitar through the streets in search of the elusive black cab.
International cell phones are shit. I had already had problems reaching a record label mate from Scotland all week, and getting through to the Black Cab Sessions number did not prove to be any easier.
Plan B: We'll just run around with all this crap until we find them. Another hour later, and we're still looking, but not losing hope. Andrew finally spots them going into the parking garage of a hotel, so we haul ass past the security guard and chase them up the ramp the entire 6 floors until they eventually park and get out. We round the corner, trying to compose ourselves and play off the fact that we just chased them all this way. But there was no way of getting around looking desperate at this point, and I seriously didn't care. Black Cab Sessions is just too cool for us to not try like hell to make it happen. I tried to keep a positive look on my face when he told me the camera crew had gone home for the day and we would have to wait until
Friday to be filmed. Ahhh, the things we put ourselves through.
We split from the parking garage and headed over to The Hole in the Wall to catch Will Johnson's solo show. I talked to Will beforehand and it was obvious he was losing his voice and wasn't feeling very well, but you would have never known it from the show he put on. He sang like a champ to a packed house of admirers. I guess after performing for 15 years, you can sing like that even when you can barely talk. Hands down, this would be the best show
I would see all weekend.
I also caught some of J. Tillman's solo show (Fleet Foxes' drummer) at a crap venue with dance music thumping upstairs, met some crazy people at 2 a.m., and split for the camper, still carrying all of our gear.
(In the end, we didn't get to do the deal for Black Cab Sessions during SXSW--but they've assured me that we can hook up with them when we go to London. I'll continue to hold my breath.)
Dominican Joe is a coffee shop on Congress that hosted a bunch of friends' bands on Friday, thanks to an old pal from Fort Worth and recent Austin transplant, Marcus Lawyer (Top Secret Shhhh....). We played a decent show to a handful of folks, but it wasn't the highlight of my day, to say the least.
You win some, you lose some. That kind of thing.
Chatterton from Fort Worth, Birds & Batteries from San Francisco, and Thrift Store Cowboys from Lubbock blew me away with near-perfect shows, though, and we had a great time overall.
I also caught a really cool show by Monahans from Austin that night, as well as a packed show for The Bird and the Bee before calling it a night.
Well, kind of. We partied the rest of the night in the RV. Sorry to all of the old people in their campers at the Pecan Grove RV Park. We tried to keep it down.
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I spent most of the day working on guitars, sleeping, and rounding up everything for the early load in at Habana Bar. "Hurry up and wait" is the deal, so after load in, I killed some time by sitting on the sidewalk and working on this blog until show time at 10 p.m.
Well not right up until our set, actually: I've been playing completely sober lately, and it hasn't been working out very well, so I started pounding beers an hour or so before our set. I think it helped.
The show went off well and we had a great time. We were due for a pretty good show after a
few weird ones. Bosque Brown followed with a beautiful set and I Love Math was really great also. The show was probably the least stressful time of all of SXSW, which is probably the way it should have been.
We once again retired to the RV park to annoy old people (no one complained, but we know
you were cursing us) and to celebrate our week of good times before returning home on Sunday.