The 11 Busiest (and Buzziest) Days in Texas Music
Slim Gravy of A.Dd+ at the St. Patrick's Day concert. The hip-hop duo also played at 35 Denton and SXSW.
On Sunday night in Deep Ellum, a band called Zechs Marquise headlined Spillover Fest. They played at Sandbar Cantina and Grill, out back on the "beach," flanked by palm trees and on a stage made out of some kind of soft wood. Spillover — a festival curated by local promoting hero Parade of Flesh and designed to capture run-off from SXSW — was the coda on the 11-day stretch that sees Texas become the brightly burning center of the music world.
I sipped a gin and tonic and took off my shoes. "You're going to get foot AIDS," the person sitting next to me turned and said. I laughed, weakly, and dug my toes deep into the sand. On stage, the brothers Rodriguez-Lopez made hairpin rhythmical turns, and I reflected on the music I'd seen made over the preceding week-plus. It's all blurry snippets: Este Haim sneering ferally, Marnie Stern straining to play with no monitor, several generations colliding in the mosh pit for The Specials. Deep Throat at The Labb in Denton, Terminator 2 at Hailey's, old friends from out of town playing in an Austin bar in the bright daylight.
How can you quantify the live music that occurs in Texas in early March every year? Thousands of bands from around the world come here and ply their wares on stages ranging from 62-foot-tall mock vending machines to street corners. I don't know if it's the world's largest congregation of bands and artists. I'm not even sure how you'd measure that. All I know is what I saw, and what the rest of the music writers of the Observer saw, and that was a hell of a lot: We went from 35 Denton to Austin for SXSW, then back to brave the St. Patrick's Day debauchery at the Observer's annual concert on Greenville Avenue. Then we came here, to our final destination in Deep Ellum, for Spillover Fest on Sunday night. Shoes were no longer an option.
Here's what we saw and, more important, heard. Kiernan Maletsky, Music Editor
Thursday, March 7
Work was miles away; the real world was even further. It was Festival Season. We began at Hailey's in Denton. Terminator 2 kicked off the official portion of 35 Denton with a flexing of enormous sound. My everything shook involuntarily, and it was perfect. Kiernan Maletsky
No rain in Denton's Square. Oh, the joy. Last year 35 Denton was soaked. Wet hair and discarded ponchos everywhere. On Thursday, for one camera flash, Denton was rainless and goddamn beautiful for 35 Denton's kick-off. The Square was actually chirping, like the front porch of some lake patio, as the Denton Radio-sponsored outdoor stage filled the air with music. Ugh, awesome. Nick Rallo
Almost no one saw the brilliant set of Warren Jackson Hearne and Le Leek Electrique.
Every other show I wandered into during the opening evening was packed. I entered Banter at 12:15, though, and a scant 30 people were watching Warren Hearne. There should be a statute addressing this sort of crime.
Those 30 people, though, they were the lucky ones: They witnessed the guitar artistry of Dan Dockrill, and the precision percussion of Tex Bosley, and the spot-on bass of Ryan Williams, and the overall true emotion of a death-folk singer/songwriter who deserved far more people's attention. Brian Rash
RELATED: The Best of 35 Denton Night One
Friday, March 8
Watching wrestling 100 feet away from Sleep pounding the main stage crowd was, as it turns out, quite an experience. Various muscular men emerged from a tent into a full ring and threw each other at full force into the ground.
Seeing wrestling set to a pounding soundtrack of sludge metal was a perfect 35 Denton take-home. All sludge metal will now have a visual of wrestling in poorly lit circumstances for me to treasure. You can't buy this sort of association. Gavin Cleaver
A straight-faced security guard was battening down the gate outside of the temporary warehouse space The Hive, after someone had allegedly attempted to pull it apart in order to sneak in, when a random guy on the street, no older than 35, drunk and solo, said to the guard, "Hey dude, you need some help?" The guard blew him off, of course, and the guy, whom we'll call The Spirit of Denton, meandered away into the night. Nick Rallo
RELATED: The Best of 35 Denton: Night Two
Saturday, March 9
I sat down with a group of stage crew volunteers, and I was late. They'd already finished whatever drinks and food they'd ordered and were just joking around, lighting fresh cigarettes and discussing strategy for the long day ahead. For two days only, I was one of them. I'm still not sure why they invited me.
All of the acts at Main Stage One of 35 Denton must go off smoothly, and already there was so much to do. We walked to the stage, in the parking lot just west of Industrial Street, the segmented black wooden floor of the stage undulating under our weight like a wrestling ring surface.
We looked at schematics for instrumentation and equipment placement. We struggled in groups of two or three or four to accurately place the mobile drum riser for the Cannabanoids in its position on a 12-by-12 carpet. We took deep breaths before we lifted the 5-foot tall Ampegs up the metal stairs. We paused for a moment to catch our breath. We stood around a lot, actually.
The more experienced among us carried walkie-talkies. We were trying to figure out how to open the back of the Little Guys Movers truck full of needed equipment.
"Yeah, this is Wendall"
"OK, the guy I'm talking to said he gave the keys to someone from the stage crew, who said he gave them to Wally, who said he doesn't know where they are."
Everyone on Main Stage One who heard this transmission laughed. Brian Rash
At this point it was almost fate that 35 Denton would get some rain. Gray clouds were rolling through the sky like a bunch of trains, and they unleashed a handful of silent, summery lightning bolts. Moments later the house show we were at was a deluge, and musicians from Sealion and Treelines were shouting, laughing and scattering in the rain. It was spontaneous and wild. Nick Rallo
As every festival attendee made her way down to The Hive to see The Cannabinoids with Sarah Jaffe, the line loomed as large as the storm. Looking around, you could see people on their phones texting to try and avoid it, scanning for a back-door entrance. Once you actually made it inside, it was a who's who of resourcefulness. Extreme weather conditions are some sort of music-festival natural selection. It's not always who you know. Sometimes it's just how you approach that security guy.
The Granada's Gavin Mulloy was a perfect example. He approached the back entrance. Security simply looked at him and said, "Sir, you don't have any credentials." Mulloy, who did not even have the festival wristband at this point, said, "I know! I never do." Moments later, we were at the bar together. Deb Doing Dallas
I've experienced two earthquakes that registered 5-plus on the Richter scale, but the floor rumblings at about 12:30 a.m. at J&J's Pizza were more bone-rattling than either. I just wanted some pizza, but I had to check out what was going on down in that basement. It was Communion, a heavy doom trio with more Marshall amps than I could count. The bass was excessive in the best way. Eventually the shirtless drummer, whose beard and chest piece could also qualify as excessive, grimaced, gripped his wrist and shook his head. Tendinitis. Jesse Hughey
RELATED: The Best of 35 Denton: Night Three
Sunday, March 10
Catching unexpected gems is obviously one of the delights at a festival like this, and my two favorite Sunday bands were both at free shows not officially associated with the festival. It's great that things like that have sprung up around it. The first, Boombachs, who played on the radiodenton.com stage on the Square, were so funky I found myself in a great deal of physical pain, unable to process this much funk at once. At one point, a dog succumbed to the funk and simply lay down. If it were any more funky, the festival would have been closed down and Denton quarantined for dangerous levels of funk. Gavin Cleaver
Here are the four best things Eat Avery's Bones' frontwoman, Meggie Hilkert, said during their set:
"This song is for all of the slutty bitches. I can smell your labia fold from up here."
"This song is for all you people with glasses. It's about pretending you're blind so that you can feel up people at the grocery store."
"This song is about kind of being an alcoholic ... or something."
"This song is about another band that's not us, and it might be really good, but it's probably not." Rachel Watts
For four days, 35 Denton ensured that I spent not one single minute zoned out. I watched no Hulu and never once sat on a couch, wondering what to do next. I did not consider my bills or what might be going on with the suspension in my car.
Instead I went from cramped basement to cavernous warehouse to adapted restaurant and back through all of them, again and again. On stages, people screamed and played guitar chords and built symbiotic rhythms and quietly told little stories. In a vacuum, those things mean little more than vibrations in the air. But in a room with a bunch of people, they have a chance to turn into the only prayer I'll ever understand.
That's true at any show, of course. At a music festival, it can be harder to reach that transcendence because there is so much diffusion — people just trying to kill some time before a band they actually care about, an infrastructure stretched a little thinner. But the trade-off is that you get to spend so much time immersed in a world where those moments are possible, surrounded by people who are also looking for them. 35 Denton, maybe more than any other festival I've ever attended, was dense with belief. Kiernan Maletsky
RELATED: The Best of 35 Denton: Night Four
Wednesday, March 13
Aw, I know, it is a shame you aren't here with us at SXSW in Austin. I can only imagine the aching and longing in your heart for walking aimlessly and standing in long lines for no reason and sweating through your cardigan to see a band you heard on one of the Twilight soundtracks.
You don't want to be here. Turn around, go back home. Go see a movie. Go see that new Oz movie, it looks kinda cool. Take advantage of all the empty bars. Save your money and sleep in your own bed.
Take this all as a warning, folks. It's like the last days before the fall of Saigon here, except for all the free Doritos and vodka. Craig Hlavaty
Megabus is a sweet deal, to be sure. If you're lucky enough to be within bus-riding distance of Austin, you can eliminate the hassle of driving for the cost of a very cheap ticket. But do not assume you'll be the only genius with this idea. In fact, assume that it does not take much of a genius at all to have this idea, and that you will end up spending four hours ass-to-ankles with various aspiring rappers, college students and other people whose sole reason for existence is to remind you how much younger they are than you.
Oh, and if you do take Megabus, please remember to bring a hearty supply of lollipops that you can loudly smack for the entire duration of the ride, thereby annoying the shit out of everyone around you. (This advice comes from the guy sitting next to me.) Kiernan Maletsky
A few important questions cross your mind at SXSW:
Will I like the pedicab driver costumed as The Hulk if he gets angry?
Does my badge get me into the shitting space next to the Dumpster?
Why are you standing up front if you're Instagramming during the show?
Why does your Instagram have so many likes so fast? Can you show me what you did?
How badly did it ruin your concert video when I sang along and cried?
Is the video on YouTube yet?
What'd you say? Where are you, dude? Nick Rallo
RELATED: 50 Important SXSW Music Questions
Thursday, March 14
How SXSW will manage to top the back-to-back positivity and charisma of last year's keynote, Bruce Springsteen, and this year's, Dave Grohl, is beyond me. Grohl's speech managed to turn Nirvana's story into something genuinely inspirational, an affirmation of personal expression.
But by far my favorite little rhetorical turn was the way he made both Pitchfork and reality singing shows look so incredibly silly, just by talking about them in the same sentence. Because it's true, isn't it, that the difference between Christina Aguilera and the lazier end of Pitchfork's criticism boils down to little more than volume of hairspray. Kiernan Maletsky
On the "It's Gotten Too Big" argument: First off, that is totally what she said. Secondly, if you just start embracing SXSW for what it is now, which is a marketing juggernaut slash party slash press junket slash great spring-break destination, it is not so awful. It got too big because all of us in years past have been really good at selling it as a great, badass time. Which it was.
We should have been dogging it this whole time. There are the people who complain about the marquee pop acts taking over the town, but most people who are at SXSW to hear new music were not beating the doors down at Justin Timberlake or Green Day. They were at small venues seeing promising (and unpromising) acts like lame-o no-fun dorks. If you never saw Macklemore & Ryan Lewis this SXSW, you were doing it right.
Let the popped collars have their shows, and let me keep my Central Presbyterian pews and Lustre Pearl backyard. Craig Hlavaty
Friday, March 15
Reignwolf is a one-man band, mostly, when Jordan Cook isn't aided by bass and drums. His Friday night showcase woke me from my SXSW sniffles and aches and actually made me jam out for a change.
He'll probably have to contend with lazy Black Keys references, but give him time. Blues-punk with a dark slant, the likes of which I've only seen Dax Riggs pull off. Plus, Reignwolf is hella acrobatic onstage, so he's tailor-made for sweaty, smallish venues. Craig Hlavaty
Let's just start right up front with the caveats: Douchebags were all over the place at SXSW, preening royalty in the rapidly crumbling House of Music Industry. As a badgeholder, I understand the irony of what I'm about to say here.
But once you separated yourself from the people who were in Austin on "official" business, you quickly found yourself among real, actual music fans, people who came from all over the world to listen to bands play songs and find other humans who also like to do that. The happiest people I found at SXSW were those with the least access. Kiernan Maletsky
RELATED: The Five Biggest Sellouts at SXSW
Saturday, March 16
Creedence Clearwater Revival survivor John Fogerty gets overlooked as a riff-happy rocker, with most people concentrating on his good-time Americana rock and roll instead of the flannel-draped volume addict he is. Saturday night, Fogerty and his band ran through nearly every CCR hit, and even played 1985 solo hit "Centerfield," complete with a guitar fashioned after a baseball bat. Or was it a baseball bat fashioned into a guitar?
Either way, I saw a cloud of smoke erupt during "Lookin' Out My Back Door," a sight that would make Jeff Lebowski smile that beardy smile. And a show with True Believers (Alejandro Escovedo's lost '80s band), Junior Brown and Bobby Bare Sr. as support was just a slice of all right.
By the way: True Believers were delightfully loud, and their return to the stage is welcome. Craig Hlavaty
This was my first time braving Greenville Avenue for St. Patrick's Day. I was expecting it to be bad. What I was not expecting was the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah. As I, the only sober person on the entirety of Greenville, struggled through a crowd roughly comparable to the population of Ireland itself (and way more drunk), I reflected that getting here earlier to drink might have been a better idea. At least that way I'd be stumbling into as many people as were stumbling into me. I didn't even know about open container laws. I could have brought one beer, just to numb the pain. But no, I was a 30-minute wait from sustenance at anywhere that might possibly have been selling beer. Color me unprepared. Gavin Cleaver
As hundreds of people waited in line to be granted entrance into the Energy Square parking lot to see Snoop Dogg — or is it Lion? This is all very confusing — Badfish, the sublime Sublime cover band, were playing that one date-rape song. Everyone was snaking around a seemingly infinite labyrinthine line created by metal guard rails. A drunk Irishman-for-a-day high fived everyone behind him. "High five if you want gonorrhea!" he told all, as Badfish finished their song: "And he now takes it in the behind ..." Brian Rash
As the sun started to drop, Snoop Dog launched into his and Wiz Khalifa's hit "Young, Wild and Free," and the amassed crowd of wobbly Dallasites began lustily singing along to this melodic ode to immature deeds, grinding on each other with a carelessness only seen in broad daylight on this special, debaucherous holiday.
It was a strangely emotional battle cry, Snoop calling for the masses to live the day and night young, wild and free — to smoke weed, to get hammered, to go out and not come back till they make you. It elicited raucous cheers as the music played him out. If there's one thing you can take from Snoop's set, the guy is a pro.
Then he left, and Greenville swallowed everyone whole. Jaime-Paul Falcon
Sunday, March 17
As my view of the Dallas skyline was obscured first by a palm tree and then by Vietnam's fuzzy haze of feedback and joy — and I realize a sound can't obscure vision, but I'm writing meaningful stuff here, just go with it — in my head I compared my current predicament to the apocalyptic scenes on Greenville from the day before and made several decisions about what it is I want from life. Basically, I want more sparsely populated beach festivals and fewer million-man marches in favor of alcohol and the color green.
Zechs Marquise rounded out the night with a fantastic set heavy on the funk that seems an inherent feature of the Rodriguez-Lopez gene pool. The crowd was relatively sparse, but the good times were still flowing.
God bless you, Spillover, and all that sail within you. Gavin Cleaver
RELATED: Full Spillover Review and Photos
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