Every year around March, the spillover effect from Austin's South By Southwest music festival sends hundreds of underground bands through North Texas. Which is good news for those whose wallets aren't thick enough to afford a 2011 SXSW pass (a basic music pass goes for $750), as there are more than enough opportunities to see this year's best up-and-comers right here in Dallas.
The guy who's working the hardest to make that happen? Local show promotion company Parade Of Flesh's mastermind, John Iskander. He's been working around the clock—save for the time he spends at his day-job as a school teacher—to get his third annual Bro Fest in order.
"Free time is a joke to me," he says. "Doing this is my free time."
Bro Fest takes place all day on Sunday, March 20, at Club Dada.
This year, Bro Fest will happen on Sunday, March 20, inside and on the newly built outdoor stage at the recently reopened Club Dada in Deep Ellum. The location is a point of excitement for Iskander, mostly because it's allowed him to open the festival up to an all-ages audience—a move that he hopes will ensure a bigger crowd for the wide variety of bands on the bill. Hand-selected by Iskander, the indie acts will be on the outdoor stage and the indoor stage will feature metal acts.
"This is the strongest lineup ever," Iskander says. "The bands are actually big now."
In previous years, the bands booked for Bro Fest have been largely unknown—although many have gone on to make names for themselves in the indie scene shortly after playing. Last year's bill featured, among others, The Soft Pack and Those Darlins, the latter of which gained plenty of attention last year thanks to their mix of garage rock and country and a wheels-off performance style.
But at last year's festival, they, as well as the other acts, were in rare form. They had all just come off an exhausting week performing at SXSW, so the attitude was one of relaxation and taking it easy.
The same can be expected at this year's festival. That's the beauty of Bro Fest: Fans get to hang out rather casually with their favorite bands.
"When there's that many bands in that small of a space, it's like summer camp," Iskander says.
And with tickets going for $13 in advance and $18 on the day of the show, Parade Of Flesh is giving many North Texans a good reason to skip out on SXSW altogether. In fact, this is the first year that he won't be heading south to Austin himself.
"Everybody I want to see, I booked," he says.
On that note, here are some of Bro Fest's highlight acts.
4:30 p.m., Inside Stage
Named after the professional wrestler, Tacoma, Washington's Owen Hart will bring their brand of metal-driven hardcore to Bro Fest's indoor stage on Sunday afternoon. And if their newly released debut album Earth Control is any indication, they are stepping out as some of the frontrunners of the genre. Blending metal and grindcore, the band nods to Slayer with their dueling guitars, while vocalist Timm Trust brings a strong hardcore influence.
5 p.m., Outside Stage
Long Island chillwave act Small Black had a big year in 2010, releasing their debut self-titled EP and their debut full-length, New Chain. Though their music may sound like it came from a montage of an '80s movie or instructional video, there's something familiar and even comforting about their sound. And, like a lot of the music coming out of the chillwave movement, it's highly danceable. Small Black proved as much last year when they toured as chillwave heavy-hitter Washed Out's backing band. And let's face it: Now that Neon Indian's Alan Palomo has moved to Brooklyn, we're suffering for some more glo-fi around here.
JEFF The Brotherhood
8 p.m., Outside Stage
In a city where artists hire people just to go and order coffee, Nashville's JEFF The Brotherhood are shaking things up with their DIY approach. Comprised of two brothers, Jake and Jamin Orrall, their straightforward stoner noise-pop music is made with just one small drum set and a three-string guitar, and is released on their own label, Infinity Cat Recordings. They've been known to play anywhere from rooftops to basements and backyards, but their newfound popularity in the blogosphere has landed them prime spots in festivals and clubs all over the US.
9:10 p.m., Outside Stage
It was only moments after Carrie Brownstein announced Wild Flag's existence six months ago on NPR's All Songs Considered blog that the group showed up on the blogosphere radar. A few years ago, Brownstein was known for singing and playing guitar in the legendary all-girl trio Sleater-Kinney. These days, she's also known for acting alongside Fred Armisen on the IFC channel's new sketch comedy show Portlandia. But she's hardly alone in Wild Flag. Joining Brownstein is her former Sleater-Kinney bandmate Janet Weiss, former Helium singer Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole. So far, Wild Flag have only made an online streaming version of their first single, "Glass Tambourine," available to the public. Judging by the song, Wild Flag's record will feature more of the straightforward, balls-out rock 'n' roll that fans of their previous bands could expect from this supergroup—never mind that they're all girls.
9:45 p.m., Inside Stage
Brooklyn's Fang Island are one of the most versatile and exciting acts on this year's Bro Fest bill. Their blend of prog-rock, punk, metal and pop is all held together by one key ingredient—fun—which is evident in every dueling guitar solo and double bass-drum hit. It's also landed them in some interesting positions: They've jammed with Andrew WK; they've jammed with a classroom full of rambunctious kindergartners; they even did a stint opening for The Flaming Lips last year. When they take the stage at Bro Fest, fans can expect nothing less than a good time.
10:20 p.m., Outside Stage
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The biggest claim to fame from Cincinnati, Ohio, natives The Greenhornes is that two of its members, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler, make up half of The Raconteurs with Jack White and Brendan Benson. But long before this collaboration took place, The Greenhornes were plugging away at their own blues-based garage-rock sound. By 2005, the group had bounced around from one major label to another and released three records to only minor reception. But the resulting hiatus that yielded to the stint with The Raconteurs was probably the best thing that ever happened to The Greenhornes: Now, after eight years, they have released their fourth album, Four Stars, on White's label, Third Man Records. After 17 years as a band, this might be the breakthrough they've been looking for.
Horse The Band
11 p.m., Inside Stage
On their website, Horse The Band have two scheduled performances coming up—one at SXSW, and one at Bro Fest. It was a far different story three years ago, when the band, known for touring vigorously, visited five continents and 45 countries, funding the entire thing on their own. At this year's Bro Fest, they are one of the most eccentric acts on the bill. That's because they've incorporated 8-bit Nintendo sounds into their metal offerings, creating a genre called "Nintendocore." Strange as it sounds, it's brought the band popularity worldwide.