SXSW Recap: Zak
After two months driving all over the country, through every place where the weather reminded us that we are certainly not in California anymore, yesterday’s beating sun and warm breeze were a mighty and welcome beacon at the end of my coldest winter. Or perhaps this is just Texas. I spent my first waking hours basking in the midday sun, getting in some important relaxation time before heading into the mad rush of SXSW.
Looking back at our first day of SXSW on Tuesday, our initial notion of the craziness on the streets seems amateur. The combination of the weekend and the last day of the festival brought a whole new level of crowds. The unofficial party goers, both locals and visitors, here to join in on the revelry far outnumbered the 30,000 official attendees, causing 6th Street to be really crowded and keeping every sidewalk within a mile in any direction extremely busy.
We started out at the Empire Garage to see our new friends from Athens, Ga., the District Attorneys. After walking in, you need to take a closer look to realize that the venue is usually an auto-repair shop. The stage, sound system, lights, bars and food cover up this fact incredibly well, turning it, at least for a week, into a better-equipped venue than many that we’ve played music in this past year.
After the District Attorneys, Florida’s Roadkill Ghost Choir came on. I’m a sucker for anything like My Morning Jacket, and Roadkill Ghost Choir falls clearly into that line. May the seed of Jim James be spread over the Earth for the world to hear.
Hungry for a snack, we went on a mission to find some for free, and, lo and behold, a block later, the glowing tower of the Doritos Stage beckoned us like a slightly smaller (but not by much) version of Times Square. Free chips for everyone! SXSW is all about free stuff or really overpriced stuff, but nothing in between. It’s an awkward relationship between an independent arts festival and every corporate sponsor America has to offer.
A couple hours later, we made the long, hot walk to our acoustic performance in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency hotel, just across the river from downtown. There were two mics and a speaker, but no employees who knew what the deal was with our live-music gig. We set ourselves up and played at 6 p.m. as planned to an attentive crowd.
In the evening, I found what might be my favorite venue of the festival, the Blackheart Bar, to see some friends of ours from the Bay Area, the Soft White Sixties. The band was great — like a more fleshed out version of the Black Keys. The sound was great, and the outdoor patio was strung with lights in the evening warmth, making the place relaxing and magical.