The Madness is Upon Us: SXSW 2011

It’s that time of year again (March 15-20), the thousands of musicians and hoards of “industry” folks flood the streets of Austin taking up parking, causing traffic jams and generally creating mayhem in the downtown area as they scramble to the various showcases, parties and conferences that make up South By Southwest. Now in its twenty-fifth year, the conference has exploded into six full days of celebration and live music.

Keynote speaker, Bob Geldof (the guy behind Live Aid, Band Aid and a variety of other charity productions) will join other presenters from all different sides of the music biz including those representing labels, festivals, digital delivery methods (are downloads really the enemy?) and everything in-between. We’re looking forward to Yoko Ono’s public interview with long-time friend and Austin fixture Jody Denberg, Texas Monthly editor Michael Hall’s presentation entitled “Searching for Blind Willie Johnson,” a film about the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and of course, the mocumentary-trailer for “Moves: The Rise And Rise Of The New Pornographers.”

All of this happens before the music. This year’s smorgasbord of talent includes Brett Dennen, Cheyenne Marie Mize, The Fabulous Ginn Sisters, Guitar Shorty, The Cave Singers, Emmylou Harris (yeah, SXSW is no longer just about the up-and-comers), Shelley Short, Abigail Washburn, Caitlin Rose, The Civil Wars (one of Americana’s newest darlings), Amy LaVere, Fitz and the Tantrums, She Keeps Bees, Austinites The Trishas, Shelley King, Carolyn Wonderland, Patrice Pike, and BettySoo, plus Frazey Ford (formerly of the Be Good Tanyas), Thrift Store Cowboys, Freakwater (at the Bloodshot Records day party)… there’s no end to the amazingness. Even if the Saxon Pub is an official venue… didn’t anyone think of how miserably difficult it will be for the venue hoppers?

A few of the big names this year: Widespread Panic and Lost Highway Record‘s “Special Guest” (hint – it’s not Lucinda Williams, Robert Earl Keen or Hayes Carll… so we’re going with The Jayhawks because they’re poised for a comeback and everyone’s favorite Texan, Willie Nelson will be in Chicago. We’ll be disappointed if it’s Ryan Bingham.)

And then there’s the day parties and free shows, catering to the locals (probably to keep the potential revolt in check). Our favorites? The GuitarTown/Conqueroo party, the aforementioned Bloodshot Records party at Yard Dog, SX San Jose at Jo’s Coffee, KGSR‘s morning shows at the Four Seasons, Waterloo Records’ parking lot shows and the Reverb party (what can I say? Gotta show the Denver kids some love and it will have one of our faves, Paper Bird.)

We’ll see you there!

Bonus: Some kind people have put together a torrent of samples with over 700 songs from bands that will be playing. Use it for good (planning your listening) not for evil.

Photo: Grace Potter at SXSW 2010

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