Photos and words by Bowerbird Photography
The surrealists employed a method of drawing called the exquisite corpse, where an artist would create an image on a section of paper, fold it back to conceal the image, and then pass on the paper for another artist's contribution. The beautiful monstrosity wasn't revealed until everyone was finished and the paper unfolded.
Walking down South Congress Street during SXSW 2013 yesterday felt like the musical version of an exquisite corpse. Nearly every block had its own outdoor stage, with an alternative country performance across the street from a hard rock band, indie pop music next to honky-tonk, and street musicians in between. It was sonic mayhem.
While some find it enjoyable to be able to sing along along to a familiar band, there is unequaled pleasure and pride in "discovering" a new one – the more obscure, the better. We left our frustratingly fathomless festival handbook at the hotel, letting fortune be our guide, and made for S. Congress. The street is aptly named because it seems that everything comes together there, and has the gentrified, bohemian feel of Valencia Street, with vintage shops, craft fairs, and a good ice cream parlor.
While musicians are turned away at larger venues downtown, it's virtually open mike in SoCo. That's not to imply that the music is worse. On the contrary. It is here that we stumbled upon a standout band called Residual Kid, from Austin, with Max Redman (12-years-old), Ben Redman (14), and Deven Ivy (14). Teen/tween angst doesn't get better than this.
At the Music by the Slice stage, Telekinesis lead singer Michael Lerner sat front and center, singing over the cymbals of his drumset to hipsters holding pizzas. Young Galaxy, from Canada, also performed, it with a '80s synth-heavy sound, snappy beats, and open-throated vocals.
Moseying down to the St. Vincent De Paul parking lot, Canadian country music band Corb Lund played to a crowd lounging on overstuffed sofas, reminiscent of an impromptu porch concert. Singing straight country with a storytelling bent, he twanged about speeding on the highway with a foot "heavy with redemption" and a "bible on the dash."
Down another block, adorable duo, Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison, got folks dancing at the South by San Jose stage with romantic country ballads.
While the music may be eclectic, the food is less so, despite the ubiquity of food trucks. While most restaurants serve any combination of Tex Mex (fried burrito anyone?) and BBQ (Austin's staple food is shredded pork in a white bun), it is possible to find some fresh greens. At the non-profit, Casa de Luz, we sat down to a hippie-cafeteria style prix fixe lunch, piled high with kale and homemade kraut.
But the siren smell of smoked meats is too alluring, and we couldn't help but splurge on an artery-clogging, three meat BBQ sandwich from the food truck, La Barbecue. Delicious. There was also an offshoot show behind the BBQ parking lot, called the SX704 Showcase, with hip-hop performances by SL Jones from Atlanta, and Rich Kidd from Toronto.
As we walked over the Congress Avenue Bridge in the evening, the famous bats started to leave their hiding places beneath, swarming in search of their sunset meal. They made thousands of shotgun holes in the sky, and moved in tandem like a starling murmuration, adding just one more sight to the wonderful weirdness this town has to offer.
Navigating the wild landscape of music, parties, and food at SXSW is exhausting, but in the end, we're rewarded with great memories. And it's a good thing we took photos too, because our eardrums are shot.