We rolled into Austin late Thursday night in serious need of a shower and a nap. Instead, we unpacked our stuff and headed straight out to downtown Austin. Everyone said we were crazy to drive here from Seattle, and I have to admit, I underestimated how long it would take. I was hoping we'd be able to arrive sooner than Thursday night, but it turns out that a 35 hour drive is a 35 hour drive. On the way down, I saw a lot of stuff I would've liked to stop and check out if we weren't in such a hurry-- particularly the Buddy Holly museum in Lubbock, since I will probably never have a reason to go to Lubbock, Texas ever again and it will be closed on Monday when we drive back through.
By the time I got to downtown Austin, it was midnight on Thursday, and the parties were raging. The streets were thronged with people in a spectacle of drunken madness the likes of which I have only witnessed before once, in Paris, during the citywide Fete De La Musique. A friend of mine described SXSW to me as "spring break for music nerds." Which is about the size of it. After wandering about a bit to catch my bearings, I tried to get into the secret Circle Jerks show at Beerland. No such luck, though-- it was at capacity, and the line wasn't moving. While in line, I saw Herman Dune walk by, and I really hoped they'd look at me because I just so happened to be wearing the shirt they gave me last time they were in town. Unfortunately, they did not. And since I am painfully shy when it comes to bands I like (plus I didn't want to lose my spot in line), I didn't try to catch their attention. Soon after, it became apparent that getting into the Circle Jerks wasn't going to happen, I decided to call it a night and try again the next day.
Because Boston band Pretty & Nice came over to eat lunch and do some laundry early in the afternoon (you'll hear more on that later-- they're from Boston but are signed to Hardly Art), the first show I headed out to see M. Ward (pictured) at the Village Voice party, which was not as crowded as one might assume given how quickly he sold out the Showbox in Seattle a few weeks ago. But then, there's so much to do, it's not entirely unsurprising. M. Ward's an interesting performer-- he's obviously not that into the limelight, and from the baseball cap he tucks low over his eyes to the way he makes his dislike of being photographed so public-- and though the set was short because he went on late, he didn't give the fans any guff for taking his photo, and he did catch our eye a couple times. He isn't much for stage banter, either, but he did bestow one of those perfunctory "have fun, thanks so much" speeches on us at the end, and it didn't seem resentful.
Then I wandered down to the Spider House, where there were a bunch of different things going on, on several different stages. I chilled on the back patio and watched a pop band with a bleached-blonde Nord player in red pants; their music was only okay, though. Most of the folks there seemed more interested in enjoying the sunshine than the music. Which was fair enough. I don't think I've ever been so happy to put on a dress in my life. It was amazing just to be in the nice weather.
It was after I decided to leave the Spider House and try to find a free evening show that I realized exactly how important it is to have a badge/wristband. I caught the last bus downtown from the Spider House, clinging to the handrail as the bus driver had to turn down all passengers six stops in a row. Then, when I got off the bus, I went trolling for something to do. While figuring out our options, a couple of 20-year old punks tried to get us to buy them booze, and though I sympathized with their predicament, I wasn't about to oblige them-- mainly because they already seemed well on their way to Drunklesville already. I wandered around the madness for a while before finding a bar next door to a big old metal show under a tent. I sat back, drank some beers and watched a bunch of beefy, super-stoked metal guys make the first unironic rawk fists I've seen at a show in a long time (come to think of it...I don't go to metal shows often). The patio setup was actually pretty sweet-- if you got a spot in the right place on the deck, you could see what was going on onstage.
For all the lofty goals I had for Friday, the enormity of this festival totally overwhelmed me. Yesterday felt like a practice run for what's to come today-- and hopefully, I'll be able to get into more shows today, since I'm starting earlier, without charming bands from Boston to distract me from my mission. Since I've never been here before, I'm not sure if SXSW has been doing any better or worse than it usually does because of the recession (it always comes back to the economy, doesn't it?), but I saw plenty of people rolling without wristbands or badges, and I realized I've got a lot of competition for space at those free shindigs. We'll see how today goes.