I saw at least twice as many bands as I had hours of sleep, but my first trip to the South by Southwest music conference, the industry's biggest networking and showcasing event of the year, was worth the exhaustion.
I'll be soaking in my SXSW experience, and the lessons I took away from it, for a long while. A few highlights come to mind.
--MVP: Dave Grohl. His keynote speech Thursday was sincere, humorous, vividly written and inspiring; his message was that we all have our own voice and cannot take that for granted. He topped the day off doing what he does best: rocking out at a send-off concert for his Sound City Players supergroup, featuring rare collaborations with Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty and other noted musicians.
--Dairy State superstar: The Majestic Theatre in Madison deserves major kudos for exposing six Wisconsin acts to industry figures from around the country. Here's hoping the bands made some connections to help them with their careers. If nothing else, it was rewarding to have such diverse talent represented in one room.
--Best performance: Between Sound City and Nick Cave and the crazy antics of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O, there were many strong candidates for stand-out show. But Jim James' performance Tuesday night topped everything else. With a top-notch band, he invigorated his already sublime new solo album, "Regions of Light and Sound of God," with dramatic, show-stopping rearrangements and, through intense focus, created a profound sense of intimacy.
--Greatest surprise: I was paying no attention to the classical group that opened for Grohl's keynote speech until the sound of strings was stirred in a colorful melting pot with elements of hip-hop and dance music. The band is called Black Violin, and it's onto something.
--Coolest celeb run-in: Even in a downtown swarmed with 100,000-plus people, it's still easy to pick out a guy with massive dreadlocks, as I found out when I ran into Counting Crows' Adam Duritz. We talked about the promising state of Wisconsin bands and how much he loved Madison's PHOX, and he gushed over an Instagram picture he took of frontwoman Monica Martin. Then a young guy approached us to hand out pamphlets. "Do I know you? You look familiar," he said to Duritz, who replied that he and I grew up in Austin together. The guy looked confused and left, and I said goodbye to Duritz soon after. But after I ran into the pamphlet guy down the street, I told him why Duritz looked so familiar.
"SERIOUSLY?!" he screamed. "I (expletive) knew that was him!"
Favorite bands picks
It's impossible to see everything at SXSW, so we asked a few other Wisconsinites there what their favorite performances were:
--"The Zs. Amazing percussionist with a spellbinding guitarist." -- Kathleen Baird of the Madison band Spires That in the Sunset Rise.
--"T. Hardy Morris at Central Presbyterian Church. The church was air conditioned. Cushioned pews. Very relaxing evening in the midst of all the chaos." -- Donivan Berube of the West Bend duo Blessed Feathers.
--"Black Spade. He's a St. Louis legend who doesn't get enough respect." -- Madison-bred rapper F. Stokes.
HEADED FOR MILWAUKEE
Several acts are making Milwaukee one of their first post-SXSW stops this month, including:
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Richard Thompson Electric Trio: March 19, Pabst Theater
The 1975: March 19, Turner Hall Ballroom
Ryan Bingham: March 20, The Rave
Frightened Rabbit: March 22, Pabst Theater
Local Natives: March 22, The Riverside Theater
The View: March 23, Turner Hall Ballroom
The Wheeler Brothers, What Made Milwaukee Famous: March 28, Cactus Club
Alt-J, Hundred Waters: March 29, Riverside Theater
Delhi 2 Dublin: March 30, Shank Hall
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside, March 30, Pabst Theater
Waaves: March 30, The Rave
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