SXSW 2024: My Experience

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    SXSW 2024: My Experience
    Published: April 10, 2024

    The calm before the storm: 6th Street in Austin, early afternoon, SXSW 2024.

    The night before I arrived in Austin, TX for SXSW 2024, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into. I dug through the massive event calendar on the SXSW website, making note of anything that seemed interesting. I had been to plenty of music festivals, but nothing quite like the weeklong music industry block party in which I was about to partake.

    Most of my planning went out the window the moment I arrived. Soon, this also included what I thought were my future plans for Extra Chill. When I saw what was happening there, it quickly became apparent to me that bringing Extra Chill to Austin aligns with my best interests.

    I’ve been in Charleston for a long time — 13 years as of my writing this. During this time, I have carved out a space within Charleston’s tiny piece of the music industry pie for Extra Chill to exist, thrive, and inspire. I’ve done this simply because I’ve been inspired.

    The Well of Inspiration

    Ringo Deathstarr at Hotel Vegas, SXSW 2024.

    Before I got to Austin, my well of inspiration had started to dry up, as did my level of belief in my local community. The music scene in Charleston has not been giving me the same jolt that it had done in the past. The local bands have not been so easily getting me out of my house on a Friday or Saturday night, much less a weeknight like the golden era of 2016-2019.

    Part of this is me getting older, and feeling less connected with the fire of youth, but I feel confident that I will never truly lose that fire. I would, and always will be down to go to a concert on a Tuesday night. This is my life, this is what I do.

    The bigger part of this is the state of the music industry, and the gutting that has been done to it by the pandemic and corporate dollars, sucking the very soul out of our artistic communities.

    Charleston’s Unique Challenges

    South Carolina-born rapper Anfernee “Cooks the Corner” of 6th and Red River, SXSW 2024.

    Charleston, as a smaller, highly-attractive city, has been extra susceptible to this, because we were wide open during the pandemic. So, a bunch of stir-crazy people with money from richer states moved here, who don’t know or care about our communities.

    These people spent money at our bars, but talked through the bands and scoffed at the cover charges. The prices went up and a lot of the good bands moved away. The scene suffered. Now, the city’s best bands are on the road, and the collaborative spirit of the local scene has lost its luster. The one local show of the year when they all play costs upwards of fifty dollars.

    It’s hard out there for a local band in this town. And I don’t think this is the only town with these problems — it’s just the one I know best.

    At this point in my life, my inspiration is much more broad than building a presence in Charleston’s tight-knit community. I have seen enough music industry nonsense that I now want to make an actual difference in the way things are done. I want to see the local music scene grow, not just in Charleston, but across the board.

    In order to properly do that, I truly believe I need to be living in Austin.

    Alec Meza at Yeti, BMI Showcase, SXSW 2024.

    But Wait, Isn’t SXSW Corporate Too?

    Oh yeah. You bet your ass SXSW is corporate. They’re worse than corporate, actually. They took money from the U.S. Army and Raytheon for an event that has been historically built upon community, collaboration, and the brightest of futures.

    This was ignorant at best, and greedy or a sign of hard times at its most likely. They paid for it in bad PR for weeks as bands dropped out of their official showcases in support for Palestine, and they have likely done damage to their brand reputation as a result.

    However, the vibrant scene that thrives in Austin during SXSW is a beautiful thing, and the festival itself has been instrumental in the existence of all this for 30+ years. The fact that it exists at all says a lot about the lasting value of the creative community in Austin.

    Especially when you juxtapose it to Austin City Limits Festival at the other end of the spectrum, which is much more of a traditional music festival, but also of the highest caliber and in the same city.

    Austin’s Music Scene

    TILT at Sunny’s Backyard, SXSW 2024.

    I am not here to disparage the Charleston music scene which has been my home for my entire adult life. Rather, I’m drawing comparisons to depict my vision for growing Extra Chill and, by proxy, uplifting the Charleston music scene.

    I think by immersing myself in the community in Austin in the same way I have done in Charleston, while leveraging the connections that I’ve already created, I can connect the dots cross-country and Extra Chill will gain national recognition, and thus impact the entire music industry with our grassroots ethos.

    Which I assure you, I have listened to far too much Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia music to ever allow myself to become a corporate sell-out. You have my word, Extra Chill will champion independent music until the day I die.

    Now, I’m going to explore my thoughts on Austin’s music scene and where I see myself fitting into that puzzle.

    Cosmo Pyke at Seven Grand, SXSW 2024.

    The Venues

    First and foremost, Austin has the venues to support a vibrant and diverse music scene. There are countless music venues lining the main strip on 6th street, and even more off to the side or tucked around a corner. This sets the foundation for the city to have a variety of different, well-attended shows at excellent venues happening any given night.

    Now, I understand it’s not always SXSW, but how many venues in Charleston have people speak highly of them from all over the place? We’ve got the Charleston Pour House, which could be picked up and dropped down in Austin and fit right in. The same could be said of the Royal American, and Lofi Brewing is on its way there. The Windjammer is awesome and unique to Charleston, since it’s on the beach. So we’ve got that going for us.

    But then… it’s dive bars with mediocre sound systems and stages. Plus, the big venues like the Music Farm, Charleston Music Hall, The Refinery, and Firefly Distillery, are owned by Live Nation and their corporate stink has tainted the experience.

    Top 4 Austin Venues from SXSW

    Rickshaw Billie’s Burger Patrol at Empire Garage, SXSW 2024.

    I went to probably 30 different venues during my week in town, and some of them really stood out. Since some readers have probably never been to Austin, I wanted to list a few of them and explain why they rock.

    Antone’s

    This place is the cream of the crop. It’s got the best sound out of any venue I went to in Austin, and perhaps any venue I’ve been to in my life. I cannot stress enough how impressed I was by their setup and how seriously they took it.

    I spent a night there watching Daniel Donato and Brainstory, who were both great for showcasing a sound system with their nuanced styles. The venue took a full 15 minutes between sets for soundcheck and during that time they had a drag queen on stage for entertainment, who also explained how they want to make it sound right for the next band. No other venue that I attended placed that much importance on the sound check.

    Rather than your stereotypical gruff sound guy, the people running sound at Antone’s looked like scientists. They looked like they were plucked straight out of Berkeley School of Music to come make that room sound better. The place even had smaller, angled speakers behind the mains for people standing stage right or left.

    I look forward to visiting this venue again after I move to Austin. Really impressive place, and the bartenders were super cool. I hope to book that room one day.

    Empire Garage & Control Room

    TAUK at Empire Garage. SXSW 2024.

    This place has a super unique setup. It is built into a former car garage, hence the name. The garage door is fully functional and opens to reveal a large stage. Then, there is a more traditional venue located inside of what was the former mechanic shop.

    It’s an awesome place and also one of the most laid-back venues I went to. The staff were cool and happy to chat when it wasn’t busy. They were also interested in the bands and the things I knew about them, which was part of my discussion with the bartender before TAUK’s set at Empire Garage.

    The concept of a car garage turned into a music venue goes hand-in-hand with what I think are the coolest things about the music industry. These innovative ideas that become creative staples and renowned spaces for live music. Not unlike the Charleston Pour House, which was converted from a 7-11 slash seafood restaurant into one of the most iconic music venues in the Southeast.

    Empire was the place that actually made me think about how the Pour House could be picked up from Charleston and dropped down in Austin and fit right in. Charleston really has something special with that place and it deserves to be cherished and protected, as does Empire in Austin.

    Hotel Vegas

    Sextile at Hotel Vegas, Late Night. SXSW 2024.

    I spent a lot of time at Hotel Vegas because it’s right down the street from where I was staying. Where Antone’s is a high-class venue, Hotel Vegas brings the low-brow in a way that speaks directly to my rebellious spirit. It also seems to be a crucial space for the local music scene, as many of the artists I saw there were from Austin.

    For example, on the first night of SXSW I was introduced to tons of awesome local bands like Font, Die Spitz, Ringo Death Starr, and more. Not to mention a huge crowd there to see them, and people in the crowd talking about how good they are. It wasn’t just a SXSW thing. This was the Austin music scene coming out in droves for their local bands. Plus the SXSW crowd boost.

    This place has three stages. One small stage inside the bar, very much a dive bar setup called Volstead Lounge. They had lots of punk rock and shoegaze happening here all week long. Then, another small room called Hotel Vegas, which is another dive-bar type room. Then, there is the back patio stage, which is located in an enormous outdoor space.

    Every time I went there, all week long, it was packed. The people were cool, stylish, and open-minded. When my notebook fell out of my pocket there one afternoon when I had a few too many Lone Stars, I came back in a panic 2 hours later to find that the bouncer had saved my notes at the door. What a guy.

    I can see myself becoming a regular here, as I kept being drawn back to the vibe without even knowing or caring who was playing.

    Moody Theatre

    Faye Webster at the Moody Theatre, SXSW 2024. Photo credit: Dusana Risovic for Rolling Stone.

    There’s high class, there’s low brow, and then there’s world class. The Moody Theatre at ACL Live falls into the world class category. This is where I had a chance to see Faye Webster, on the same day she was on the cover of Rolling Stone’s “Future of Music” edition.

    Opened in 2011, this is the home of the ACL Live television broadcast and was built after PBS donated $2.5 million to KLRU, the TV company that organizes the broadcast. This kind of stuff just doesn’t exist in Charleston, and never will.

    2,750 seats — small enough to feel intimate but large enough to host a famous artist. The halls are lined with photographs from past ACL broadcasts with some of the biggest music celebrities of our time, including, of course, Willie Nelson. The theatre resides on Willie Nelson Boulevard, fitting as he was the first-ever artist to perform on ACL in 1976.

    So, while this place had all the official, corporate-sponsored headline events, I was still really impressed by the layout, setup, and sound of the Moody Theatre. It’s a well-thought-out space, that was clearly built with care and for a specific purpose, which is live music with a view.

    I can go on about how impressive Faye Webster’s set was, but I think everybody probably knows that already. Just check out her latest album, Underdressed at the Symphony. It’s excellent.

    My Place in Austin’s Community

    Greg Freeman at Cheer Up Charlies, SXSW 2024.

    The whole time I walked around Austin, my mind was consumed by possible paths for the future of my business. I looked at the skyscrapers, high and filled with people, the city streets, bustling and diverse. I thought about Charleston, tourist-centric, afraid of its own dark past, while capitalizing on it at the same time. A city that started the Civil War and still clings to its dated philosophies in a lot of sinister ways.

    Austin, to me, represents the center of the music industry in America. It is a meeting ground and a melting pot where all genres and types of people are welcomed with open arms.

    Music is not just a feature of Austin, it is a reason why many people choose to live there, and it offers opportunities for a career in music that simply cannot be found elsewhere.

    The Devolving Music Industry

    At the same time, the rise of corporate interests in the music industry have led us to a place where there is a gap in the lower-to-mid tier of music journalism and people working within the scene in general. Artists are struggling, even in Austin.

    The big music magazines do not have writers on the ground at Hotel Vegas interacting with the community. They don’t know who the artists are until they buzz on social media, or get a PR tip about them.

    That grassroots era of the music industry has come and gone, and everything has gotten too big to notice the small communities that produce festival headliners in the first place. However, I see a space where it can make a comeback, thrive, and carve out a foothold once again.

    Consistent Effort

    The Vices break a string, a fellow bassist comes to the rescue. Side Bar, SXSW 2024.

    It will take consistent effort and collaboration from people who care, but I can see a path forward. There is an opening for people like myself to make a difference, because the public sentiment is starting to be one of frustration with the way things are.

    Look at all these music festivals that announce bankruptcy on a weekly basis. Look how expensive the tickets are to everything. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can craft communities that are stronger than Ticketmaster and Live Nation, that cannot be touched by corporate money. People will choose to support these alternatives when they arise. We just need to build them, and we need to band together to do it.

    That idea is what I’ve built this business upon. It took me a long time to realize my mission statement and my place within the music industry, but my time at SXSW has made that very clear to me. Extra Chill exists to wave the flag for independent music and create a stronghold where we can thrive together.

    This idea has value in Charleston, as I’ve seen over the years, but in Austin I feel that I can make a much bigger difference. Rather than trying to put Charleston on the map, I will relocate myself to the center of the map.

    The Vices at Valhalla. One of the few bands I saw twice during SXSW.

    Charleston in Austin

    Austin has several ex-Charlestonians that now call Texas home, including my friend David J. Edwards (DJ) who was gracious enough to let me stay on his couch during my visit. DJ runs sound and spent 12 hours a day working during SXSW, but his kindness allowed me to experience the festival to the fullest.

    Anfernee, a South Carolina-born rapper, is someone who I spent a lot of time with in Austin. We met up for a full day and explored 6th street together, catching live music at Side Bar and then stumbling across a DIY, open mic hip-hop showcase on the corner of 6th and Red River, “Cookin on the Corner.” Anfernee hopped up there and cooked that corner to a delicious level.

    Rose Hotel at Lambert’s, SXSW 2024.

    Mia Naome, a photographer who I worked with for many years in Charleston, is another Austin resident who I spent time with during my travels. Mia was at the Athens to Austin showcase at Lambert’s BBQ, and introduced me to Faye Webster’s keyboard player, and her brother Jack, who used to be a roadie for SUSTO. Jack, being an ATLien, commented on my Clermont Lounge t-shirt, and we got to talking, which is how I learned that Faye Webster was going to be on the cover of Rolling Stone.

    Speaking of SUSTO, Justin Osborne is another recent Austin resident whom I’ve worked with extensively during my time in Charleston.

    So, during one week in Austin I was able to brush shoulders with the inner circle of the music industry, and the connections I made in Charleston are what facilitated that. It’s easy for me to see the possibilities of what could happen when Extra Chill becomes an Austin-based magazine. I don’t have to start at the very bottom, because the work I’ve done in Charleston still holds value 1200 miles away.

    Extra Chill, Signing Off

    Former Charleston resident Anfernee “Cooking the Corner,” SXSW 2024.

    Where Charleston focuses on its beaches, history, and fine dining, Austin has grit and tight-knit creative communities that are actively supported both by the city and its residents.

    Charleston, you’ve been good to me, and I won’t abandon you completely. I have a home base here and plan to travel back and forth when it makes sense.

    But I’ve seen the potential that is left on the table from living in the South, with all the challenges that come along with it, and it’s time for a big change.

    Austin, I’m on my way.

    My good buddy David J. Edwards, running sound at Butterfly Bar, SXSW 2024.
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