Baltimore at SXSW

Posted on March 24, 2010 by Justin Allen


There are times in this life when one is pulled in a particular direction for reasons unknown.  What Weekly’s spur-of-the-moment excursion to SXSW was one of those times. In the weeks leading up to our spontaneous adventure across the U.S. to the renowned South By South West Music Conference in Austin, Texas, we encountered a number of seemingly random coincidences that became the impetus for this issue. We’ll spare you the gory details and cut right to the chase.  Remember Joe Squared’s Miniskirt and Mustache party from last week?  It was there that our chance meeting with Cyclops bookstore owner, Andy Rubin, became the last in a succession of coincidences that nudged us over the Texas state line.

After the drunken spelling bee at Joe’s, it was decided: We were going to Austin in exactly five days. No badge, no bracelet, no press passes and no hotel reservations.

We caught up with Baltimore bands we had never before seen, including Wye Oak, Videohippos, Teeth Mountain and Bearkat.  We serendipitously ran into some other favorites such as Stephanie’s Id (Ashville, NC), and Man Man (Philadelphia).  We’re grateful to have been introduced to Boulder Acoustic Society, Pocahaunted, The Legendary Shack Shakers, Chuck Prophet, Elizabeth Cook, Uvumi.com, Music Fog and, finally, Baltimore House Studio where we found Baltimore natives living, playing and recording in Austin.

Incidentally, we met street performers, a balloon head, the drummer from Blink 182, a shirtless man begging for free hugs, a substance-abusing hotel concierge of questionable character, a cabbie we saved from mean people, and a hot tamale-making Madre.

In the big picture above, Baltimore’s own Wye Oak at their Merge Records Showcase during SXSW at Cedar Street. These guys proved that it only takes two.  Andy Stack was playing the keys with his left hand and drums with his right hand and feet.  Jenn Wasner provides vocals and guitar.

During their performance, the phrase echoed, “Who is this? This is amazing.”   It occurred to us that we had to travel 1345 miles to Austin to see this Baltimore band for the first time, but you can be sure that we’ll be in the audience at future hometown performances.

Jenn Wasner’s sultry voice is reminiscent of Cat Power, albeit uniquely her own.  Add in beautiful, thoughtful guitar, moments of chaos, and a quiet sense of grace and you have one half of a band that’s going places.

 

Andy Stack’s display of ambidextrous, multi-instrumental wizardry was made even more brilliant by the fact that he made it look so damn easy.  With one hand manipulating his Nord Electro, and the other switching sticks and piloting a full set of drums, Andy Stack outdoes Def Leopard’s drummer by leaps and bounds.  Close your eyes and Wye Oak sounds like a four man band, with eight hands and lots of soul.  Bravo!

 

 

 

6th Street in Downtown Austin was in full-on festival mode, with hoards of people streaming down the street in every direction. The laughing crowds of people, costumes, colorful surroundings, and live music streaming from every bar, club, diner, coffee shop, taco stand and waffle house left little to be desired.

While this band has been one of our favorites for years, we had no idea when we walked into The Ginger Man on Lavaca that Stephanie’s Id would be there preparing for their set. This was a very happy “coincidence.” Stephanie’s Id is not from Baltimore, but we’d like to initiate the campaign to officially adopt the band.  Over the years, they’ve played many Baltimore venues and have garnered a loyal following in our fair city.  Go to the Stephanie’s Id Facebook Page and encourage them to play The Windup Space soon.

 

Here’s Chuck Lichtenberger and Stephanie Morgan at the Nine Mile Records SXSW Showcase.

Stephanie’s Id’s sound
has evolved over the years from something near trip-hop to indie pop jazz soul. Imagine Portishead meets Bjork (yet happy and well-adjusted) and you’ll start to get the picture.

SXSW is the kind of event where you can finally check out that band you’ve been meaning to see for a dog’s age. For us, Man Man was one of those bands. If you like weird, circus and sequins, then you’ll love Man Man hailing from Philadelphia.  Here’s front man Honus Honus (“the High-August-First-Voice”).

Often referred to as Viking-vaudeville manic Gypsy jazz, Man Man left SXSW and, oddly enough, headed straight for Baltimore where they played Sonar with Ed Schrader.

 

We heard about Baltimore House Studio and Uvumi.com from a dear friend (Rob Leaman!) in Austin who attended one of their Live Sessions projects. The mission for the project is to promote indie music by providing fresh recordings, decent photographs and a front-page feature on Uvumi.com.

The Baltimore House is full of Orioles caps and Ravens swag and, not to forget, awesome transplants from Baltimore who moved to Austin. These guys insist on staying true to their Baltimore roots and it makes us proud that Baltimore is properly represented in the Live Music Capital of the World.

It wasn’t just the bars, clubs and restaurants that were saturated with music during South By; if you took a walk through any neighborhood, you’d find several sponsored house parties like the one we were invited to on Rainey Street where Baltimore House Studio teamed up with Nine Mile Records and Uvumi.com for a day party.

Here’s Ben Burdick, Drew Schlegel and Matt Hebert at Rainey Manor where there was no shortage of free booze, great music, BBQ and bangin’ tamales.

We love connecting with innovative people, which is why we were fortunate to have met Marshall Stokes and Michele Stokes of Uvumi.com. They’ve made it their mission to empower musicians by building a website that provides tools to help artists promote their work.  Uvumi (a Swahili word meaning “rumbling noise”) is a music discovery and promotion platform that has the potential to be a leader in online music promotion.

If you love music the way we do, check out their site and create a profile. Uvumi.com has big plans for the future and is open to talking to investors who can help them roll out their initiatives. We predict that Uvumi.com will become a major player in the rapidly changing music industry.

When indie music moves to the mountains and makes sweet love to gypsies, the outcome is something like Boulder Acoustic Society, complete with accordion, harmonica, banjo (sometimes played with teeth) and upright bass.  We’re surprised that the city of Boulder lets this band leave town for fear that they might not come back.  Boulder Acoustic Society puts a beautiful, new twist on old spirituals, inspires us to dance with contemporary beats and reminds us what heart is all about.

You know him, you love him… Ladies and Gentleman, we present Andy Rubin of Cyclops Bookstore and 31 Tigers.  A big thanks goes out to Andy for his good company and the inside scoop on South By. Without him, we would’ve missed… everything. Hell, we wouldn’t have even been there.  Here’s Andy with Rick Pierik of Nine Mile Records.

As if there wasn’t enough live music at South By, the musicians were literally spilling out onto the streets, scattered amongst the festival goers. Efforts to find them a home were abandoned after the sheer number became overwhelming. This singer and harpist reminds us why we love street performers.

We believe that Baltimore could benefit from more street art and spontaneous public performances.  Perhaps we should start a We Want More Street Performers in Baltimore Facebook group and get the ball rolling. What do you think?

Here we have a  gang of wild tigers whose habitat has been overrun by hippies, hipsters, hiphopsters and hillbillies. Observe how they have been forced to assimilate to modern human culture and willingly pose for pictures with tourists in hopes of acquiring a free meal.

Did we mention hippos? Baltimore’s own Videohippos made the trek to Austin and brought with them the infectious indie pop dance music that makes them a club favorite wherever they go.  When they say ‘video,’ they mean it.  The music combined with the projections make for a psychedelic experience to be enjoyed with or without party favors.  We haven’t figured out the ‘hippos’ part, but we did see one of them in what seemed to be a lucedor mask, so it’s cool.

Who knew an unassuming coffee shop could be the front to an intimate, seemingly secret theater accurately named The Hideout?  The Hideout was our favorite surprise, and the band Pocahaunted, although not previously on our radar, was a fantastic find. The tribal harmonies, Siren undertones and witchy chanting felt like the soundtrack to a movie about Pagan rituals or Native American postmodernism.  Theatrical, enchanting and definitely worth a listen.

The reason we went to The Hideout was to witness Teeth Mountain, a band from Baltimore and well ahead of its time. Teeth Mountain seamlessly blends tribal drumming, analog synths, horns, bass and various other electronic elements.  If ever there was a band to represent the past and the future simultaneously in a distinct, all instrumental, display, it’s Teeth Mountain.  Teeth Mountain, like Wye Oak, is redefining the familiar structure of contemporary bands, which lends itself to a new kind of freedom in composition.  We are excited about this shift in music and look forward to hearing more.


We have discerned that Maryland is producing some of the most impressive music in the world.  Bearkat, from the Eastern Shore, is no exception.  Here is Bearkat with Luke Kalloch. She’s a charming storyteller, with a sense of humor, beautiful vocals and solid talent. We’re excited to discover songwriting of this caliber.  Rumor has it that she’ll be touring the East Coast in the Spring so keep an eye out.

And yet another unexpected turn of events… We found ourselves at Threadgills for the Music Fog showcase that included 45 bands over three days.   Music Fog is a video production company and blog focused on Americana music based out of Maryland. We ended up there not knowing that we were about to meet the legendary Jessie Scott, founding member of the Americana Music Association and partner at Music Fog.  Jessie was one of the first female air personalities on a major market Top 40 station in 1974. And she’s super cool. We love what they’re doing and see them as an inspiration for What Weekly.


Jenn Wasner, Flock of Dimes

Want more photos?

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *