SXSW has such a palpable hedonism. It is a parade of acts, a carnival of different kinds of food, sunshine, and music heard in every street. With both indoor and outdoor venues, often inside a bar/venue is one band, while outside on the back patio is a completely different vibe, next door to another venue with the same set-up going on, SXSW can feel like a kaleidoscope of musical colours.
Playing this setting is inspiringly intense. Once you hit the opening notes with the sun in your face, it can feel suddenly celebratory, especially after the exhausting experience of loading gear in a pedestrian only downtown core. Generally, you are moving guitars and amps between food trucks, around so many people waiting in lines, postering poles, eating on the curb, calling out across the crowd, dancing accompaniment to friends on fixed gear bikes going the same way they are, and moving slowly across blocked intersections in a sea that can take its time in the sun.
As a performer at SXSW there is a lot of stepping in and out of the hedonism. You've got to be good at letting it take you over the moment you hit the stage, and shutting it down to get the 'work' done. The logistics of trying to hustle from one venue to the next can pull you out of the altered state this festival creates. You blaze into an alley and find the back door of a venue next to a warm and pungent dumpster, you move your stuff past it and inside, set up, get a five minute line-check (just to make sure everything still makes sound), then you get to join the crowd, return to that SXSW state of mind and play for a sweet 25 minutes, then pack it up, load it out to the van you have to go find again outside the blast radius.
Though I guess I am 'here to work,' I would love to experience this festival, as a performer, responsibility free (am I a diva?). Sex psychologists say that a sense of responsibility is the enemy of desire. I want to let the desire take over. I want to play shows in the sun, to hand myself over wholly to it. The hedonism of this festival seems to come from a shared desire to lose yourself in the experience of sun-saturated wanderings between stages, the company of others doing the same, in the gravitational pull of a building swell of melody and beat. Responsibility is left for another time. It is a vacation in music. And even for me, it can be done.
I am a mother. We brought our two-year-old son, Fergus, to SXSW. (Yes, we brought his noise-cancelling headphones, and his Auntie Corri for his loving care while we stepped on stage). So I had a big fat hand of responsibility to play, but we all, including F, could still could slip into this fever, the soft euphoria of this celebration of music and the desire to stay in it. You can feel it in the shade of a thorned bush filled with birdcalls you've never heard, when you begin to play the stage you worked so hard to get to, and when your kid wants to dance next to his stroller as you walk down the parade of 6th Street. Great vibes, Austin!
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