AUSTIN — The South by Southwest music conference is like a five-day bar crawl with hundreds of bands vying for your attention. Plus, the music starts as early as 8 a.m. at some of the posh hotels and plays until 2 a.m. in a frenzy of college bars.
To be honest, I didn’t get up at 8 a.m. or stay out until 2 a.m. at any point during the week. (Read about 10 highlights from the first two days at the festival.) But in the hours in between, I did manage to hear 10 more bands that captured my attention on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (March 14-16).
Rosco Bandana: This Mississippi ensemble entertained a small crowd at Papi Tino’s in East Austin on Friday morning (March 15) at a backyard party thrown by the Brooklyn Country Cantina. With seven people in the band, they played like it was a full house. Songs like “Woe Is Me” are melodic enough to get you moving (and the cold brew coffee from Stumptown helped, too).
Andrew Combs: A promising songwriter out of Nashville, Combs set up shop at Lucy’s Retired Surfer’s Bar on Thursday afternoon (March 14) with a full band. Up until this point, I had only heard him play acoustic, but the cranked-up volume works equally well on songs like “Worried Man.” There’s a greasy, bluesy influence in his songs that perfectly complements a cold beer or two.
Patty Griffin: On Friday afternoon, one day before her 49th birthday, this Austin singer-songwriter quipped that she was getting too old for SXSW. And although she was nervous and admitted that she forgot to sing a verse to her first song, Griffin charmed the crowd at a private show in South Austin by talking about a sexy tune she wrote about her grandparents. In my notes, I wrote “lovely” and “lonely” — two words that explain why her music appeals to me. Look for her new album, American Kid, on New West Records in May.
The Lost Brothers: These guys weren’t on my radar, but after a dull showcase elsewhere, I wandered in to see what was happening. Then I stayed for the rest of their Friday night set. These Irish musicians aren’t siblings, but they do sing like the Louvin Brothers. Strumming guitars, their music felt cozy on songs like “Widow Maker.” It’s likely they are the only SXSW band to pay homage to the late Andy Williams with an elegant rendition of “Moon River.”
Caitlin Rose: She’s a Nashville pop favorite whose sound relies heavily on steel guitar, breezy melodies and sharp wit. On a Friday night set at Club Deville, she had to sing with more force than you’ll hear on her exceptional new album, The Stand In. Yet she conveys a tough-girl demeanor on stage, so it fit well. She was also the most stylish singer I saw all week.
Trapper Schoepp & the Shades: I caught this band at one of my favorite bars, the Ginger Man. I think it was on Wednesday around, um … beer thirty. My notes are scarce, but I do remember thinking their boisterous tune “Tracks” is probably going to end up on all of my summer playlists. You can tell these musicians really enjoy playing together.
Spirit Family Reunion: While walking from South Austin to downtown, I detoured past Auditorium Shores to catch this lively band from Brooklyn, N.Y. They were taking part in a tribute concert to Levon Helm on Saturday afternoon, paying respects to their time opening shows for him. With an old-time, spiritual approach, their name is near perfect. If you can see them at a festival, do it.
Star & Micey: This Memphis roots band took the stage at Threadgill’s in South Austin on Saturday around 11 a.m. as part of the exceptional Folk Alliance lineup. Their laid-back vibe is ideal for a leisurely Saturday morning, Bloody Mary in hand. Songs like “So Much Pain” are easy to listen to, with just enough oomph to keep you going. Temporarily maintaining musician hours myself, I had to laugh (and agree) when they called their early set “shock therapy.”
The Wagoneers: If you were in Austin in the 1980s, then you’re likely familiar with the Wagoneers, fronted by the persuasive singer-songwriter Monte Warden. Some would say they were Americana way before that term became commonplace. They’re preparing their first new album in 23 years, although their cool sound hasn’t aged much in that time. I wouldn’t say it’s retro, but I would say it’s a lot of fun to hear them on a Saturday night at the Continental Club.
Luke Winslow-King: As a lover of puns, I could not resist an appointment at Mouth by Mouthwest, where a stage was set up in a local dentist office. Proceeds benefited musicians without health care. Luke Winslow-King, a New Orleans musician with a winning smile, was brushing up on new music from an album arriving on Bloodshot Records in April. If he brings his pleasing roots music back here next year, consider me booked for a 12-month checkup.