Films, music, sunshine, margaritas and taco stands; a few of the reasons we returned to Texas for the 2010 South by Southwest festival.
By Tara Kumar and Whitney Wegner
Kick Ass, starring Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Nicolas Cage
It is that time of year again when the best minds of film, music, and technology congregate to influence and to be influenced. Austin, Texas is home to South by Southwest, the festival that launches ideas and creativity into reality. So, stay tuned as we document the next ten days of the festival.
After waiting in a line for seven Texas blocks, we caught a glimpse of McLovin’ (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) on the way into his movie premiere of Kick Ass, also starring Nicolas Cage. The movie was a combination of Superbad and Kill Bill with a twist of “The Powerpuff Girls”. Buffalo Billiards hosted the after party that we left early to catch the US premiere of American: Bill Hicks.
The Bill Hicks documentary about the late Austin born comedian is generating excitement with locals and filmgoers alike. Bill’s mother and brother were in attendance to support this funny and sweet tribute. South by Southwest co-founder and director, Louis Black, introduced the film as the embodiment of South by Southwest, “creativity and integrity.” Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas, the directors of the film, used a unique animation technique interwoven to help narrate Bill’s story.
It is the end of the first day and the buzz is beginning to build for the rest of the weekend, South by Southwest is well underway.
Waking up to the beautiful Texas sunshine makes the idea of going inside to watch movies seem proposterous. However, we managed to bite the bullet and venture into the dark for the premiere of BARRY MUNDAY and were more than pleasantly surprised. This hilarious film, based on the book Life is a Strange Place by Frank Turner Hollan, depicts the life of a man following the loss of one of his most private posessions. The talented cast, who attended the premiere, included Virginia-born Patrick Wilson, Judy Greer, and Chloë Sevigny. Also in attendance was the director, Chris D’Arienzo, author Frank Turner Hollan, and the writer for Ain’t it Cool News, Harry Knowles. On our way out we caught the cast of Wake, including Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Josh Stewart, and Angela Featherstone, walking the red carpet for the premiere of their film.
The next film on our agenda was the highly anticipated Michel Gondry documenaty, The Thorn in the Heart. In order to capture a glimpse into his family’s personal life, Michel abandoned the animated style for which he is best known. The captivating cinematography left the audience speechless. Although Michel was held up in customs for the introduction of his movie, he made up for the loss with an extended q&a after the film. He explained that like most of his films, this documentary reflects the theme of “preserving memory.”
The South by Southwest experience would not be complete without endless lines in which everyone tirelessly waits. Some lines end with success while others end in failure, today we experienced both ends of the spectrum. Our hour-long wait at the local taco stand was victorious, the three hour wait to see and fall in love with James Franco at his premiere of Saturday Night brought disappointment and rejection.
We did, however, get to check out the always stylish Chloë Sevigny at her second premiere of the festival, Mr. Nice. Her co-star Rhys Ifans accompanied her down the red carpet for this movie, which is based on the biography of Howard Marks, who was once Britain’s most wanted man for drug smuggling. In the film Rhys plays the main character, who he idolized as a child in real life. He admits to sending fan letters while Marks was in prison. Since Howard Marks is a convicted felon he was unable to make the show, but his daughter was in attendance.
On our way over to the Google party we stumbled upon the premiere of Pelada, a film made for the love of soccer. Luke Boughen and Gwendolyn Oxenham, both former players of the game, traveled the world to document ways in which the universal love for this sport transcends cultural and political differences.
There was a rumor that the Twitter party at the Parish included an open bar. It was a Lie. The overly hyped party did have one good thing to offer, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears. This Austin-based band is the perfect combination of rock and blues and style.
Although we missed the premiere of the documentary earlier in the evening, we didn’t dare miss the after-party for “Bear Nation” at Red 7. An open bar and plenty of “bears” made this affair the ideal end to the evening.
Cast of MacGruber
With an increasing amount of people trafficking in and out of the festival, we felt it was a necessity to take some time out for our favorite activity, people watching. After a day filled with fashion do’s and don’ts, we joined IndieGoGo at the Thirsty Nickel for happy hour and free Miller Lights, and then it was off to the theaters.
The 2008 presidential election of Barack Obama is a moment in history that, as Washingtonians, we were lucky to experience from the nation’s capital. Director Jeff Deutchman compiled home videos to create the film 11/4/08 which documents this historic moment and the sense of patriotism that swept the nation. This anthology evoked feelings of nostalgia and pride that we were able to participate in such a monumental milestone.
We continued the nostalgic trend, with the viewing of MacGruber, a parody of the 80’s hit series, MacGyver. This gave us the opportunity to see our favorite Saturday Night Live cast members on the big screen. This action comedy did not disappoint the packed house, whose roaring laughter persisted throughout the movie. The star-studded cast, which includes Kristen Wiig, Will Forte, Ryan Phillippe, and Val Kilmer, joined us at the Paramount for the viewing and Q&A.
Harry Brown, starring Michael Caine
Today was an unfortunate day in Austin for two reasons. 1) It rained and 2) I became a lone soldier when my fellow comrade, Tara Kumar, returned to Washington, DC. Luckily for me, I met the Greggs, a nice Austin family who agreed to take me in and teach me how to experience South by Southwest like a true Texan.
On the last day of the technology portion of the event, I sat down with Peter Corbett, CEO of iStrategy Labs who led the panel, “Wonky and Geeky DC.” Peter explained that applications providing place and time, a “life map,” are all the rage with this year’s South by Southwest interactive gurus.
I ventured over to the Paramount for a showing of Harry Brown, a film produced by Kick Ass director, Matthew Vaughn. In the movie, Michael Caine is Harry Brown, an ex-marine trying to solve the problem of violence on the streets of modern day Britain. Director Daniel Barber used vivid images of violence and drugs which made this movie hard to watch, in a good way.
Anticipating the next day’s opening of the music portion of the festival, I went back to my new temporary home and snuggled with the family dog.
New York band “Walkmen” plays at South by Southwest
Waking up to homemade pancakes and eggs is not a bad way to start the day. I am seriously considering moving back in with my parents after this trip. As the technology gurus vacate Austin and musicians move in there are a few notable changes, such as less talk of Twitter and an increase of flannel shirts. It is also more difficult to decide on a day plan given that there are so many talented acts to see and only one me.
This year, the first day of the music portion of South by Southwest collides with St. Patrick’s Day, a dream for anyone who likes to party. In celebration of the Irish, I began my day at the Guinness party where Broken Records, a seven-man band from Scotland, stole my heart and left me questioning the legality of having seven husbands. Their unique sounds are created with too many instruments to keep count. Even the lead singer, Jamie Sutherland, doesn’t know exactly how many are used and says that they have to minimize the amount because it is becoming a “pain in the…” After watching the Broken Records, my expectations for the rest of the day were set to a really high bar.
The slowly moving line to see Neon Indian at Red 7 was definitely worth the wait. A few technical problems did not stop this Texas band from proving why they are a crowd favorite, keeping everyone dancing, smiling, and wanting more.
Worried that I was not getting enough of the free food and drinks that everyone brags about, I joined the Canadians for the Canadian Blast party where I made up for lost time. Unfortunately, I had to sit through a few unmemorable bands as punishment, but the BBQ made it worth my while.
I kept hearing talk of a local Austin band called Balmorhea, so I went to the Central Presbyterian Church, where they were playing, to check out the scene. Their music is undeniably beautiful and the church was the perfect venue for this instrumental band whose acoustics were complimented perfectly by the high ceilings.
The Walkmen played at Stubb’s and although I was really far away from the stage, I was close enough to know that they were just as good as I dreamed they would be. This New York band sounds the same live as they do recorded but a live performance provided the extra bonus of seeing their upbeat personalities and great sense of style.
After a long day of venturing from one venue to the next, I joined my friends at Baby Blue Studios, home to local Austin band Sunset. We sat around the fire and ate tacos from a truck while local Texas bands serenaded the night away.
After about 36 hours of non-stop live music I felt as though I hit a wall, making me numb and unable to appreciate the art. I made an executive decision to temporarily vacate the concert scene and check out some more films. In my defense, they were music related films.
I found a flyer on the ground for Barbershop Punk, a documentary that I assumed would focus on the origin of punk, but in reality details Internet privacy. I was initially drawn to this film because the advertisement promised commentary from the founder of Dischord Records, member of Fugazi, and DC’s claim to fame, Ian Mackaye. I spent about half of the movie in denial, waiting for the part when Ian would unveil behind the scenes footage of hardcore punk shows from the eighties. When I finally came to terms with the reality of the situation, my attention could not be retrieved and I escaped so as not to miss the premiere of The Runaways.
Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined a day when Kristen Stewart would wear stilettos. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see her sporting heels as she joined the lovely Dakota Fanning on the red carpet for their movie, “The Runaways.” In the film, writer and director Floria Sigismondi, narrates the rise of Joan Jett‘s first band. Sigismondi was present and accompanied by her real life inspirations for the flick, Cherrie Curray and Kim Fowley.
With rejuvenated senses, I felt ready to get back in the music game. I made my way to the Austin City Music Hall for a performance by the Stone Temple Pilots who were in town promoting their new, self-titled album. The room filled quickly with dedicated fans who cheered in excitement for this band’s long awaited return to the stage. I felt slightly embarrassed watching these guys gyrating awkwardly while wearing sunglasses indoors, so I closed my eyes and let the music speak for itself. The band has not abandoned their powerful rock sound and style which the audience seemed to appreciate.
It is difficult to describe the extent to which music take over Austin, Texas during South by Southwest. Every concert hall, bar, hotel, backyard, and street corner is used as a music venue.
Even my morning coffee mission ended in the simultaneous consumption of caffeine and sweet folk melodies, performed by Jesse Woods at Progress coffee shop. Woods, an Austin born musician, used only his guitar, voice and excellent whistling abilities to charm the audience.
After my energy boost, I headed to the PureVolume House for free beer, free tacos and a performance by The Honey Brothers, a win, win, win situation. These guys are commonly known as “the band with the guy from TV” (Adrian Grenier from Entourage). The famous guy may be a good pickup line, but these five Brooklyn-based boys can stand on musical merit alone. Their upbeat folk rock sound is a cheerful and refreshing deviation from the current, ubiquitous electronic/indie/pop norm.
A performance by Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears earlier in the week left me wanting more, so I was excited to see that they would be playing that evening at Austin City Music Hall. The opening act, Mayer Hawthorne & The County, had me equally impressed. These guys sound like Billy Joel meets Robyn Thicke and look like Buddy Holly meets The Jackson Five. Their fearless and charismatic stage presence kept everyone smiling throughout the entire set.
I spent the rest of the night jumping from one venue to the next, some shows were memorable, some were… not so much. Freelance Whales and Suckers played at Galaxy Lounge, an outside tent whose acoustics did not do any justice to the talent that performed. Miike Snow did not let me down with their upbeat and perfectly balanced, bazaar performance at Mohawk for which the band donned white hockey masks and, with their faces covered, still managed to outdo the competition that night.
My friend coerced me to the Parish for a Broken Social Scene concert. In the past I have failed to understand the popularity of this indie band from Canada, so I decided to give them another chance. The set seemed endless but I gained a greater appreciation for their talent and genuinely enjoyed their sound.
DAY 9 & 10
On the last day of this year’s South by Southwest festival, the sun disappeared leaving Texas cold and rainy. The depressing weather did not keep departing visitors from making the most of their last day in Austin. Washington, DC’s best website for everything current and cool, Brightestyoungthings.com, threw a two day party at the Red Fez showcasing our district’s best hometown musicians including Stewart Lupton, Laughing Man, The Dance Party, and Deleted Scenes.
I made it to the second day of this party just in time to catch The Love Language play an amazing set with special guest bassist, and member of DC band fffever, Justin Roderman. The venue’s poor audio and small stage were no match for US Royalty, who proved their consistency and ability to entertain a crowd under any circumstance.
The last performers of the day were allotted time for only one song, but that is all the time that DC band, EXACTLY, needs to shock and excite any audience. Band members, Adrian Parsons, Cole Sharp, and Jesse Bishop have let DCers watch them learn and grow as musicians with a public journey that has never lacked surprises. These guys have adapted a unique electronic/rock sound and experimental vampire/glam look that can not be matched. EXACTLY drove twenty four hours from DC to Texas for one song, exemplifying the amount of heart invested by Washington’s musicians.
With this showcase, Washington, DC proved to be a breeding ground for artists who do art for the love of art. These musicians work extremely hard and reap few rewards apart from the music its self, but for them, that is enough. It seemed appropriate to end my South by Southwest experience with this showcase that renewed my pride for the city that we call home.