After having to cancel in both 2020 (one of the first things to do so) and 2021, South-by-Southwest thankfully returned to Austin last year (QRO recap), but it was a decidedly smaller affair. And if it didn’t reach the ‘Drake & Lady Gaga’ ridiculous heights of the last decade, SXSW ’23 was bigger & better than the year before, with more acts, more sponsors, more places, and more drink tickets, Monday-Saturday, March 13th-18th.
Friday might be the biggest day of SXSW, the start of the weekend, but before bands & fans leave early. And this year it was St. Patrick’s Day, meaning you also had all those just looking for free drinks…
Full Irish Breakfast party @ 601 Congress Ave.
Once again, it was a national party that came through with the open bar, this time the Emerald Isle of Ireland with the Full Irish Breakfast at 601 Congress Ave. – on St. Patrick’s Day, no less. There was an actual full Irish breakfast (including sausages of indeterminate ingredients), and drinks from Harp, Bushmill’s, and Guinness (though watch out for the cans of 0% alcohol Guinness, surely some sort of cultural crime…).
Admittedly, the place was packed and hard to get around in, with an overworked and at times inattentive staff, but your correspondent found a spot literally behind the bands [thus all the backs in the photos…].
One great tradition of SXSW is seeing a band twice. Another great tradition is accidentally seeing a band twice. Batted two-for-two, with another random shot of M(h)aol, albeit hard to see when playing the packed floor (despite claiming, “No One Ever Talks To Us”). This was due to going green to catch Somebody’s Child again, who did a great job in a less-than-ideal setting, keeping it epic (guitarist also got back the guitar he had lost earlier in SXSW, “St. Patrick’s Day miracle…”).
Free food & drinks meant staying to the end, meant catching the less memorable (and less packed crowd) for Junk Drawer and the Mexicali-tinged surf-garage of The Silverbacks. To close out Breakfast, The Scratch brought Irish dancer Madison West for a song.
SXSW showcase @ Saxon Pub
Sometimes at SXSW, you want to skip the new acts and catch an old favorite, so headed to the south side of Austin at Saxon Pub for Fastball. The locals and nineties hits were playing perhaps a smaller, or at least more out-of-the-way, place than expected, but that’s because they were recording a live album. Indeed, that also meant they were given extra time on the schedule – “And that’s why we’re making sure we’re in tune,” they joked.
Unlike most nineties acts, Fastball still have their three original members, which really helps with both the old and new material. They sounded a little country-er than back in the day, though perhaps that was the effect of Saxon Pub (which did have more friendly waitresses than you’d find on overworked Sixth Street). For a few songs, such as the new “What It’s Worth” and the old hit “You’re an Ocean”, were joined by Los Angeles’ Dave Schultz (“Ocean” has a key key part).
It’s not the nineties anymore, but the band had a sense of humor about it, joking that all their hits were on one album (2000’s The Harsh Light of the Day), while their next album, 2004’s Keep Your Wig On, “Came out on the label ‘Witness Protection Program’…” Yet somehow in the streaming era Wig has their fifth most popular song, singer/bassist Tony Scalzo’s “I Get High” – singer/guitarist Miles Zuniga said he would have called it, “Let’s Get Fucked Up” or “Come Over, I Got Some Beer”, and they did the rarely played live song. They also covered Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” in the middle of “Love Comes In Waves” because they are a bar band.
SXSW showcase @ Low Down Lounge
Headed to the east side to close out the night, caught some Spanish acts including GHUM and Chile’s Juani Mustard.
~ When walking up S Lamar Blvd. after missing bus stop, a guy in front of a storage space asked your correspondent about SXSW, then basically unprompted talked about missing kids stolen by awful Texas cops – and how Trump, of all people (“You can hate him”), was the only person who tried to help (“We talked for an hour – he sent the U.S. Marshals”)…
~ Was distracted at Low Down Lounge by the bar airing the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that had Pedro Pascal in it.
~ BMI Acoustic Brunch @ Geraldine’s, 10:30 AM to 3:00 PM.
~ The Zombies @ Lady Bird Lake, 5:30 PM.
~ Ben Kweller @ Mohawk, 11:10 PM. Two weeks before SXSW, Austin’s Kweller tragically lost his sixteen-year-old song, Dorian. Ben’s South-by appearance was supposed to also be Dorian’s debut. QRO can still remember seeing him as a toddler wandering on his dad’s stage in 2009 (QRO photos)…