Before I arrived in Austin, my excited self did research on everything from what to wear, what to eat (which was forgotten in favour of the fast and reliable food truck taco), and other general first timer tips.
However, the most important piece of advice that I received was to forego the over-planned itinerary, and instead go with the flow. With over 2000 artists performing during SXSW Music, many of whom were announced last minute or playing unofficial sets, creating a strict and up-to-date timetable would be a nightmare... which is why I gave up on my schedule on Day Six.
Thus, I ventured out into the wilderness of SXSW Music, armed with my camera, in search of some unexpected adventure...
After emerging from some well-needed slumber, I consulted the SXSW app to determine my first engagement for the day. I decided to head over to the AXE Collective event, where Gallant, one of the artists on my want-to-watch list was performing. However, as I walked toward The Belmont, I could hear the chorus of 'Weight in Gold', Gallant's soothing and soulful single... that was almost certainly the closing song of his set. Sprinting toward the venue, I managed to catch the last half of the tune's final chorus.
Though I was disappointed to have missed Gallant's set, my mood was salvaged as soon as a familiar face walked on stage...
It turns out that the AXE Collective is a collection of artists hand picked and mentored by none other than John Legend. This year's cohort consisted of the following artists:
I Am Action
After the Collective artists performed, John Legend seated himself at the piano and treated the audience to a few tunes. John's crystal clear voice, percussive piano playing, and sharp songwriting is well deserving of his 10 GRAMMY wins and 21 nominations. His appearance at the afternoon's event was not well-publicized, so I was gifted with a front-row position that my camera and I thoroughly enjoyed.
After consulting the app once more, I decided to make a stop at the YouTube Music event at the Coppertank. With an open drink bar and popcorn bar, an interactive photo both, and waiters serving hors d'oeuvres, this proved to be an excellent decision. However, the highlight of my stop at the YouTube Music showcase was the afternoon's musical entertainment.
First up, country singer-songwriter Maren Morris, whose musical resume includes songwriting credits on Kelly Clarkson's latest album.
Next on stage, 19-year-old Norwegian performer Aurora Aksnes, who goes by the moniker AURORA. Two years ago at Berlin Music Week, I saw Aurora Aksnes perform while perched on a barstool in a Kreuzberg coffeeshop. Since then, she has graced the stage of the Nobel Peace Prize concert, and created an incredible debut album, All My Demons Greeting Me As Friends, which was released the week before SXSW. AURORA's music is wildly imaginative, with unexpected instrumental flourishes, and lyrics that sympathize with warriors, murderers, lovers, and the wild. Her quirky and emotive delivery is the perfect complement, and comes together to create a beautifully illustrated world.
The final performer for YouTube Music's afternoon showcase was pop-soul band, Lukas Graham. The group has enjoyed commercial success in Europe and their native Denmark, and have begun to crossover into the North American thanks to their ballad '7 Years'. However, their music covers a wide range on the emotional spectrum: I found myself grooving during the funky 'Strip No More', contemplating life during '7 Years', and basking in emotion and camaraderie during rousing closing number 'Funeral'. With a horn section, solid instrumentation, and spot-on vocals by frontman Lukas Forchhammer, Lukas Graham is poised to be a part of the soundtrack of 2016.
I was equal parts excited and nervous for my second official SXSW Music assignment - the Roadrunner Records Showcase. Excited because metal sets usually produce great photo opportunities thanks to stellar lighting and highly active band members... but nervous because the metal show mosh pit is not the ideal setting for fragile equipment like my camera. These nerves were further confirmed when I arrived at the venue, Empire Garage, and learned that there was no barrier in front of the stage, and thus, no photo pit. And so, with my camera strap secured as tightly as possible around my neck and wrist, I entered the fray...
The first artist of the evening was More to Monroe. My one hope for the evening was that the venue would be occupied by Industry types who weren't as likely to mosh the night away. With a wary eye on the crowd around me, I stationed myself front row.
Though the Roadrunner Records Showcase was limited to badges and wristband holders, a long queue of metal fans formed outside the venue in the hopes they would be granted entrance. As Power Trip arrived on stage, that's exactly what happened. A barrier-free stage is great for photographers as they offer uninhibited access to the artist. However, at a metal show, this uninhibited access means one thing: stage diving. Over the course of this set, I was backflipped on, and kicked in the head twice.
While I love rock music and the energy it creates, in fear of my camera's (and my own!) wellbeing, I retreated side stage during Turnstile's set.
I enjoyed headliner, Killswitch Engage's set from the (slight) security of a more side stage position. In the first picture below, you can see a single camera lens carried by a brave, brave soul.
The band played a great, high energy set, but my constant paranoia over my DSLR prevented me from fully enjoying the show. Regardless, I finished up the night with minimal battle scars, some great images, and a new story to tell.
Though tired and overwhelmed after cradling my camera in a mob of aggression, long hair, and sweat, I had one last stop before calling it a night. At the nearby Easy Tiger venue, Australian rockers Wolfmother headlined a set. Given my past luck with queues, I entered the line with low expectations, but fortunately, luck was on my side this time!
And so, after a sufficiently music-filled adventure of a day, complete with spontaneous superstars, new discoveries, past musical acquaintances, future pop icons, stage diving antics, and some unexpected luck with lineups, it was time to call it a night.
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