Just moments before sitting down to write about the best and worst of the South By Southwest music festival of last week, I found out about the death of Jason Molina, the troubled genius behind folk-blues outfits like Songs/Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company. This news would have been unsettling and heartbreaking regardless of what I was about to embark on, but sitting here trying to write about my 10th year at the music festival, I can’t help but think back to my first year in attendance and how I got to see Magnolia Electric Company perform at The Parish.
A lot has changed since that night a decade ago when Molina first enchanted me with his fragile, somber voice. Over the years I’ve seen SXSW grow along with my understanding of the festival and all its nuances. I think back to those performances from the first few years and wonder where the festival’s one time luster has gone. Don’t get me wrong, I still had a great week, seeing dozens of bands each day, but along with the growth of social media, SXSW has become more about the hype and less about discovering unpolished gems like my friends and I did 10 years ago with Jason Molina and his band. Yes, Dave Grohl, Stevie Nicks, and John Fogerty played a surprise set together, as well as Prince and Green Day (badge only shows), but due to the influx of speculation and misinformation within the Twitter world, I was unable to see several shows I would have in years past due to the miles of sheep lined up in hopes of seeing MTV TRL darlings like of Usher and Justin Timberlake.
Yet as much as these moments of frustration tainted my week, I still relished my chance to see up-and-coming artists pour their hearts out on the stage. Within the past ten years I’ve seen unknown artists perform at SXSW that went on to big time success (Bon Iver, The Fleet Foxes, and TV On the Radio), and I expect that many of the artists seen this week will go on to do just the same. Who knows? Maybe in ten years folks will be lining up for miles to see some of my favorites from this past week while I roam 6th street, 10 years older and wiser, in search of that next great unearthed treasure.
In memory of Jason Molina, I present to you my list of the best and worst of SXSW 2013.
I guess you could say that Mike Watt changed everything for me. Back when I was 15, my older brother took me up to St. Paul, Minnesota to see Primus, and opening for Les Claypool’s band was a fellow master of the bass, Mr. Mike Watt and his band. At the time I didn’t know who Mike Watt was, nor did I know of The Minutemen; my journey into the world of punk rock was in its early stages. Regardless, I still distinctly remember the opening boom of Watt’s bass as he violently punched his low E string with a resounding pluck of his finger.
My brother and I would both go on to purchasing Mike Watt’s star-studded “Ball-Hog or Tug Boat” featuring guest stars such as J. Mascis, Frank Black, Mark Lanegan, Sonic Youth, and Henry Rollins. To say this was an introduction to the world of indie would be an understatement.
Since then, Watt’s released several more solo albums without the assistance of star power, but last week during a live performance in Seattle, Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, and Pat Smear, fellow “Ball-Hog or Tug Boat” guests, came onto the stage and performed a 10 minute jam version “Big Train” (a classic from the “Ball-Hog or Tug Boat” album). Despite the camera man’s incessent declaration of shock, it’s pretty cool to see these big names paying their respects to a true legend.