While Memphis musicians are gearing up to head down to South By Southwest this week, local venues like the Hi-Tone are already experiencing the surge of shows that come along with the more than 2,300 bands traveling to the festival in Austin, Texas.
"I start getting emails in December from bands that are trying to come through Memphis on their way to South By Southwest," said Hi-Tone owner Skinny McCabe.
"On our calendar for March, 29 of the 30 dates are booked, mostly by bands traveling to the festival."
McCabe said that Memphis probably gets more South By Southwest traffic than other cities because of its location.
"Being off of I-40, Memphis is an attractive place for bands to stop and play music, and us having two rooms to do shows has really helped some of the smaller bands still have a good show."
With so many bands coming through town, the Hi-Tone can't host everything (McCabe said he's had to turn down around 100 bands wanting to play the venue in March after filling his schedule), and local venues like Murphy's and Bar DKDC in addition to house venues like Carcosa have also hosted bands making the annual trip down to Austin.
So if all of these great groups are coming through Memphis, why even bother going down to Austin? Two words: unofficial showcase. Sure you can purchase the $895 wristband when you get to Austin, but be prepared to stand in line for a very, very long time. That experience will get you ready for the rest of the official side of SXSW, a freak show complete with never-ending lines, not enough port-a-johns and enough drunk college students to rival an MTV Spring Break party.
Any show that has "official showcase" listed next to it means that without a wristband, you're probably not getting in. "Unofficial showcase" means get there early, and it will probably be free. While I'm not sure which rebellious soul held the first ever unofficial showcase, it didn't take long for Austin business owners to figure out that they could get in on some of the action that mostly takes place downtown. Every single place with electricity in Austin now hosts unofficial showcases, and you pretty much can't do anything without hearing some form of music. Think that coffee shop is going to be a quiet place to start your day at South By Southwest? They've got bands booked 'til midnight. That barbecue food truck you've been meaning to check out? They've got 15 bands playing there too. This is what South By Southwest has become, a nearly 24-hour concert held all over Austin.
Goner Records has hosted an unofficial showcase for more than five years at Beerland, a venue in the heart of downtown Austin and directly in the chaos of South By Southwest. In addition to using the festival as a way to check out new bands for the annual Goner Festival, Goner Records publicist Madison Farmer said they also use their showcase to expose the label to new listeners.
"We like to see a band live before we invite them to play Goner Fest, and South By Southwest provides a great chance for us to do that," Famer said.
"Because we have the Friday night slot, we end up drawing a lot of people into Beerland who may not have seen any of our bands before, and that's exciting especially for the bands who are only playing one show."
Farmer said that Goner Records plans to keep their annual showcase unofficial:
"We've been working with Beerland for as long as I've been at this label, mostly because they approach South By Southwest the way we do. They don't plan on working with the official side of the festival and neither do we."
Some of the Memphis artists playing South By Southwest this year:
Luther Dickinson at SXSW:
Thursday, March 19th at Threadgills, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, March 20th at Continental Club, 12:40 a.m.
Friday, March 20th at Auditorium Shores, 7 p.m.
The Memphis Dawls at SXSW:
Thursday, March 19th at the St. Vinny Freebirds stage, 2:15 p.m.
Thursday, March 19th at Lamberts, 11 p.m.
Amy LaVere at SXSW:
Tuesday, March 17th at Ginny's Little Longhorn, 10 p.m.
Wednesday, March 18th at Goorin Brothers Hatshop, 8:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 19th at the Broken Spoke Twangfest, 1 p.m.
Thursday, March 19th at Threadgills, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, March, 20th at the Continental Club New West Showcase, midnight
Friday, March 20th at One 2 One's Memphis Showcase, 11 p.m.
Saturday, March 21st at The Roost, 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Mark Edgar Stuart at SXSW:
Thursday, March, 19th at Lamberts, 7:25 p.m.
Friday, March 20th at St. Vincent DePaul, noon
Saturday, March 21st at St. Vincent DePaul, noon
Nots at SXSW:
Thursday, March 19th at the Yellow Jacket Social Club Brixton Party, 4 p.m.
Thursday, March 19th at the Casa de Reyna She Shreds Party, 5:10 p.m.
Friday, March 20th at the Beerland Goner Party, 1 a.m.
Saturday, March 21st at the Hotel Vegas Burgermania Party, 2:45 p.m.
Saturday, March 21st at the Third Man Records Rolling Record Store Party, 5:30 p.m.
Goner Records Friday night showcase at Beerland:
Friday, March 20th at Beerland, 7 p.m. $10.
8:30 p.m. - James Arthur's Manhunt
9:15 p.m. - Spray Paint
10 p.m. - Aquarian Blood (only Austin show)
10:45 p.m. - Lake City Tigers
11:30 p.m. - Manateees
12:15 a.m. - Giorgio Murderer (only Austin show)
1 a.m. - NOTS