Pilgrimage to Austin

Just as people of faith travel to holy places through the world, such as Lourdes or Mecca, music fans also recognize the sacredness of certain locations. One such righteous locale is Austin, Texas, home of the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival.  My wife and I were SXSW rock and roll pilgrims this past weekend, enjoying a belated wedding gift from my sister-in-law who resides just blocks from downtown Austin. 

The festival is spread out in dozens of bars, lounges, outdoor decks and even street corners throughout downtown Austin.  This year over 1,800 bands performed during this 4-day smorgasbord of music.  As wristband holders we were able to walk in and out of clubs at will and take in acts of an amazing variety: blues, hip-hop, country and metal, among many others.  It was, in short, musical nirvana for me.

Musical Highlights—We took in about 20 shows in 2 ½ very full days, which means we saw roughly 1% of all the bands in Austin for the festival!  While not a statistically significant sample, I will nonetheless offer my top three picks of the SXSW weekend.

3. Ben Harper played a fast paced, high-energy show at the Austin Convention Center. Harper needs a new publicist because his radio-friendly hits and soft-rock persona are definitely NOT what this guy is all about. His slide guitar skills are scary and he has mastered hybrid rock—meaning he writes songs that are gospel-rock, soul-rock, funk-rock, never settling for the simple 3 chord ditties some bands offer.

2. The High Dials from Montreal were so good live that I saw them twice.  These guys are a mix of alt-country, psychedelic music, and straight-ahead rock, and their music immediately grabbed me and did not let go.  Normally it takes a few dozen listens to “get into” a band and let their rhythms and melodies settle into my marrow, but the High Dials exhibit so much passion in their playing that I could not help but be pulled into their world.

1. Asteroid Galaxy Tour wins for best band of SXSW (of the 1% that we saw anyway) and most creative name.  It is difficult to categorize this band—perhaps that’s why I liked them so much.  They are a 6-piece group that hails from Copenhagen, Denmark—not exactly ground zero for phenomenal pop music.  In some ways their sound is very minimal—no searing guitar solos or massive drum kit.  The two horns and keyboards fill out their pop-soul sound, but it was lead singer Mette Linberg who I found most intriguing.  She sings in English with a strange accent that, rather than grating on the listener, is actually quite pleasing and almost hypnotic. 

Rock music, I believe, can reveal something about the spiritual nature of human beings.  More on that later.

Dave Nantais

Advertisement
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
9 years 7 months ago
Dave. Nice assessment. I wish I could have gone. I will have to check out Ben Harper. As you say, his image is one of sappy pop ballads i can't abide. If he is truly a rocker, then I need to scope his stuff.

Advertisement

The latest from america

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta arrives in Osorno, Chile, on June 14, beginning a pastoral mission to promote healing in the wake of a clerical sexual abuse crisis. (CNS photo/courtesy of Archdiocese of Santiago)
The pope’s decision gives the Maltese archbishop the lead role in the fight against abuse in the church and in the protection of minors.
Gerard O’ConnellNovember 13, 2018
“This hypothesis—that the reality of personal sexual misconduct by bishops...was a factor which inclined some bishops not to vigorously pursue allegations of abuse among their clergy—I believe that this is a valid hypothesis.”
Kevin ClarkeNovember 12, 2018
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, center, leads the opening prayer Nov. 12 during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. Also pictured are Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the USCCB, and Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, general secretary. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
U.S. bishops tell the authors of a groundbreaking new book that they feel a duty to speak out on issues of the day, but they must tread carefully with a secular press and fallout from the sexual abuse crisis.