SXSW 2016 Roundup

SXSW 2016 Roundup

A disclaimer: Just as it is impossible to see more than the tiniest fraction of all that SXSW has to offer (around 1,800 acts, at almost 100 venues), it feels impossible to do anything more than make some general observations and pick a few favorite moments to write about.

The festival and the city have successfully grown in tandem, so that Austin apparently successfully hosted a rodeo at the same time as the music festival, and the classy French restaurant that my posse treated ourselves to on Saturday evening could seat us immediately. At the same time, SXSW seems to have made a deliberate decision to scale back the festival to some degree, embracing an ever wider geographical spread of venues. More importantly, SXSW has pulled back somewhat from hosting big names (REM, Kanye, Prince) in favor of SXSW’s trademark focus on bands on the cusp. I wholeheartedly approve – while I was one of hundreds disappointed to not see The Roots (and their guests, and no I don’t want to hear how great the show was), I did get to see Iggy Pop, Bloc Party and Loretta Lynn. They were great, and I’d love to tell you about them.

More importantly, I saw scads of new, hungry bands, with nary a clunker among them. Seriously: the quality control at SXSW 2016 was gobsmacking. At my last visit, three years ago, sets frequently started late, succumbing to the malaise of rock ‘n roll scheduling. This year you could set your watch by the first chord as a band hit the stage. And, improbably, I didn’t see a bad band. I saw several bands that didn’t do it for me (I see you, the bros in Judah and the Lion). But not a single band that made me feel like I was wasting my time.

Oh, and the bands! Where to begin? Boston made a showing to be proud of.

After a couple of trips to SXSW, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, graduate of Brookline High School, is poised to break through with his old school blue-eyed soul. He’s at Brighton Music Hall next Wednesday, March 30th).

Aoife O’Donovan

Aoife O’Donovan, singer of the beloved alt-bluegrass band Crooked Still, has just released her second solo record, In The Magic Hour. O’Donovan has always had an extraordinary voice, one that has to be seen to be believed, but In The Magic Hour demonstrates a maturity of songwriting that invites comparisons to Blue-period Joni Mitchell. O’Donovan’s trio plays with exquisite sensitivity, allowing the depth and range of the songs to carry you far away. Don’t miss her at the Sinclair on April 13th.

Lucius were the band of the festival for me. (I know I’m late to the party, but part of the beauty of attending SXSW is catching up on bands that have passed you by – I first saw The Dears, Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear here too). Their new record, Good Grief, improves on just about everything that was great about their debut, Wildewoman. The heart of the band’s sound remains the one-soul-two-bodies vocal blend of Jess Wolf and Holly Laessig (graduates of Berklee), but Good Grief deploys an even more expansive musical pallet, from the heartbroken country of “Dusty Trails” to the slinky RnB of “Truce,” to trace the delicious agonies of love. I aw them play twice at SXSW (one of the unique pleasures of the festival is seeing your new favorites again and again). First, we crammed ourselves into a hellaciously crowded space perched above Waller creek. Then the next day we trooped up two escalators to a ginormous conference center ballroom, broadcasting live to a wide sampling of your favorite public radio stations, where Lucius delivered a pristine, transfixing set in matching mustard-colored uniforms to a hungover but rapturous crowd.

They’ve already sold out their show at Royale on Tuesday, March 29th, but I’m going to find some way to sneak in.


Sunflower Bean


The Strumbellas