This will be my ninth year going to SXSW, which is odd because there are not a lot of things that I can say I have done for that long, but somehow SXSW seems to be a constant for me. As you can imagine, I have acquired quite a few stories over that time.
I could regale you with stories of an A&R guy from Sire records telling me he loved a Machine Gun Blues set, and me responding by immediately vomiting on his shoes; Josh Terry jumping off a balcony into the shallow end of a pool, breaking his ankle, but partying so hard he did not know he had injured himself until arriving back in Denver; having an a-hole pick a fight with me during a Photo Atlas show and half the musicians in Denver jumping on him, then dispersing so fast that only he got kicked out of the show as the rest of us raged into the night; or Ben Desoto trying to decide whether or not to take Peaches’ beard for a souvenir after finding himself at an after party in her pent house.
Then there was the time my friend Bob Ashby stole a cake at a private Dinosaur Jr./ Grizzly Bear show, and put it under a dumpster. After the show, Daniel Rossen from Grizzly Bear walked around the VIP section asking if anyone had seen the cake he was planning on giving Jay Mascis for his birthday, and Bob told him he had a cake that he would give him. He ran into the alley retrieved it from under the dumpster, and handed it to Rossen. He was too far gone to realize the two cakes were the same, despite having Mascis’ name on it, and had to be told the true story in the morning.
However, as I was reminiscing, I couldn’t help but wonder why I keep making the pilgrimage back to Austin every spring. My conclusion is that it is because it validates our passion for music, a thing we love so much we have turned it into a lifestyle.
No one who plays music thinks they are going to get discovered at SXSW anymore, and if they do, they are an idiot. But we still pile into smelly cargo vans, with gear in tow, blowing money on gas and booze on a sixteen hour drive, to play a thirty minute set at noon in the men’s bathroom at a Conoco (I have actually seen that). There is no money or fame. We do it simply for the love of it.
There are better festivals… even better festivals in Austin. But where else can you see the Dirty Few by day and The Melvins by night, or skip out early on a Turbo Negro set to catch Bad Weather California (may they rest in peace) down the street? I find that I see way more local Colorado music at South By than national acts. It just always works out that way. If I wanted to see critically acclaimed bands I would go to Psych Fest, or Bonnaroo, but if you want to watch people play their hearts out for no reason other than it is simply what they do—to watch a group of humans perform their passion in front of you, just to be heard—well, that’s why I go to SXSW.
Aaron Collins is the singer/pianist for the Denver based five-piece A. Tom Collins. Denver alt-weekly Westword called him ‘one of the city’s best frontmen.’