OpenAir at SXSW: Mike Flanagan’s post-festival thoughts

· Mar. 17, 2014, 7:42 pm
I realize this would be a great time for a sage overview of the depth and meaning of what a five-day swirling crowd of mostly lost people, nose-first into their cell phones really means, but after all this I have months of amplified heat to think about! So I'll leave the contextualizing for the scribes who are currently digging deep to see what Lady Gaga really meant.
Let's start there. Once upon a time, not that long ago, the SXSW keynote was the rock and roll State of the Union by someone who put a lot of thought and effort to the weight of all this: where we are, where we are going, why we will look back on this as something that matters. Statement time. This year we get a weird outfit doing an interview with a bygone MTVJ. Whatever. And she tells Jimmy Kimmel she really wanted to make her show a gift to Austin, a real Austin show, featuring all new songs from her new album that came out last November and has just about blown through a $25 million marketing budget.
Then I hear from someone who stumbled in to the Colorado Music Party during the a. tom collins set. They are blown away by this band they've never heard, and they can't stop going on about how this is really what SXSW "should" be about: running into unexpected greatness.
"What SXSW has become and what it should be" is a panel that will never happen, but that's what's on everybody's mind. So, like a kid searching for a Velvet Underground t-shirt in a sea of Kelis memorabilia, the search for the heart of Saturday night (and Friday, Thursday, Wedsnesday, Tuesday, Interactive, Film and Trade Show) goes on.
I sensed it was beating, but it's somewhere under the Rachel Ray Feedback extravaganza, somewhere below the Snoop Dogg rooftop spectacular.
Not that hope is gone.  It springs eternal in the Austin rain, which is really more like steam.  
Preatures had a really good SXSW as did Phantogram. My two favorite shows were Albert Hammond Jr., who described his convention hall venue as a piece of (microphone popped, didn't get that last bit)--he was the closing act for a 24-hour Hackathon--and Damon Albarn whose new stuff is going to give Beck a run for his chill money.
Had I missed that performance, I would have missed out. Had I not been on the street when Gary Numan came walking my way, I wouldn't have gotten to tell him my Gary Numan story. (When I was at KFML back in the day, he called and said he was flying his jet around the world and couldn't leave Stapleton for 3 hours, so he wanted all his Denver fans to come out and meet him. Of course I put that on the radio. Gary says, I can't believe you remember that. I say, hey, that's my Gary Numan story.)
Finally got to his show after running into four lads from Liverpool (I can't make this up) who were offended that a local asked them if that was how they really talked. I told them to be proud, they have great bands, then gave them a lesson in how to say a completely inappropriate response in Texan. They had it down before we parted.
J. Roddy Walston rocks by the way. Shades of Leon Russell had he come from Baltimore. Boom! Hair! Boom!
The Griswolds at the Reverb Party really thumped. Kishi Bashi mesmerizes, although I had to tell more than one crowd member who he was.
A Portuguese band at the International Stage had my attention, now I have to Google their name.
Bill Popp has been trying to become a star for a half century now. I tried to help with a report.
Furniture Girls were concerned that their new publicist had put their show in a furniture store. I told him that was old school marketing, but that I would come listen to them from a recliner.
Bear Hands on a carnival grounds, good sounds, crowd pleaser.
The Colorado Party was quite awesome with Lara Ruggles, Ark Life, The Epilogues, a. tom. And look out Austin! This here is Wheelchair Sports Camp. The rafters shook, I'm ready for them all to break national.  
I came away really proud of Colorado and Colorado music, and even got to tell Gov. Hickenlooper (a solid OpenAir fan by the way) about it at a St. Patrick's Day party when I got back to Denver.
SXSW is kind of like binge watching rock and roll and all the side cultures it has octopussed into. You pile in a ton of episodes into a short time frame and your brain takes days to regain it's original form.  
That's how we do it in 2014.  The festival itself has gotten too big for it's chaps, yet it really needs to grow up. Clearly they've embraced the technology and the future, but the right now obviously needs some attention. They've got the chaos down. Now they need a little creation in the backyard. (Thanks, Paul!)
Keep your hoodie dry and your cell phones charged. And if you're lonely, push play.  

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