SXSW 2019 is in the books, and beyond wringing out the last few seconds of it with a set by The Chills (pictured below right) Sunday morning, the way I get some closure is with a quick recap written from the dining room table of my boyhood Texas home. For starters, one of the great results this year was that I truly learned a lot on my panel, and aside from a quality set of panelists sitting next to me, much thanks goes to the inimitable Brandon Schmidt for curating an effective mix of technologists, artists and, um, me to create a balanced and nuanced discussion. He’s truly taken his experiences with talent and distribution and married them with a common-sense take on the forward edge of emerging technology.

In the larger tonal and musical sense, though, the SXSW of the semi-distant past truly seems to be reemerging—a welcome kind of atavism. Catching a radio session that included the likes of Ben Dickey and Robert Ellis (whose Texas Piano Man iteration is as refreshing live as it is on record) at the Cactus Café on the UT campus felt like zooming back to a place where Townes or Blaze or Doug Sahm breathed Austin in your ear and asked you to love something that comes from the soul of the sagebrush. Over at the Scoot Inn, Strand of OaksTimothy Showalter fronted the muscular Band of Heathens crew across coruscating epics, while Hayes Carll bellowed out truth. One of the best surprises of the festival (with credit to a tip from Steve Gorman of The Black Crowes and Trigger Hippie) was an amazing duo named Illiterate Light, a two-piece with sweeping sounds that deliver on songs that already have. But then I even managed to catch Roky Erickson, who continues to haunt, fronting an absolutely killer young band that made his classics seem effortless.

On some level, the bigger stories of the festival were predictably international ones—a brace of young U.K. bands—Black Midi, Fontaines D.C. and Squid were front and center, packing a brooding punch. I’ve been both enthralled and baffled at the phenomenon of very young English boys getting Ian Curtis haircuts and looking back to The Fall and Gang of Four for cues, but some things are just in the water. The same was arguably true for Australia’s Amyl and the Sniffers, who sport mullets from the 1973 outback and aim for a Joan-Jett-fronting-Rose Tatt thing that mostly works on the guitarist’s muscle. The same is true for metal marauders Midnight, who hide their faces behind executioner masks but wear their explosive guitar riffs on their spiked sleeves.

The overwhelming power of a much-vaunted Youth of Today set at the Thrasher party was a moment of enhanced purity, echoed at other parts of the week with sets from other legends like the aforementioned Chills, an appearance by emo perennials The Get-Up Kids and winning turns from Yola, whose recent release continues Dan Auerbach’s remarkable run as not just a producer but also an A&R source.

The crop of newer alternative artists was solid as always, with standouts including the Illuminati Hotties, Drakulas, Flora Cash and Castlecomer. No newcomer to the stage, Reignwolf also hit Austin on the heels of his official debut, and while he’s packed in years of impressive festival and opening plays, the world may be on the way to catching up with this blistering guitar and feral hooks.

Lines were shorter, the ambient chaos was mostly less rampant and person after person I talked to exclaimed things like “Wow, it’s GOOD this year.” Who knows, it just may be possible that SXSW has actually gotten underrated again after all this time, and for those of us lucky enough to enjoy it as an open secret this year, maybe it’s a welcome return on that extra layer of persistence. That’s what I’ll tell my aching feet and ringing ears because, after all, they’ll be ready come back this time next year in Austin.

Flora Cash with fellow clubhopper and panel moderator Karen Glauber

Martin Phillipps photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for SXSW


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The biz is getting its game face on. (8/16a)
More speculation over lox and bagels (8/16a)
Seriously, we can't take off any more clothes at the office.
Nothing doing.       
Well, what do YOU want?      
Badly needed.     

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