It's day one of SXSW and a day before St. Patrick's day and walking down East 6th street in Austin you get the gumption that rock and roll is alive. Maybe that’s how Texas is: sleek boots and heel pounding rock music. Kick drums will be getting tested here, booming out onto the street while taco trucks and Wurst mobiles set up, their noise only to be drowned out on the next block as a band will be starting a set. Here in Austin, every bar is a potential venue complete with a raised stage, drums and mikes. People of all sorts are walking the streets and nearly every block is lined with a quintet with banjos and mandolins busking on the sidewalk. At 5PM the sun hasn't even set and I have seen a handful indie bands from Austin, Darwin D’s and Chiddy Bang hosted by the Brooklyn Vegan people at Emo’s, and a favorite Brooklyn band, The Spring Standards on the other side of town at Momo's. There is plenty of free booze, food and good cheers to go around. The spirit is still alive.
By dark, the mood has changed. East 6th street has been closed off to traffic and has turned into Times Square on New Years Eve. It’s madness. Stepping into the street you’ll get caught up in the sway of the rip tide of people and end up on the other side of town, shirt torn and ankles bloody. I ran into a bum with a sign and a dobro singing about how he hadn’t seen his mum in a year and was saving up cash for a flight home to California. He was another lost refugee, a casualty to the rock and roll scene taking his tour a little too far. The scene can be scary.
But when you happen on a random bar where no wrist bands are needed, the cover is nonexistent and the booze is free, that's where you'll find the spirit of SXSW. You’ll find yourself at the front of the stage where some random band from across the country will be ripping into a song and you’ll suddenly feel good and understand what this thing is all about. Rumor has it Jack White got kicked out of a lot where he started his own show, playing guitar out of his car. While Yuck played with a couple other Pitchfork bands and the oh-so-timeless easy pop sensation Duran Duran, I saw a great band from Kentucky, These United States play the blues and bring the house down. The notion is to follow the crowd and get in line here or there – it doesn’t really matter where it takes you. Take in the music, enjoy the vibes and share with the random dude next to you, jumping and hollering.