When March rolls around, music lovers, makers and industry professionals know that it is, once again, the most wonderful time of the year.
It's when up-and-coming bands on fire and old hands take the same stages.
It's when panels filled with professionals of all kinds come to share their knowledge and experience with curious minds.
It's when the city of Austin, Texas, opens up to bands, artists and listeners as it has for the past 26 years.
From March 12 to 17, more than 2,000 acts will perform, representing 49 countries. They'll play more than 100 venues. It's time for the SXSW (South by Southwest) Music and Media Conference and Festival.
And your very own Syracuse New Times will be there, too.
Although SXSW has grown to become three festivals; with Interactive becoming the largest and taking place Friday, March 8, to Tuesday, March 12, and Film from March 8 to 16; the Music branch is still where everyone in the business heads if they want to be on the cutting edge of industry.
The alumni list is enough to make any jaw drop. From Beck to the Beastie Boys, to George Clinton, Morrissey and Eminem, the major players have all made their way to the great fest.
Last year's weeklong music-filled celebration saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band try out their Wrecking Ball tour on a crowd of less than 3,000, and Springsteen delivered the impeccable keynote address. Alabama Shakes lived up to its wild hype by coming out of SXSW with a fire blazing behind them, sending them to every major festival stage (and a Baldwinsville stage, Paper Mill Island) and late-night TV shows such as What on When. Gary Clark Jr. stunned anxiously awaiting crowds, Jimmy Cliff kept his legacy alive, Fiona Apple made her return to the spotlight, and acts new and old impressed fans and gained ears.
This year, another troupe of SXSW-loving Syracusans will get themselves down to Texas. We're different ages, with different backgrounds and professions, but the string that ties us all together is our love of music and our desire to see and hear as much as possible.
Springsteen is a tough keynote act to follow, yet hopes are high this year for Dave Grohl. The multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter is best-known for rocking with the Foo Fighters, Nirvana and Them Crooked Vultures, but he has had his hands in projects with a long and impressive list of other artists, including Garbage, Iggy Pop, Tenacious D and Tom Petty. In a world of EDM (electronic dance music), autotune and Taylor Swift, the raw rock and DIY roots of Grohl should serve as an appreciated reminder that rock is not dead and real talent is still valued. Grohl-lovers are also sure to have their antennas up for a whiff of any news about under-the-radar shows featuring the ultra-talented rocker (especially with his super-group project, Sound City Players, which features Trent Reznor and Josh Homme).
Another highly anticipated event will recognize Levon Helm, the much-loved American drummer and vocalist of The Band. The soulful singer and player passed away April 19, 2012, after a long battle with cancer. SXSW will recognize him and his contributions through a tribute and benefit show Saturday, March 16, at Auditorium Shores. The allday concert will feature The Midnight Ramble Band, fronted by Helm's daughter, Amy Helm; Robert Randolph and the Family Band; Los Lonely Boys; JJ Grey & Mofro; James Hunter; Spirit Family Reunion; Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers; and The Mother Hips.
Outside of the keynote address and the Helm tribute, the long list of performing bands and artists is daunting to wade through. Parties and showcases pop up throughout the city, bands fill venues, streaming in and out, and other performers, desperate to play the fest, will take to the streets and wherever else they can squeeze in their instruments to play a set. Shows will happen in dive bars and on rooftops, in camera stores and houses. The city comes alive with music.
Music rags like Paste and Spin are busy putting together their predictions of which bands will be on top, and fans everywhere are rallying for their favor- ites, who might just get their big break next week.
But the beauty of SXSW is in letting it all just happen. It's in the happy accidents of local artists on big stages, unofficial showcases dotting the city and big acts that slip in unannounced.
This year, a blast from the 1990s will feature bands such as Green Day and Third Eye Blind. Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth) and Luther Dickinson (of the North Mississippi All-Stars) will make appearances, and Akron/Family will continue spreading the word. Artists on the way up, such as Allen Stone, Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls, Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, Matt Nathanson, The Sheepdogs, Reignwolf, Teagan and Sara, Angel Haze and an insane list of others, will also get their crack at becoming the hot acts of SXSW 2013. And older acts such as Mystikal, Ed Kowalczyk, Andrew W.K., Los Lonely Boys, Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk and more will also make their way to Austin stages.
It's tough to pick the fest's diamonds in the rough, especially when the pool includes more than 2,000 of the industry's best and brightest, anxious to join the impressive ranks of SXSW alumni. That's why you're lucky to have me.
I'll be heading down with a group of fellow Syracuse music lovers, and we'll do our best to dig up the best of the fest for you. I'll post updates every day on the New Times blog (www.syracusenew times.com), updating Twitter @JessRock87 and keeping the pictures rolling at Facebook.com/JessRockNovak. If you want to feel like you're walking down the streets of Austin, eating the barbecue, hearing the music, getting the sunburn and playing the chicken shit bingo (seriously, they love chicken shit bingo down there), follow along. It's bound to be one righteous ride.The Keynote
Dave Grohl will give his keynote address Wednesday, March 13, 11 a.m., at the Austin Convention Center. For live updates, check @JessRock87 on Twitter.
Be on the cutting edge of the SXSW 2013 scene and read about the performers who haven't yet, but will, break big in music, at: www.syracusenewtimes.com Twitter: JessRock87, Instagram @JessRock87, Facebook.com/JessRockNovak
For favorite photos from SXSW 2012, click here.