Chicks ruled Friday at SXSW. Whether it was the sensual alt-pop of Australia’s Holiday Sidewinder, the passionate country rock of Arlington, Virginia-raised Amy Wilcox, or the retro Motown soul of Austin’s own Charlie Faye & The Fayettes, the ladies in Friday’s lineup showed us that women often surpass the best male performers at Austin’s international musical showcase when it comes to musicianship, stage presence and ambition. Photos: Michael Coleman
Much like its Adams Morgan counterpart, the LINE Austin provides a cultural hub with award-winning cuisine, craft coffee and cocktails in addition to being a hotel. The cavernous, grey design feels like an extension of the lake it sits on. It’s brightened by hanging gold air plants throughout and the low ceilings are offset by sweeping high windows and natural light. L.A.-based Alfred brings its famed matcha to Austin (don’t miss the $10 latte with locally made raw almond and cashew milk) and Arlo Grey’s craft cocktails and small plates by Top Chef winner Kristen Kish are a great choice for festivalgoers burnt out on taco trucks. You may even see a special guest or two – we spotted musician Andrew Bird wandering the bar leading up to one of his many SXSW showcase appearances. Photos: M.K. Koszycki
Austin native Walker Lukens energized a midnight crowd at the iconic Continental Club on Thursday. He lept around the stage and stared into the eyes of show goers, daring them to be anything but transfixed, surely waking up anyone with heavy eyelids from a long day of showcase-hopping at SXSW. His band’s incredibly tight sound laid the framework for Lukens’ soulful voice to shine through, pairing well with bandmate Mackenzie Griffin’s equally impressive vocals. While it would have been easy for Lukens to rest on the laurels of his retro-50s inspired sound, he previewed new songs from his upcoming album Adult that had a modern twist while still paying healthy homage to his musical predecessors. Don’t miss Lukens and company in DC at Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe on May 1. Photos: M.K. Koszycki
Yes, Holiday Sidewinder is her real name.
Proclaiming “no gimmicks,” the Australian-born singer confirmed the authenticity of her moniker toward the end of her enthralling set at SXSW’s Australia House on Friday afternoon, surely answering at least one question on everyone’s mind.
Cloaked in an orange leotard, stilettos and a cheetah print overcoat, the platinum blonde does seem a bit gimmicky at first glance. But absorbing Sidewinder’s commanding stage presence and watching her deliver breezy but knowing alt-pop songs that reference artists as diverse as Madonna, David Bowie and the Beastie Boys, it becomes clear this is a woman of substance – fully in control of her artistic vision.
After several tours as the keyboardist in Alex Cameron’s faux-sleazy and fabulous lounge act – including stints opening shows for The Killers – Sidewinder has come into her own as a solo artist. From the 80s synth-pop vibe of “Casino” to the propulsive, dance-y “Trash Can Love,” to the sexual empowerment anthem “Leo,” Sidewinder ably borrows from her influences to make a sound all her own. As she sipped straight tequila on ice after her well-received set, Sidewinder sat down with On Tap to talk about her music, her upbringing and taking charge of her sex appeal.
On Tap: You come from a musical family. Is this something you always knew you wanted to do?
Holiday Sidewinder: Yeah, I did. My mom’s a singer, my uncle’s a songwriter and my grandfather’s a songwriter. My mom recently showed me a drawing I did when I was five where I’d drawn myself and it says, “Holiday Spice,” and it has an airport banner and I’ve got a suitcase. I guess I’ve manifested that because I haven’t had a home in years. [Sidewinder calls Los Angeles home, but says she is “literally homeless.”]
OT: How’s Austin treating you? What do you hope to accomplish at SXSW?
HS: I’ve been here four times now. It’s such a cool town. I’m just having a great time. Everyone told me it was Hell on Earth (because of the SXSW crowds), but I have had an amazing time. I saw [funk rock legend and mega-producer] Nile Rodgers yesterday. I spoke to his manager, which was really cool. I have a lot of friends who are playing here and it’s a community thing. I think it’s for us all to get together with the film industry and come together and support each other in a digital age. We’re all here, we all love this and we’re looking for solutions to make it work for us financially.
OT: Let’s talk about your music. You have a new album, Forever or Whatever, dropping this spring. I hear a lot of different influences in your sound. Where does all that come from?
HS: I referenced a lot of different things when we were writing this record. It’s Beastie Boys, New Order, early Madonna and Tom Tom Club. I have eclectic taste. I listen to a lot of Exxótica and weird sh-t like the Talking Heads. I just like keeping the energy high. I usually start with a rhythm or a beat or a groove. I feel if you have a good groove, the rest of the song will carry itself.
OT: Sexuality looms large in much of your music – and certainly your persona. Is that intentional?
HS: I figure if I’m going to be sold on my sexuality anyway as a woman, I may as well take control of it. I was kind of liberated a year and a half ago with a few books I read. My perspective really changed. I found it empowering. With gaining sexual agency, a lot of other good things come – especially for women. We live in a rape culture and women have been second-class citizens in the patriarchy, and I think gaining that power back is the first step in a way.
Learn more about Sidewinder here.
When I met Jared Kolesar of Phoenix-based indie folk band Jared & The Mill, we were about 20 minutes behind schedule. I blamed our inability to share our whereabouts and locate each other on mercury retrograde. It’s also what I’d blamed for the great Instagram and Facebook outage earlier in the week, but Kolesar insisted “that was a big marketing scheme by us.” For reference: the band’s latest album, released last month, is called This Story Is No Longer Available, and the title fits all too well with the social media mishaps and miscommunications from earlier in the day.
“I like it because there are so many meanings you can pull from it,” Kolesar says of the title. “The idea that social media is this thing where if you want to peer into someone’s life, you have access to it. There were a lot of times where you could have no idea what was going on in someone’s life unless you were right there with them, and those days are far gone.”
The record itself isn’t just about social media, though. It’s about being a better person and the struggles to better yourself and gain understanding for those around you in the process. While it sounds heavy, it’s a positive message – and Kolesar is quick to explain that he sees making mistakes as a good thing in the grand scheme of growing into who you are as a person.
“I’m a big believer in celebrating the good things you have in life, and that you have to have things that you regret doing in order to be a good person so that you can empathize with people who also have regrets in life,” he says earnestly.
The band brings this optimistic message to SXSW hot on the heels of their record release. And while it’s their seventh time at the festival, it’s a special one because of how much they have to celebrate with their new music.
“A lot of people I’ve talked to here have said that this is their favorite album yet, which is awesome to hear,” he explains. “A lot of times people are suckers for early stuff. But they’re really excited to hear the new stuff. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
I can’t help but wonder if jumping into performing at something as intense as SXSW a mere month after releasing a new record is a lot, but as they’re no strangers to the madness that is the festival, they’re able to focus on connecting with fans and celebrating their new material live on stage every night.
“There’s no god at SXSW,” Kolesar says with a laugh. “You just kind of give it up and accept the chaos. It’s our seventh one, so we all knew what we were getting into.”
Jared’s SXSW Favorites and Must-Sees
“There’s a lot of cool things that happen at Hotel Vegas and a lot of good food trucks around there.”
“There’s a really cool mezcal bar on seventh street attached to a whiskey bar called Seven Grand.”
Thursday, March 14, of SXSW festival started with a bang – make that an explosion – as DC’s Priests blew a packed lunchtime crowd away at Mohawk, one of a slew of outdoor venues in downtown Austin’s Red River entertainment district. A mesmerizing set by Philadelphia’s Japanese Breakfast followed. Marlon Sexton, son of Austin guitar hero and Bob Dylan bandmate Charlie Sexton, brought his crew, Marfa Crush, to Cooper’s BBQ downtown followed by rocker Jackie Venson, fresh off her win as Best Guitarist at the Austin Music Awards. Garrett T. Capps of San Antonio put on entertaining set of experimental country – he calls it NASA country – and Meghan Thee Stallion of Houston threw down a ferocious but short set of highly-charged sex raps at Cheer Up Charlies. Phenomenal music all day and all night – that’s what makes SXSW magic. Photos: Michael Coleman
I had a lofty idea in my head that I’d go on a mission to see Canadian supergroup Broken Social Scene as many times as humanly possible at SXSW. The first and only set I caught, however, was so weirdly wonderful that I’m afraid a second stop would ruin the charm of the first. I found myself already in Container Bar, where the band was set to play, about three hours early to catch the tail-end of Japan’s magnificent CHAI (side note: they’ll be in DC with my faves Den-Mate on Monday. You should go. I’ll probably still be napping off a music hangover, but have fun in my stead).
A SXSW rookie mistake then occurred. I assumed I had time and hopped onto Rainey Street, in search of tacos and donuts (both of which I found, shoutout to La Sirena and the lavender pistachio almond donuts from Little Lucy’s). I wandered the street and did some people watching. Eventually I snapped out of my reverie and made it back to Container Bar, where a line snaking down the block had formed. As the line progressed and I was two people behind getting in, the fire marshals came to halt entries.
I get it, safety first, but everyone behind me erupted into a chorus of boos. A man parked himself in front of the bouncer, announcing to everyone he wouldn’t be moving until he was let in since “he was in here this morning.” While I’m new to all of this, even I know that’s not how any of this works. Fast forward an hour – including watching The Joy Formidable from outside the bar – and I’m in! I find a sea of tall people. Luckily the guy who was smack in front of me asked if I’d like to sneak in front of them so I could see better – the kindest thing any person under 5’6” can hear.
Broken Social Scene wins the award for longest soundcheck, clocking in at about 30 minutes. I guess when you’ve got about ten people in the band including a brass section, that kind of thing is understandable. As the band takes the stage to raucous applause, their founder, guitarist and vocalist, Kevin Drew declares, “this is a clusterfuck, but so is SXSW, so let’s get started!”
So I’m learning, Kevin.
The group launches into their set, playing old favorites like “Cause = Time” and “Texico Bitches.” I was hoping for some “Lover’s Spit” (I’d love to see if there’s any correlation between Lorde name dropping that track and a whole generation of new Broken Social Scene fans forming) or “Sweetest Kill,” although I cry on cue as soon as I hear the opening bassline to that song, so its omission was probably for the best.
As their band operates as a rotating cast, save a few permanent members, there’s no Feist, Amy Millan of Stars or Emily Haines of Metric present today. However, there is Ariel Engle, who joined the band for their last album Hug of Thunder. She also records as La Force, and her voice is just as powerful blending into the background as it is leading the band in a breakout hit. A welcome addition, she fits in beautifully with the band and is a reminder of why these rotating cast setups like Broken Social Scene is so great. There’s always room for more, for new, and a freedom in fluidity.
Even with the lengthy soundcheck, the band encountered a few technical difficulties, to which Drew announced, “I’m getting my fucking ass kicked up here, ladies and gentlemen.”Despite this, the crowd was unflappable and thoroughly enjoying the music and banter. In fact, I think the highlight of my SXSW experience so far was Drew leaving the crowd with a speech on the evils of the scooters that have taken over the streets of Austin. No really, he’s right, they’re everywhere.
“We’re in our 40s and 50s and this broke us,” he joked. “Between this and all the scooters in the city, this is it.”
You know you’re back at SXSW when within an hour of wandering through the music festival showcases, you’re offered weed-infused Rice Krispies bites and greeted by a rock ‘n’ roll-loving priest.
Sounds about right, and it’s good to be back.
SXSW 2019 marks my second consecutive year covering the music festival, and I’m coming back with a little more insight into what to expect – and how to embrace the unexpected – than last time. It seems only fitting that our first evening in Austin was spent with absolutely no game plan – no itinerary, no showcase wish list, no expectations. Within a five-hour period, we stumbled upon one DJ and six bands across six venues. Not bad for night one.
We started off at SXSW’s last official DC-centric event – we had to pay homage to the motherland, after all – EventsDC’s Levels Unlocked: House of DC Heroes at Trinity Hall. The bass reverberating from DC-based DJ Farrah Flosscett’s set was more than my 31-year-old ears could handle, but the younger millennials totally dug it. In fact, the esports-themed event itself seemed right up the alley of a 20-something, inviting a fresh-faced crowd to try their gaming hand at NBA 2K and Super Smash Bros. (the latter in oversized beanbag chairs, no less).
But the real draw for me was Drink Company’s Austin cameo, with a mini-version of one of their wildly popular pop-ups – detailed installation and all – in full effect, including a set of signature cocktails like I Call Yoshi (a sake, cucumber melon, green chartreuse and lemon concoction made lime green thanks to Midori and complete with flashing lights and a marshmallow garnish).
After saying hey to a few DC friends, trying some cotton candy and watching my colleague M.K. gracefully squirm her way out of an uncomfortable set of pickup lines – including, “What’s your oldest memory, like when you were a baby?” – we motored on to navigate the streets of downtown Austin, where we encountered some super enthusiastic stoners passing out edibles from little baggies that looked like they belonged in my two-year-old’s after-school snack.
Next stop: Venezuelan food truck Four Brothers (my best friend from SXSW 2018) where we inhaled chicken and pork bowls (literally dreaming of the next one, which I will consume later today) and then Barracuda to see lo-fi pop darlings Barrie. The mellow vibes emanating from their set were the perfect way to kick off an evening of very eclectic sounds, and my respect level for the eponymous lead singer went way up when she shared with quirky candor that her band had had a long travel day – and some of them were not wearing any underwear.
From there we made our way to St. David’s Historic Sanctuary to see the lovely Edie Brickell (Paul Simon’s bride) and her New Bohemians. I had been intrigued by all the shows I kept seeing pop up at local churches last year, and felt perhaps more excited to sit in the pews after a warm greeting from one of the St. David’s priests than to actually catch her set – because what’s tripper than watching live hippie folk rock in a church, especially when you grew up Catholic? Okay let’s be real, Catholic light – but still.
We didn’t make it through the whole set, as we were amped up and ready to check out some lesser-known names, so sadly I missed the chance to relive my youth (so many of my parents’ cocktail parties were soundtracked by “What I Am”). But Brickell’s pipes are just as smooth and her band’s sound is tighter than ever, and I thoroughly enjoyed being in a room of more seasoned music lovers truly appreciative of the perks of a seated show.
Next up was my personal favorite of the evening: London-based Big Joanie, who liken themselves to “The Ronettes filtered through 80s DIY and riot grrrl with a sprinkling of dashikis.” I mean, how could I resist? The trio made their U.S. debut at the BBC-hosted British Music Embassy pop-up at Latitude 30, and I was immediately smitten with their polite witticisms via thick British accents paired with their fierce style. So the second they started playing dissonant, complex chord progressions and pulsating drums – think Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, The Raincoats – set to lyrics exploring both the challenges of (and empowerment in) being black women, I was completely captivated. They hands-down won the badassery award for the evening.
Onward we rode to Speakeasy, where I was chomping at the bit to see Peruvian dream pop band Mundaka (because South American surf // garage rock is for sure in my weird little niche wheelhouse). Instead, we walked into the second half of Cuban artist Cimafunk’s set, which I would liken to a sweaty, sexy, underground Afro-Latin dance party that was equal parts Dirty Dancing and Havana nightclub. Best people watching of the evening, for sure. Erik Alejandro Rodriguez’s partially unbuttoned, silky shirt was soaked through with sweat and together with the rest of his supergroup – including a brilliant female singer who busted out her trombone on one of the last songs – brought more energy to the stage than all the acts we’d seen that evening combined.
At this point, we decided to divide and conquer – Mike couldn’t pass up the opportunity to catch alt-country legends The Waco Brothers at the iconic Continental Club. Meanwhile, M.K. and I searched for Mundaka. After climbing the stairs at Speakeasy – where the super sweaty, still out of breath members of Cimafunk’s band were downing craft cocktails set to the backdrop of a vintage mini-bowling alley (all I could think about was the milkshake scene in There Will Be Blood) – we caught the end of the surf rock quartet’s set on a smaller stage from the balcony (apparently we were in a VIP spot but were too lazy to move, whoops).
The guys played upbeat, garage rock-laden tunes in tropical-themed boxer shorts – M.K. pointed out that the drummer was sporting a Troll Doll earring, cause why not? – and we tapped our tired toes from the comfort of a couch meant for Rodriguez and his band (sorry guys, thanks for sharing). As they wrapped up their set, we realized it was nearing 2 a.m., and we decided to call it knowing that we had three more days of the delightfully unexpected in store.
To say Jackie Venson is having a moment is a bit of an understatement.
The Austin native and Berklee College of Music graduate, who opened for blues-rock superstar Gary Clark Jr. last year, won the highly-competitive Best Guitar Player award at the Austin Music Awards earlier this month, making her the third woman and the first black woman to take the coveted prize. Venson also has a new album, Joy, dropping April 5. She’ll be playing DC. July 18 at a Sofar party.
On Tap sat down with Venson ahead of her highly-accomplished and entertaining SXSW showcase at Cooper’s BBQ Thursday afternoon, where the 27-year-old rocker incorporated blues, soul, R&B, and reggae into a sound distinctly her own.
OT: Congratulations on your big award as Best Guitar Player at the Austin Music Awards. Being from a town that produced monster guitar players like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Doyle Bramhall II, Charlie Sexton and Gary Clark Jr., what does it mean to you to be recognized for this prestigious award?
Venson: It’s pretty crazy – it means literally the world. Austin’s a guitar town and it has a reputation for being a guitar town. It means the world and now I’m going to use it to try and springboard out of Austin, but obviously not forget about Austin. I’m always going to live here. I don’t want to move to L.A. and get lazy (laughs).
OT: How would you describe your sound? You’re hard to pigeonhole.
Venson: Blues, soul, R&B and reggae – that’s pretty much it. Oh, and a shit-ton of rock. Let’s be be real. It’s rock. Actually, if you force me to put one genre on it, I’d say rock. But it is kind of drifting into more pop stylings on the new record. It’s really poppy because I want to get out of Texas.
OT: Austin’s long been known as a blues town. Is it still a blues town, or is it beyond that?
Venson: It’s reputation is for blues and folk and Americana – that whole realm. But there is everything here. There’s an incredible hip-hop scene. It’s not like Houston’s (hip-hop scene). It’s small but mighty. There’s also an unbelievable world music scene here. There’s punk rock, heavy rock, and jazz. Lots of different music here.
OT: What’s next for you in the months ahead?
Venson: I’m dropping the new record, “Joy,” on April 5. And then I’m going to be doing the release party at the Paramount Theater on April 12. Biggest show of my career. Then, in April I’ll start my next record. I’m playing a big corporate gig in May then I’m going off to Europe on tour for a month. I’m doing 19 dates in 25 days.
OT: Tell me about touring and opening for Gary Clark Jr., a guy who is selling out Madison Square Garden and trading licks with Eric Clapton and other blues greats?
Venson: It was an incredible learning experience. It was really nice to see how touring works on that level. To see them deal with problems – things would happen and they’d have to fix it. It was great to see how the sausage is made when it comes to next-level touring. I learned so much – more than I can really track. It was absolutely priceless. He helped me open like 10 new markets and I’m going back to those markets – mostly in the Midwest – this summer. Gary’s a cool dude and his crew is really cool, so we all had a good time together. And the shows were LIT!
OT: Have you played DC. yet? We’d love to see a Jackie Venson show.
Venson: I have not. But I’m playing DC on July 18, it’s a house concert for Stone Room concerts. You should get on my mailing list!
For more information about Jackie Venson click here.
On Tap went big on our first night of the SXSW Music Festival taking in one DJ and seven bands at six venues. From the dissonant and quirky sounds of British band Big Joanie to the blazing cowpunk of Chicago’s The Waco Brothers to the funk-infused Latin rhythms of Cuba’s Cimafunk and the hippie-folk stylings of Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, Austin’s legendary music festival has a little something for everyone. Photos: Michael Coleman