You’re born. You learn to walk, use a fork, make prank calls, kiss with tongue, tell a lie (not necessarily in that order). And, eventually, you go to SXSW.
In the weeks building up to the festival, your inbox starts filling with press releases, oddly phrased publicist inquiries from foreign lands, messages from the festival detailing rigid protocol—in short, noise. There seem to be tons of rules to attending SXSW, and hefty penalties incurred if you break them (replacing a lost badge, for example, could set you back nearly a grand). It’s basically the festival version of your grade-school friend’s hard-ass mom, the one who was super paranoid and insecure, and wouldn’t allow junk food in the house. But who can blame them? When you’re trying to pull off a caper as sprawling and dense as this, you need to have your rules in place, or risk total anarchy.
Still, it’s easy to lose sight of the point here, which is still the music. Tuesday night at the Belmont, prolific DIY folk hero R. Stevie Moore plays the party celebrating Daniel Johnston’s new graphic novel, Space Ducks. Moore’s bushy white beard and fishing getup—safari khakis and matching hat—remind us what mall Santas are up to in the off season, and in between unfocused cursing and non-sequitur incantations of “Netanyaaahuuu,” he tosses off a gem of a tribute to Johnston with a cover of “Cathy Cline.” Over at Club 606, Beach Fossils takes the stage and instantly whips the sweaty group of youngsters into a delirious froth. And for anyone wondering what Dorian Gray is up to these days (yup, we just dropped an Oscar Wilde reference), it turns out he’s drumming for Beach Fossils! Apparently he’s going by “Tommy” these days? So that’s cool.
On Wednesday afternoon, Andrew W.K. is gazing out the window of the ground-level bar at Maggie Mae’s. In a few minutes, he’ll change into his customary dirty whites and head upstairs to play a party for Let’s Big Happy, a new web series he stars in. James from the Gay Blades takes the stage with some big, bad bar-rock, and pretty soon W.K. joins him on drums. While bashing through it, the stool collapses, taking W.K, with it, but the poise of the party monster is unflagging and he literally doesn’t miss a beat.
At Elysium, the room is packed for Zola Jesus. We spot Wymond from the Fresh & Onlys outside on the patio—he opened the night with a solo gig. Together we regard the current of bodies passing along Red River, and he remarks that he’s looking forward to quitting the melee tomorrow for a quiet dinner party with friends. Sounds pretty good, but we must press on.
We queue early to catch Sharon Van Etten at Stubbs—so early that we unwittingly find ourselves in the audience for Fiona Apple’s first show outside L.A. in forever. The otherworldly waif with earthy turbo blaster pipes has a new album coming out, apparently, but seems as poetically erratic as ever—smoothing her hair, skulking across the stage, sipping often from her teacup, alternately purring, belting and yelping. Women in floral hippie skirts sway from side to side in rapturous awe. This is their happy place.