Bands who play official South by Southwest showcases are offered a choice between money and SXSW badges. Snowbyrd vocalist and guitarist Chris Lutz wanted the badge, but he says he was outvoted by the rest of the band. Even so, he sounds like a kid before Christmas, albeit an older one, experienced enough after two previous appearances to know he needs to act cool about it.
“All year long you think what’s the big deal, it’s just another gig, it’s all kind of blown out of proportion,” he says, “but when it comes up we all get excited about it. It’s a pretty neat deal.”
He’ll be joined in Austin by his brother, Scott Lutz (guitars and pedal steel), bassist Dale Johnson, and drummer Ken Robinson — who replaces San Anto Cultural Arts founder Manny Castillo, who died in January of last year.
“He’s fitting in really nicely,” Chris says of their new timekeeper. “He’s become kind of our drummer-slash-life-coach. … He said, ‘You’ve got a good band, you should take it more seriously.’”
Chris agrees, and said the band’s adopted that attitude as they record material for their new album.
“We ain’t getting any younger or prettier, and we just need to focus more,” Chris says. “Every show, not just South by, but every show, every new song, every recording, we’re just trying to make everything count for what it’s worth now.”
Not even lead singer Frank Pugliese knows for sure how many South by Southwest appearances Sons of Hercules have made since the band came together back in 1990.
“Oh my god,” Pugliese says, trying to recall. “Quite a few — 10, 11, 13 — a lot, that’s all I can say.”
While younger, less experienced musicians might come to Austin with visions of major-label A&R executives dancing in their heads, Pugliese knows better. The Sons of Hercules, San Antonio’s garage-rock demigods, are just going for the gig.
“I don’t expect nothing from it,” Pugliese says. “It’s another time to play. People that usually wouldn’t see you see you. You get a different crowd, and we get a chance to play places we don’t normally play even when we go up to Austin”
Jaime’s Spanish Village — the Mexican-restaurant-turned-live-music-venue where the Sons will be headlining this year’s Saustex showcase — for example.
“What’s the name of the place I’m playing?” Pugliese asks. He’s never heard of it, but Pugliese isn’t driving.
“They’ll drop me off there,” he says, “so I’ll probably go in the right place.”
Last year LA Weekly’s Jeff Weiss called Mojoe “easily the highlight of the festival’s first day,” and this year might prove even more exciting for longtime fans. As it is, Mojoe’s musical style — heady hip-hop backed by live instrumentation and cut with elements of funk, jazz, and soul — is hardly traditional, but this year’s SXSW showcase finds the collective in a transitional phase. Mojoe, fronted by Tre Scipio and Charles “Easy Lee” Peters, are currently supporting Dirty Genes `see “‘Gene’ Therapy, February 11, 2009` but Peters promises to give the audience “a little taste” of their upcoming project, Electric Blues Therapy.
Scipio describes it as an “all-singing soul” concept album chronicling a breakup and charting “every emotion that we go through as men during such a crisis as love.” The album will come accompanied by a book of Peters’s poetry and feature guest spots by local musicians including Starchild, Sexto Sol’s Sam Villela, and one-man band Henry Roland.
“It’s a family affair,” Scipio says. “We’re fixing to turn into some Sly Stone shit.”
Conjunto punk-rockers Piñata Protest don’t have a budget, just the money in their pockets. This year, like the last, they plan on staying with friends so they can stick around, meet more people, give out CDs, and maybe line up another gig.
“We have a lot of equipment with us and if you don’t have somewhere to stash it safely, it’s not a good idea. It’s a little bit harder for bands,” says frontman and accordion player Alvaro del Norte.
Drummer Jesse Martinez remembers an instance where he jokingly asked out loud, “Where is the weed at?” He turned around to find a guy sitting in his car with the window rolled down asking him, “Whatcha ya need man?”
“South by Southwest is great opportunity for many things,” laughs del Norte.
SA expat Michael Pendon, a.k.a. DJ Jester, has been attending the festival since he first began to DJ with the Poetry Slam in 1999.
“It’s almost like you’re going on a hike those four to five days,” he says. “People will drink and go the wrong way on one-way streets.”
He’s a SXSW veteran now, but he admits to being struck by stage fright his first few times out.
“There is all this hype behind it,” Pendon says. “It can be nerve-wracking. The first couple of years I remember getting sick before a show, thinking what’s going to happen? Who’s going to be here?”
For Pendon, SXSW serves as an opportunity to reconvene with contacts he has met throughout his music career, fellow artists and music journalists. He sees it as a way to remind everyone that he’s still around.
Now an Austin resident, Pendon helps coordinate and plan the festival’s closing party, an event intended to bring some of the SXSW’s contrasting acts together.
He’s also playing four other shows around Austin this week, which Pendon says is plenty. “If I played every show I was asked to play, I would play 18 shows,” he says.
So what knowledge can Pendon impart to SXSW virgins?
“Eat lots of barbecue if you’re from out of town.”