Colorado bands swarm South By Southwest Music Festival

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My Body Sings Electric singer Brandon Whalen high-fives Lauren Bryant, of Denver during a concert on Friday at the Bluebird Theater in Denver. ( JEREMY PAPASSO )
My Body Sings Electric singer Brandon Whalen high-fives Lauren Bryant, of Denver during a concert on Friday at the Bluebird Theater in Denver. ( JEREMY PAPASSO )

The South By Southwest Music Festival could be called music’s biggest networking event, or the Music Mecca, but it’s really just “South-By.”

The nearly week-long event takes over Austin, Texas every March, running this year from Tuesday through Saturday.

Downtown bars and all other available spaces are booked solid with musicians. Rappers, DJs, producers and rockers of all breeds come from across the country and all over the world ready to impress fans, press and record label reps. Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins will have a solid showing at this year’s event.

All of the bands will play a handful of gigs there, and most of those will be in unofficial showcases — events not organized by SXSW, but happening right then and there, almost indistinguishable from the official showcases. As for those, attendees can find six Denver bands playing: Breathe Carolina, Slow Magic, Two Fresh, Churchill, My Body Sings Electric and BLKHRTS.

There’s just one Boulder band with an official SXSW showcase spot: Call of the Void. The band formerly known as Iron Horse has been together on and off and in different forms for years, but the current incarnation got together in late 2010. This year will be the first time the band plays SXSW.

“We’re trying to get as much exposure as we can, because we’re a pretty small band with a pretty small fan base at this point,” Call of the Void guitarist Patrick Alberts said. “Now we get to play these big shows with multiple big bands who already have established fan bases. It’s a big promotional tool and we’re going to make the most of that.”

The timing worked out well for the band — which also includes Gordon Koch on drums, Alex Pace on Bass and Steve Vanica singing lead — because its record Dragged Down A Dead End Path is set for release on March 19. That’s just two days after SXSW ends. Thanks to the band’s label, Relapse Records, Call of the Void will play that official show with a slew of established bands.

“It’s just the icing on the cake. We were already planning on touring to support the album. These people are definitely the ones who love music,” Alberts said.

“We are playing four different events and we are playing the Relapse Records showcase, which is on the 16th … It’s getting into a mixed genre thing, which starts with all the metal things and ends with the rapper Antwon and Big Freedia.”

Also on the bill are big name bands like Parquet Courts, Iron Lung and the Novice. The big names will help fill up the room, and many of the fans will be looking for the kind of music Call of the Void make.

Dustin Boyd at Planet Bluegrass in Lyons. (Matthew Jonas)
Dustin Boyd at Planet Bluegrass in Lyons. (Matthew Jonas)

“It’s our version of all the great styles of heavy music that we listen to. It’s a potluck full of hardcore punk, sludge metal and grindcore,” Alberts said. “The main theme of the album is that it’s all one big diatribe against organized religion. It’s not necessarily done on purpose, but it coincidentally kind of works out, having a context of being upset and irritated by certain things, and we create music that mimics that emotional reaction when you’re upset at what’s going on.”

Talent scouts find rich field to mine

It’s not just Colorado bands looking for something in Austin. Label representatives and talent-bookers head to Texas looking for something good, too. Last year during SXSW, Dustin Boyd and a colleague from Planet Bluegrass went to see an act they didn’t know. The act was a folk duo from California called the Milk Carton Kids. Boyd couldn’t believe his ears.

“It was stunning,” he recalled in an interview this week. “We were floored.”

Boyd was scouting talent for Planet Bluegrass, the concert producer and music venue in Lyons. When he returned to Lyons and his bosses asked if he saw any bands in Austin that the Planet should book, he had an answer: “Milk Carton Kids. Get them, now.” The Milk Carton Kids performed during Planet Bluegrass’ Folks Festival in August, and they’re on the bill for this year’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

That’s the kind of thing that happens all over SXSW. Music professionals troll the venues looking for revelatory performances. Boyd, who has gone to the festival four times so far, said he often sees three or four bands an hour at SXSW. On special occasions, he’ll find himself sticking around from the first to the last song.

Sometimes it works the other way, he said. Industry insiders might have heard buzz around this or that act that they make a point to check out only to find that the band fails to live up to the hype.

Boyd came home last year with notes on more than 60 bands, he said. Roughly 15 of them had made enough of an impression to be considered for Planet Bluegrass bookings. He’s looking forward to another Milk Carton Kids moment, this year.

“The whole goal is to find something that stops me in my tracks for a whole 45-minute set,” he said.

There are more than 20 Colorado bands looking to make that kind of impression on people like Boyd this year. Whether they come away with a record deal, a new booking agent or some new fans, it’s a good move for them just to show up and play.

As they say on Sixth Street, “Happy South-by.”

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