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Veteran Arizona Bands Have Different Expectations At SXSW

(Photo by Gabriel Flores)
Tucson-based band XIXA is playing at several venues at SXSW.

South by Southwest (SXSW) is one of the largest music festivals in the world, and at one time, it was known as a place that could help launch artists’ careers. While it’s still considered a great place to personally discover music, the massive scale and success of the festival means that now, bands’ expectations have changed.

Arizona band Jared & The Mill played to a crowd of a few dozen fans listening intently at a busy bar in downtown Austin, Texas. This is the band’s fourth time at SXSW.

“It’s a good glimpse of what’s going on right now and who’s kind of making moves and who to go see,” said Jared & The Mill’s banjo player Michael Carter. “But at the same time it’s honestly just cool to see how the culture changes around music. “

A few years ago, the festival may have been less of a barometer and more of an incubator, pushing musicians just beyond the threshold needed to gain massive popularity. As the festival has grown, it has become harder for smaller bands to get booked at official showcases.

“Every year it does get better here,” said Gabriel Sullivan, guitarist for the Tucson band XIXA. “I mean, we have three official showcases here, which I (had) always felt like (it was) a huge blessing to get one.”

Sullivan has been coming to SXSW since 2009, and bandmate Brian Lopez has since 2007. While they are enthusiastic to be here, time has tempered their expectations.

“As the years have gone by, the shine has worn off and it’s more of a drag and it costs a lot of money,” said Lopez. “They don’t give you any money to be here. So we’re here with very realistic goals.”

Lopez also said XIXA would like to make more concrete contacts, to be heard by other agencies, and to find opportunities to have their music placed in TV and film. While this is not the same as suddenly being discovered and signing to a major record label, these kinds of incremental steps are important to a band. Jared Kolesar of Jared & The Mill said the festival is important for other reasons as well.

“It’s a cool place where we can all come together, and you meet other people,” said Kolesar. “And it’s a good way to schmooze.”

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Sarah Ventre was a producer for KJZZ's The Show from 2014 to 2018.