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Discovering Bands At SXSW

Big Thief
(Photo by Sarah Ventre - KJZZ)
Big Thief played at the NPR Music showcase.

Almost every music journalist who attends South by Southwest (SXSW) heads out each night armed with a list of shows they’re hoping to catch.

For me, it’s a combination of bands that are getting some good buzz, mixed with recommendations from vetted sources, and of course some listening I do ahead of time. But the most magical shows at SXSW are often the ones where you just happen to stumble upon something you end up loving.

Feeling a little tired at the end of my first night in town, I wanted to catch one last band. So I wandered into a venue that just felt soothing. There’s a TV converted to a fish tank in the entrance, and I had seen a beautiful, quiet show there last year.

What I walked into definitely wasn’t that, but it was a much-needed shot of energy — the surfy, garage rock sounds of the Berlin band Gurr. High energy, bouncy, with just enough attitude — how could it not make you want to dance?

With literally thousands of bands to choose from, it’s nearly impossible to listen to everything you want to ahead of time. Some festival-goers plan out everything they see in 15 minute windows, catching just three or four songs from a band before rushing off to another venue.

Others are more laissez-faire, leaving big chunks of open time so they can hopefully find those magical moments. A good in-between option is taking a chance on a showcase put on by an outlet you trust. For me, one of those is Remezcla, which highlights Latin music.

BIA is a rapper originally from Boston who is signed to Pharrell’s record label. Though her set was short, she was engaging, rapping into a thick layer of smoke from a fog machine, and drenched in pink lighting as she leaned toward the crowd.

One last standout from earlier this week was the four-piece folk-rock band from Brooklyn, Big Thief.

Playing at the NPR Music showcase, Big Thief wrapped the audience in gorgeous vocals and warm guitar. The band did well last year, receiving lots of notoriety for their album "Masterpiece."

While on stage, frontwoman Adrianne Lenker remarked on how at a big festival like SXSW, it’s easy to get lost in the mess of things, but that at its core it’s a really beautiful thing. A perfect reminder of the power of music to bring us together, even when the world feels divided.

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