My first experience attending SXSW was like running around the most generously stocked international grocery store with a bottomless cart and an unlimited budget. But for my musical ears.
From noon until 2 a.m. everyday, you can turn down any aisle or walk into any venue with an open mind, and you'll discover the flavor of something you've never tried before and need to have again. In fact, the only limiting factor on the amount of musical nourishment you can cram in at SXSW is your own physical body. If you can work through the late-night exhaustion, the sore feet and the inhalation of smoke clouds in crowds, then everything you can musically imagine is yours for the experiencing.
Want to be awestruck by a radical looping interpretation of Sudanese fiddle traditions? Marvel at Sudan Archives. Want to get hopped up on "joycore" and head bang so hard you need a chiropractor when you get back home? Mosh it out with Andrew W.K. Want to strip it down to the basics? Witness how much sound and how many different tunings Hawaiian slack key whiz Makana can pull out of six strings on a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Going To California." Want to get political? Go see Chelsea Manning introduce Russian punk protest band Pussy Riot. Need a break from the mania of the SXSW hub on Sixth Street? Drive 45 minutes Northwest of Austin to Willie Nelson's farm for the Luck Reunion, and watch Willie perform "Roll Me Up" on stage with his son, Lukas. Want to dance your boots off? Give over to Gato Preto's explosive Afrofuturism. Are your feet a little tired? Sit on the floor while Cuddle Magic makes you feel like you've never heard music before, by way of roasting pot percussion, bass clarinet and heartbreaking harmonies.
There were so many moments during SXSW 2018 when I wished I could transport the music fans I love to a particular show. So instead, here's the next best thing: a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite performers from SXSW. I hope you find your next favorite artist in this playlist, no sore feet required.
Thanks to all the artists who put their hearts and souls into performing in Austin. And special thanks to Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton and Stephen Thompson for being wonderful stewards of my first ever SXSW adventures, and for letting me cap off each night of musical adventures on All Songs Considered late-night dispatches, joined on the last night by fellow newbie Rodney Carmichael. That was a pile of fun, and you can listen to the dispatches here.