Only yesterday was the time of our lives

So I have a blog. Sometimes I forget. I swear SXSW just took it out of me. I know it's been almost a year, but let me sum things up really quickly:
  1. It was amazing. Think of how you would have done spring break in college if you actually had money and knew how to drink without making (too much of) an idiot of yourself.
  2. Everyone wants to go again. (See #1)
  3. We ate a lot of barbecue.
  4. I saw Adam Duritz and Michael Cera hanging out in bars, but never ran into Aziz Ansari despite my best efforts to Twitter stalk him.
  5. I actually wrote about some of my favorite shows over on the York Daily Record's FlipSide blog. You can check it out here.
  6. I got my picture taken with my fave NPR dude Stephen Thompson (see below) and he was even nice enough to sing "Trey with an 'e' and Graham like the cracker" for me. If you don't know what that means you should be listening to Pop Culture Happy Hour.
Look, we have the same hair!


Living the good life, I left for dead the sorrowful Midwest

After much napping and laundry, I've begun to recover from SXSW. There'll be more blogging to come but I wanted to post a couple updates. First, there are the bands that we saw on Friday and Saturday:


- 28 North
- Smith Westerns
- Electric Child
- OFF!
- The Vaccines
- The Kills
- TV on the Radio
- Young the Giant
- Apex Manor
- Josh Ritter
- Twin Shadow
- Goldheart Assembly
- The Answering Machine


- Man Man
- Middle Brother
- The Felice Brothers
- Bright Eyes
- The Rural Alberta Advantage
- Jukebox the Ghost (again)
- Army Navy

Second, I wrote a piece about my trip over on this blog, where they actually pay me to do such things. It even has a couple photos so go check it out.


So many Mike

I've been pretty busy eating, sleeping and seeing bands and haven't had time to blog. I want to keep a list of bands I've seen so far so I don't forget:


- The Romany Rye
- Jessica Lea Mayfield
- Apache Relay
- Hayes Call
- Caitlin Rose
- Jason Isbell
- The Civil Wars
- Withered Hand
- Kid Canaveral
- Errors
- Twin Atlantic
- Admiral Fallow

Yes that was just Wednesday.


- Colin Stetson
- Tuneyards
- Khaira Arby
- Wild Flag
- The Joy Formidable
- Noah and the Whale
- Jukebox the Ghost
- Emmylou Harris
- The Old 97s

I think that's it for those days. I'm already 3 bands into Friday so there is more to come!
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I guess I got just what I wanted and all I wanted was a glance

Well our plans to take it easy at SXSW last night where thrown out after we got back from awesome barbecue at The Salt Lick. We stopped by the apartment for a few minutes but managed to avoid a meat coma and headed out on the town.

First stop was the Bat Bar where we caught Dry The River and the much-hyped shoegaze band Fences. They weren't our favorite band of the night, but we did see Michael Cera catching their show, too, so hipster bonus points for us!

Next up was a great set from The Boxer Rebellion and finally to a crowded Emo's for a funky dance set from Gold Panda. We made it home a little after 2 am and now we're gearing up for more!


When the sun goes down in Austin town that's when I know I'm home

So I made to Austin with little trouble. Our apartment is all ready to go and I've managed to fortify myself with a chili dog and a margarita. Tonight might be about barbecue and catching up with friends than music but the SXSW adventure has begun.
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No one man should have all that power

Well, it's (sorta) official if you believe the video below. Kanye will be playing a show at SXSW Saturday night. I still haven't heard about my VIP passes, though. Bummer!


My furs is Mongolian, my ice brought the goalies in

So there's a rumor that Kanye West will play a surprise show in Austin during SXSW. He released this video at the beginning of March that started all the hubbub:

So now I have to decide if I dare treck over to the Seaholm Power Plant at midnight on Saturday to see if this is real. I'm tempted, but I've been burned by Kanye before so I'll probably pass unless, you know, he wants to give me a VIP pass. Call me, Yeezy!


The train is riding down to the station where I lived when I was a cool kid

I've been sorting through the list of bands playing at SXSW for a couple months now. With more than 2,000 of them playing and a schedule that seems to be constantly shifting, it can be a big job. What I've noticed from the weeks of listening, though, is how great almost all the bands are. Maybe my experience vetting bands for the MidPoint Music Festival had me bracing for worse acts, but it seems like I'd be happy to hear almost any band playing at SXSW. I'm sure we'll see how I really feel about that in a couple weeks.

With that in mind, I present the 10 bands I'm most excited to see at SXSW. My main caveats were that I wanted to choose acts I'd never seen play live before and to try and focus on smaller, newer acts*. So here they are in no particular order:

  • Admiral Fallow - Scottish and sad, they sound a little like Frightened Rabbit. These guys are right in my musical wheelhouse. They're also playing a Tuesday night showcase so hopefully they'll be one of the first bands I see.
  • The Civil Wars - A bluesy couple from Alabama, much like my friends Jeff and Meggan who'll be hanging out with us in Austin. Maybe that's why I want to see these guys so much.
  • Apex Manor - Colin Meloy mentioned this band in a tweet so I checked out the album. That's what kind of a sucker I am. Nice stuff, though, but I've only seen one show scheduled so far so it might be difficult to actually see them.
  • Jukebox the Ghost - A poor man's Ben Folds? Perhaps. Jukebox the Ghost is from DC and I've been a fan for a few years so even though they don't fall into my "new act" rule I really want to check them out.
  • Okkervil River - An Austin band with a couple albums under their belt and a much anticipated new release just around the corner. This might be the hardest show for me to get to what with all the crowds. I guess it will make me decide how much I really want to see them.
  • The Vaccines - There is a ton of buzz from this British band. Are they the next Arctic Monkeys? Does it matter? All I know is they rock and since their big song is only 85 seconds long, they shouldn't have to play for too long anyway.
  • Lars and The Hands of Light - I know like three words in Danish (two of them are mildly offensive) but I figure I can try them out on a Danish band. I just typed in Denmark in the SXSW schedule and these guys popped up. Turns out they sound pretty good, too. Score! (That's Danish for "score".)
  • Young the Giant - Loud and melodic, they're another band with a lot of buzz. They also seem to be playing about every day party in town so I should be able to catch at least one of their shows.
  • Noah and the Whale - I'm really not sure why I haven't heard of these guys before. They're right there in the dictionary under "Sad & British." I'm actually worried they might be too sad for me. Too sad! Is that possible?
  • Childish Gambino - Do you know Donald Glover? The black guy from Community? The one who started a Twitter campaign to be cast as Spiderman in the new movie? It turns out he raps, too, under the name Childish Gambino. No, he does serious rapping, not jokey, jokey rapping. I'm in no position to tell you if he's actually a good rapper, I just know I find it oddly compelling. I can't promise that I'll make it to his showcase, but I kind of hope I do.
You can hear tracks from most of my list (and more) over there on the right on my SXSW music player. 

*Bands that I still hope to see but haven't made my official top 10 include: Hayes Carll, Darren Hanlon, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Jessica Lea Mayfiled, The Answering Machine and The Head and The Heart.


Sometimes it's who, not what you do

I know I'm meant to be constantly blogging about my preparations for SXSW, but it turns out that much of my time has been taken up by preparations for SXSW. Oh, the irony!

There are day parties, there are evening showcases, there are free shows and house parties and they all want you to RSVP. If you have cruise director tendencies like I do, it can be overwhelming. Nevertheless, I'll be heading to Austin a mere two weeks from tomorrow so the planning has to end sometime.

As I finish my planning, I'm trying to keep a few pointers in mind:

  • Have a lot of options - With dozens of bands playing shows at any one moment, you shouldn't waste your time waiting in line for a show. Bands often play more than one showcase so unless you just absolutely have to see them, move along and catch something else. Who know, maybe you'll find something new.
  • SXSW is for new bands - It's tempting for me to want to see The Strokes or Bright Eyes who are both playing shows this year. I've seen both of them in concert before so I'll try to use that time to see a new band instead. It'll be hard to pass on Bright Eyes, though, so that might be a game-day decision.
  • Wear comfortable shoes - I've been told there is a lot of walking. A lot.
  • There is never free food - Most of the parties advertise free food, but like the mysterious sasquatch, no one has ever seen it. Food goes early and I'm pretty sure it's just one guy with a burrito. Go find a food cart and keep your blood sugar up. This is a marathon not a sprint.
I'll have a list of the top 10 bands I hope to see at this year's SXSW later this week. That is unless I'm busy RSVPing for stuff.


It's well advised that you follow your own bag in the year of the chewable Ambien tab

For almost three years I paid $15 a month for a subscription to the music download site, emusic.com, but last month I put my account on hold with the intention of quitting them for good. They went from being one of my favorite web services to my online nemesis through a path that is not unfamiliar to people who are early adopters of cool web services only to watch them crumble under a series of compromises (I'm looking at you lala.com.) but this one angers me the most.

The interwebs tell me that emusic was founded in 1998, but didn't really take off until the early 2000s. It was different from other music sites because a set amount of money got you credits for mp3 downloads each month. When I first signed up, my $15 got me 50 songs from a large library that consisted mostly of indie labels and old jazz and blues. It wasn't for everybody, but if emusic's selection matched up with your musical tastes it was an amazing bargain.

Things were going great until the summer of 2009. That's when emusic signed a deal with one of the "big four" labels (Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, EMI and Warner Music Group). Emusic would carry music from Sony artists that was two years old or older. So you couldn't get the new Kings of Leon, but you could download the Bruce Springsteen back catalog. In return, customers found out their $15 suddenly didn't buy as many credits. Sony wanted more money for their songs so now I was getting 37 songs a month for my money. It was annoying, but I was willing to take the hit for a larger selection of music. Besides, Michael Jackson had just died and now I could download all of his songs that I thought I already owned with minimal effort.

For me, November of 2010 was the beginning of the end. Emusic signed a deal with Universal to offer their entire catalog on the site, but along with the new music came some major changes. Suddenly my $15 didn't buy credits, it got me $15 worth of music with different songs being offered at different prices. Some songs were $.69 and others were $.99 album prices were all over the place but seemed to run $5 to $8. It was still cheaper than iTunes, but other things were lost along the way, too.

Several indie labels left the site shortly after the Universal deal was announced. Also emusic's customer service seemed defensive when customers voiced their concerns. They didn't seem to understand that I was more interested in the new Arcade Fire album than having access to hundreds of thousands of Justin Bieber and Black Eyed Peas tracks. After years of cultivating an indie audience, emusic seemed happy to let them fall by the wayside.

And I'm happy to oblige. Bieber fans don't pay for music anyway, and I hope emusic will discover that one day and change their tune. They're not the first web site to alienate their original customers in an effort to expand their audience, but few have done it quite as callously as emusic. I've decided to take my money and spend it on a Netflix subscription instead. So far, it's been worth it.


My private life is an inside joke

I really must get back into this blogging thing if I'm going to be ready for SXSW. In fact, I leave for Austin exactly two months from tomorrow! I have a lot of homework to do, like figuring out which of the 2,000 bands I want to see. I'm thinking of picking of at least one band solely based on their name. A Norwegian band called, Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson is an early front runner in that category.

But I still have a couple months to discover obscure bands. What I'm excited about right now are new songs from a couple of old favorites. Bright Eyes (who is also playing at SXSW!) has a new album coming out February 15th and if the first song from the album is any indication it's gonna be pretty good. You can listen to it over there in my music player on the right or go here and download an mp3 of your own.

Alas, The Decemberists aren't coming to SXSW this year, but I only have to wait until Tuesday to get their new album (or you can listen to it all right now at NPR Music). When I heard it the other day it gave me the warm fuzzies and a little tingle down my spine that I don't get too often these days. It sounds like a great new R.E.M. album that we'll never get from R.E.M.

Speaking of R.E.M., they have a new album coming out soon too and their new song "Discoverer" (it's over there on my music player again) is getting everyone excited and ready to say the band is finally back to its old form. I've been down this road before, people, and I'm not about to be fooled again. Their last album, Accelerate, was supposed to be their big comeback. While it was definitely better than anything they've done in the past decade, it was not as awesome as we all wanted it to be. I won't hold my breath for this new album either.

So that's all for now. Coming soon: Why I quit emusic, more SXSW planning and my addiction to Parks and Recreation