For a minute or two, Molly Maher feared she brought down one of the biggest shows in the 26-year history of the South by Southwest Music Conference.
"Oh, great, I'm the person who ruined Springsteen," she panicked to herself.
Maybe the one musician out of 40,000 who wasn't looking for self-promotion at the industry's biggest hype-generating convention, Maher was working as Trampled by Turtles' guitar tech when she stepped on the main power line to the stage outside the new "Austin City Limits" studio. At that very moment, the electricity to the stage -- and the whole building, and much of the surrounding block -- went kaput, with the Boss set to perform there that night.
Turned out, somebody had driven a car into a transformer out on the street, and Maher was off the hook. So it goes at SXSW. One disaster happens, but a beautiful moment is born a few minutes later.
The Trampled fellas greeted the lack of electricity with a shrug and just kept playing. Then they winged it au naturel with Texas indie-rocker Ben Kweller, too.
Here are some more stories of Minnesota musicians who rolled with the blackouts and whatever else was thrown at them at South by Southwest last week.
For its first in a flurry of SXSW shows, the quartet played a 6th Street venue where the stage backs right up to a large front window. Stragglers lined up outside were mesmerized by the in-synch dual drumming of Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson. Patrons inside looked equally captivated as Channy Leanagh's electric vocals echoed through the room. Afterward, Christopherson cracked from behind his kit, "Only eight more [gigs] to go."
Waiting for the Heartless Bastards to go on, the Sleep Study frontman went over his performance schedule -- maybe the busiest of any Minnesotan. In addition to three of his own gigs, he played with Minor Kingdom, Luke Redfield and as a fill-in Honeydog. That made him a big part of the well-received Vic Chesnutt tribute and Rock the Cause showcase, where he said he had mixed emotions about seeing "Tommy Stinson's guitar player making my amp sound louder than I've ever made it go."
Even though frontman Jordan Gatesmith talked about how out of touch old folks are with his music in a hubbub-stirring string of interviews before SXSW, hundreds of teenagers walked away from his band's biggest free gig at the fest. The sleek New York band Fun. -- which has the current No. 1 hit "We Are Young" -- performed right before England's favorite young Minnesota rockers in the Waterloo Records parking lot.
Howler still played to a couple hundred watchers and did so very, very well (the lads are tightening up). Talking afterward, Gatesmith complained about not being able to see many SXSW showcases because he's underage (20). He also mentioned that one of his goals of the week involved the band he slammed in those pre-fest interviews: "I want to trash a hotel room with the guys in 4onthefloor."
A few hours after Gatesmith's comments, the 4onthefloor's leader was catching his breath with TBT's Ryan Young and other friends at a bar without live music. Who knew there was such a thing? The rest of Douglas' band couldn't afford a week off with little to no pay (which is what most SXSW bands get), so he drove their school bus down with a dozen other folks, many of whom slept on board all week. No hotels to trash here. With prices for rooms and airfare soaring, mid-March bus treks to Austin seriously seem like a viable commercial venture.
Maria Isa and Muja Messiah
The Villa Rosa duo mates only made it for two nights, one of which they spent at a hip-hop showcase on the east side where Muja schooled me on Atlanta rapper Future, who was about to perform. Maria laughed at Danny Brown's promises of pleasuring women in the previous set. "Not with that goofy hair of his," she deadpanned.
At the Dirty Dog Bar for the Vita.mn and IPR day party, singer Clara Salyers, 19, looked crestfallen after her band's one and only showcase, a noontime gig. "It was pretty awful," she said, forking some barbecue brisket. "But at least we got here, and we got some free barbecue."
Benson and Alex Ramsey and David Huckfelt had just pulled into town and were equally thrilled about the barbecue. They were also excited about performing again at the regal Driskill Hotel for the annual showcase by their St. Paul-based label, Red House Records. Their main reason for coming, though, was to meet with prospective booking agents. Yes, real business does get done at SXSW.
Fort Wilson Riot
Shortly after blowing through their set at the Vita.mn/IPR party, Amy Hager and Jacob Mullis sounded more upbeat than the Prissy Clerks about their first time at SXSW. "It's amazing this exists," Hager said. Unlike most Minnesotans, their skin wasn't a bright pasty white. The couple came to SXSW following a few weeks in Prescott, Ariz., recording with pal Adam Sorenson of Ice Palace.
Headed straight into a studio after the fest -- in Los Angeles with producer Thom Monaghan (Vetiver, Beachwood Sparks) -- the space-twang-boogie band sounded ready to go during its steamy set at the First Avenue/Gimme Noise day party. Reps from famed indie label Domino Records looked pleased with their newly signed baby band. Singer John Pelant just looked hot, in jeans and a buttoned-up flowered shirt. "It's just the Minnesotans complaining it's too hot," he quipped.
The back-line sound equipment Ali ordered for the same party didn't show up. Like his fellow SXSW vets in Trampled by Turtles, he soldiered on. His new lineup includes three horn players, who truly freshened up his song "Fresh Air." Mentioning his upcoming album with Jake One as producer (tentatively due in August), Ali told the packed crowd, "I've been coming to [SXSW] for 10 years. It feels good to be here starting over again."
Yet more technical difficulties. As his DJ, Fundo, fiddled to fix their equipment, the sharp-tongued Minneapolis rapper filled in with a couple of jokes. "I'm here all night," he cracked, but then remembered SXSW's rigid scheduling. "Oh, wait, I'm only here till 9:50."
Christopherson, Ivascu and bassist Chris Bierden stood in an alley trying to make their way into a Spank Rock gig. SXSW bands accepted into official showcases either get $200 or wristbands for admission to other shows, and at that moment the guys regretted choosing the money. They were clearly having a blast, though.
Christopherson showed off a photo he took with former MTV starlet "Downtown" Julie Brown at the Billboard showcase, where Poliça opened for Lionel Richie. "Response has been really, really good at all the shows, so that helps," Bierden uncharacteristically bragged, a statement substantiated by many others who caught them.
If there's a winner to be declared at SXSW this year -- as Mark Mallman did for himself several years ago -- it'd still have to be this band. But Molly Maher probably feels the luckiest.
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