We ran into them into bars, watching their friends' bands play. We bumped into them on the street, doing everything from busking to chowing down to looking for a parking spot (there was a lot of the latter). And, of course, we also saw them onstage, in venues ranging from a weed-aromatic reggae bar to a posh historic hotel to two daytime parties where all the bands came from the other end of Interstate Hwy. 35.
Minnesota musicians were out in full force and varying sobriety levels last week at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas. It was the biggest turnout ever from the locals at the fest, with 36 accepted bands and almost that many crashers. Here's an account of what we saw, heard and (thanks to Twitter #mnsxsw) read of them.
Monday, March 14, 11:34 p.m., Twitter
@jmessersmith Dear Iowa, your roads are clean and your rest stops have free wifi. Now if you could do something about the ever present manure smell ...
Tuesday, 9:05 p.m., 2nd & Red River Streets
"The tour was going great -- until we got here." Cecil Otter makes that assessment as two guests climb aboard the Cruise America RV rented by the Doomtree crew (which might officially be a family now). In the back, Dessa, Mike Mictlan, P.O.S. and Lazerbeak already look as exhausted as the rest of us would in five days.
"We've put in a lot of miles," Lazerbeak mumbles, referring to the East Coast tour dates the group fit in "on the way" to SXSW. After all that driving, they spend a couple of hours circling downtown Austin in heavy traffic, looking for a place to park.
Tuesday, midnight, Twitter
@HarMarSuperstar At some club called the Bat Bar that local drug dealers haven't even heard of excited to see Mr. Heavenly.
Wednesday, 1 a.m., the Bat Bar
The band going on after Mr. Heavenly (with "Superbad" actor Michael Cera) is Trampled by Turtles, who will play four showcases by week's end and has other business on the table -- the kind that used to be a mainstay at SXSW. They are meeting with a few interested record labels. "It's nice to be in a position where we can wait for the right offer, if there is one, and do it on our own terms," says frontman Dave Simonett.
Wednesday, 1 p.m., IFC Crossroads House
Thanks to a clever little paper animation video for his "Star Wars" ode "Tatooine," Jeremy Messersmith has been invited into the Independent Film Channel's SXSW headquarters to talk and perform on camera. He and the video maker, Eric Powers, rifle through paper cutout Boba Fetts and R2D2s -- "pretty geeky stuff for SXSW," Messersmith quips later.
Wednesday, 8:45 p.m., Doomtree showcase
P.O.S. uses his crew's big night in a crowded reggae bar to debut some typically hard-hitting songs he recorded under the moniker Four Fists with Seattle rapper Astronautalis. It's hard to know if Astronautalis is joking when he says their upcoming album is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald: "We went through his attic in St. Paul. That's the kind of thugs we are."
Wednesday, 9:48 p.m., Red 7 patio
The venue fills up fast for a "special guests" surprise set by mostly local supergroup Gayngs at the Jagjaguwar label's official showcase. Playing without its Megafaun members and with a fill-in drummer, the group never finds its groove or overcomes the incessant sound problems. Having only a half-hour to play works out in the end.
Wednesday, 10:35 p.m., the Parish Underground
Because they look like teens and like book-club members, the two women and one fella in Now, Now -- advertised by their old moniker Now, Now Every Children -- look completely out of place on booze-swilling 6th Street. Actually in their early 20s, they prove to be Minnesota's most road-tested first-timers at SXSW, having toured with Paramore last year. Their set of ethereal, starlit guitar pop clocks in 10 minutes under the allotted 45 minutes, though, suggesting they're still in opening-band mode.
Thursday, 2:58 p.m., Twitter
@HarMarSuperstar I've never hated bands more than right now.
Thursday, 4 p.m., Maggie Mae's rooftop
Har Mar doesn't hate Doomtree's Sims, who gets down at eye level with Mr. Superstar and the rest of the crowd for the entirety of a sweaty party gig. After getting all red in the face during his new album's title track, "Bad Time Zoo," he seems surprised the sound system is holding up: "We've already broke five sound systems on this tour," he says/brags.
Thursday, 4:40 p.m., Chuggin' Monkey
Windows prove to be the best advertisement for the hard-chugging rawk of the Rockford Mules, who are drawing people into one of 6th Street's least welcoming venues, thanks to the fact that the stage backs up to the front of the building. Outside, David Joe Holiday of the Book of Right On says, "We just got here, and guess who's playing the first bar I walk up to?"
Thursday, 5 p.m., Radio Day Stage, Austin Convention Center
Jumping into the crowd is Doomtree's thing at SXSW. P.O.S. also does it in this mostly vacant, cavernous showroom that empties out this time every day. He's the last of three acts sponsored by hometown station the Current. Still, he gets right in the face of his puny audience and goes for broke. "It was the most intense, heartfelt performance I saw all week," host Mary Lucia marvels.
Thursday, 11:30 p.m., Emo's main room
In the thick of a killer set by the Kills, Lucia becomes the first Minnesotan with a legitimate injury at the fest. She gets elbowed in the face by a guy high-fiving his friend, resulting in a black eye and prompting this warning for other SXSWers: "Gotta steer clear of the bro-ing."
Friday, 1:35 a.m., Twitter
@MTVBuzzworthy [Doomtree's] show was like being attacked by a bear, monster truck & T Rex all at once.
Friday, 1:55 a.m., Mohawk patio
Another night, another Gayngs show. The all-star band's "Affiliyated" showcase (which included Doomtree, Alpha Consumer, Mystery Palace, Leisure Birds and more) goes much better than the previous night's set, judging by the tireless giddiness coming off the crowd as the group winds down.
Friday, 2:30 p.m., Gimme Noise/First Avenue party
Sick of Sarah echoes into the parking lot across the street from Skinny's Ballroom. Inside, talent bookers from First Ave, Fine Line and Cabooze mingle with other faces from the Twin Cities scene. Tapes 'n Tapes, Solid Gold and Marijuana Deathsquads are also performing, and it would be the only SXSW gig for the Goondas. "And they played like it was their only gig," boasts City Pages writer Andrea Swensson, who later tweets a photo of a Goondas sticker stuck to an Austin pay phone. Because folks who still use pay phones are a great demographic for young rock bands to reach.
Friday, 9 p.m., Victorian Room at the Driskill
Even though Dan Wilson spends a lot of time these days writing songs with bigger-name artists, the former Semisonic frontman's name still carries some weight. There's a line stretched through the lobby of the grand historic hotel. The set exceeds his expectations, too: "The crowd didn't yak loudly through my set. I felt like I was in a parallel universe."
Saturday, 1:11 a.m., Twitter
@TheIdlestHand Just ran into Jeremy Messersmith at the Driskill, exchanged sound disaster commiserations.
Saturday, 1:45 p.m., Vita.mn Minnesota Music showcase
Idle Hands are playing what could be the anthem of SXSW 2011, "Socialite Death Squad." Caroline Smith's manager, Adrian Young, is handing out business cards with download codes for her new album. With Doomtree on after Idle Hands, the crowd is starting to surge. Many of the non-Minnesota attendees stick around for Haley Bonar, who keeps it rocking thanks to the electrifying guitar work of Jeremy Ylvisaker and Jacob Hanson. You can spot the locals during Pink Mink's closing set when they start singing along to "Seeking Scott Seekins."
Saturday, 6 p.m., East & Lambie Streets
The Minnesota population on this dead-end corner of downtown is around 20, and the number of school buses is two. One, with "612" taped to the side, belongs to a group of nonmusician fans. The other -- all-black and dangerous-looking, with "Sturgis" on the back -- belongs to stomp-rock quartet the 4onthefloor, who bought it last month for $2,400 (about the same price as Doomtree's RV rental). "We figured we'd keep the 'Sturgis' sign because it might deter people from breaking in," bassist Chris Holm explains. They also kept a stripper pole installed by previous owners but haven't used it yet.
A few parking spaces down is Communist Daughter's RV, also a Cruise America rental. Frontman Johnny Solomon shows off his mini-recording studio and something else he and keyboardist/girlfriend Molly Moore got just a couple hours earlier: matching tattoos of the other's name. "I can't afford to buy her a ring, so this is the next best thing," he says.
Monday, 3:45 a.m., Seaholm Power Plant
Kanye West is onstage, Jay-Z is about to join him and Gayngs' Ryan Olson has a grin as wide as the mob outside this party to end all SXSW parties. Olson got in through his Gayngs bandmate and Eau Claire, Wis., pal Justin Vernon -- of Bon Iver fame -- who sang with Kanye at the party. He could just as well be smiling about the unusual run at SXSW of his band, which was concocted in his bedroom a year and a half ago. While another album is in the works and maybe some overseas dates, he says, "it's basically over. Coming here was a great way of ending it."
Monday, noon, Twitter
@SIMSdoomtree I got signed to 7 different major labels at SXSW. I'm now selling 4 of those deals #Holler AtMe #IcanGetYouPAID!
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisRstrib