Talking on the front porch of a house he rents in a quiet Austin neighborhood each year during the South by Southwest Music Conference, Oregonian indie-rock star M. Ward had found a little serenity amid the mad whir of the 23rd annual music industry bash.

"It's easy to feel overwhelmed here, especially these days," said the acclaimed singer/guitarist, also of She & Him fame, who Thursday played both a private party for Entertainment Weekly and a public gig in a park.

By Thursday, many bands started to get lost in the fray. One big buzz band, New York's the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, missed its slot at Paste magazine's party due to a "scheduling conflict," which was no doubt caused by its schedule of several gigs per day. Minneapolis music vet Grant Hart (ex-Hüsker Dü) felt lost during his Wednesday showcase at the Aces Lounge, a strip club that is one of many Austin bars that become music venues for one week only. In this case, the stage was literally above the bar.

"I could hear the strippers ordering their drinks better than I could hear my guitar," said Hart, who debuted strong new songs from an album due out by summer.

Other Twin Cities acts who performed on opening night included rapper Brother Ali, the Doomtree hip-hop crew, former Jayhawks co-leaders Mark Olson and Gary Louris and Haley Bonar, who also had a high-profile slot Thursday in the Austin Convention Center, around the corner from Quincy Jones' keynote speech.

Two cult-loved acts that kept their SXSW schedules to a minimum, Dallas indie chanteuse St. Vincent and Portland, Ore., folk-rockers the Decemberists, each played ambitious shows late Wednesday night to preview their highly anticipated new albums.

The Decemberists played their new rock-opera-like disc, "The Hazards of Love," in its entirety at Stubb's BBQ, turning heads with a heavier sound that at times recalled '70s metal. St. Vincent fared better at Central Presbyterian Church, where she unleashed the roller-coastery songs from her "Actor."

Annie Clark, the artist known as St. Vincent, had her own theory why SXSW is still flourishing in a recession.

"In tough economic times, what can be better than a weekend of music and drinking?" she said in a quiet cafe off noisy 6th Street Thursday morning, finding her own solace from the whirlwind.