The slow descent of Austin into a Musk fueled tech town is in full swing. Austin’s transformation from sleepy hippie hamlet to bustling mini-Dallas is almost complete. Mourn, my friends. The magic is waning.
Luckily, one of the central tentpoles of the Austin experience is still intact – our music community. In the wake of high rises and Telsa plants, ATX continues to produce world class music in great abundance. Every genre imaginable is represented. From blues to country to hip hop to synth pop, the Live Music Capital of the World continues to thrive in the dust of shattered businesses and mass gentrification.
So, rather than sob, let’s celebrate. This year’s SXSW collection of local talent is as robust as ever, with new and old talent alike. From bubbling under up and comers to legends of the scene, my yearly Top 10 aims to paint a broad, vibrant picture of the local music tapestry. Let’s dive in!
As always, a few notes:
- I’ve been doing this for years. If an artist you love isn’t represented, they were likely featured in a previous list. You can read my yearly articles here: 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022
- Concerned about that 1 a.m. start time? Many of the bands on this list are playing multiple shows. Check out their social media accounts and websites for more information.
- This list is in alphabetical order, not best to worst.
1/ Billy King & The Bad Bad Bad
Part psych, part blues, part Southern rock and all snarl, Billy King’s aggressive middle-finger forward sound is as stirring as it is bold. “Possession of Paul Revere” tells the story of a maniac gone wild on a 60’s psychedelia vibe while “Werewolf of Love” runs laps on a track of pounding four-on-the-floor drums and King’s screaming guitar leads. A combination of power, soul and head trip sway, Billy King is a force to be reckoned with.
When: March 17th, 9 – 9:40 PM at The Creek and the Cave Backyard
Speaking of growling rage and righteous anger, BONDBREAKR tears stages asunder with teeth-bared snarl and sneer. “Polite Society” screams along a driving, delicious riff while “Kill Your Gods” smacks eardrums with primal fury. If you dig rock with a razor’s edge, this bubbling under Austin four-piece will satisfy the animal inside.
When: March 15th, 10:30 – 11 PM at Latchkey
3/ Como Las Movies
Call it a phase, call it a fling, call it what you will. The Latin music pouring from our fair city has never been stronger. Como Los Movies feels like the next evolution from Superfonicos, Gina Chavez, and anything helmed by Adrian Quesada. By implementing tight synth into their sultry, swaying cumbia, this electric four piece bridges genres like the bat laden overpass on South Congress. Infinitely danceable, their SXSW showcase at the Sheraton BackYARD will be a party unlike any other.
When: March 18th, 9 – 9:40 PM at the Sheraton BackYARD
4/ Dale Watson
If you’ve never heard of Dale Watson, welcome to Austin. You’re likely a recent transplant from New York or LA and I welcome to you our fair city. With a career that spans decades of outlaw country and honkey tonk, Watson’s years of blessing the Broken Spoke and sending up Saxon are the stuff of legends. A midnight showing on the last day of the festival at the historic Continental Club will be a fitting end to your SXSW Music experience.
When: March 18th, 12AM – 1:45 AM at the Continental Club
5/ Daniel Fears
Smoother than Nutella with twice the flavor, Daniel Fears draws direct comparisons to early John Legend in terms of pure emotional weight and technical chops. “Keep On” beseeches an unknown lover to maintain during turbulent times while “No Gravity” dips and pops across a thick, tasty R&B groove. Designed to illicit naughty thoughts salted with a healthy dose of relational honesty, Daniel Fears is an artist of depth, soul and emotional truth.
When: March 16th, 8 PM – 8:40 PM at Sheraton BackYARD
With the rise of artists like Billy Strings and more locally, Wood & Wire, bluegrass music is the new old hotness. By blending traditional four-on-the-floor fiddling with jazz, ambient and classical influences, Austin quartet Invoke creates music of complexity and depth while maintaining the down home accessibility of the genre. Top marks go to their latest single, “Burlywood”. Bedrocked by satisfying banjo picking and mandolin strums, the tune allows principal violinist Zach Matteson to let his instrument soar. Meanwhile, “The Trace” off 2015’s Souls in the Mud EP moves from serene to stirring in the space of its five minute runtime. Sublime music performed by four masters of the art.
When: March 15th, 11:15 – Midnight at Parker Jazz Club
7/ Riders Against the Storm
Vanguards of the ATX hip hop community for over a decade, Riders Against the Storm have been doing just that. Riding a laser blast of socially conscious hip hop through the hearts of music fans and city officials alike. Half music act, half activists, RAS continues to churn out banger after banger while still supporting the city in their own unique way. On their latest single, “Go!” allows vocalist Qi Dada bless the track atop a traditional reggae beat while “The Sheriff” blends RaS socially conscious verse with an edgy, aggressive Bright Light Social Hour snarl track. Legends of the art, worth every second of their set.
When: March 18th, 11 PM – 11:30 PM at Speakeasy Ballroom
Pure energy distilled into a brooding indie rock sound, Shooks takes cues from bands like Phoenix and Passion Pit to create an intoxicating vibe. One of my surprise favorites from this year’s ACL Fest, Martin Sexton (yes, that Sexton) leads his quartet with sultry, emotional lyrical flair. “Furio” slinks across layered synth and a tasty rhythm while their latest release, “Drama”, pulses across a stage worthy post punk anthem. An incredible live act worthy checking out at your earliest opportunity.
When: March 14th, Midnight – 12:40 AM at Valhalla
9/ Trouble in the Streets
New music by Trouble in the Streets? Yes, please! A stunning amalgamation of hard nosed hip hop, rage-ready rock and sultry soul, Trouble is ever evolving. “Dreaming of Forever” dances across a funk friendly bass line while their latest effort, “Can I Breathe” growls a timely call for unity during a dissonant time. And “Pyramid Scheme” on 2016’s Electro Tribe remains a stone cold classic. It’s been years since I caught them live on Mohawk’s secondary stage and I’ll be waiting in line to experience them again.
When: March 18th, 1 AM to 1:50 AM at The Creek and the Cave Backyard
10/ Why Bonnie
A beautiful expression of looking for light on a cloudy day, Why Bonnie stirs the evocative emotion of shoegaze with a wavy headtrip groove that’s simply stunning. The title track off 2022’s “90 in November” sends listeners on an early 2000’s indie emo trip while their latest single, “Apple Tree”, jazzes things up while maintaining Blair Howerton smooth dream pop sensibilities. These days, music is either a bop or a vibe, and Why Bonnie firmly plants themselves in the latter while continuing to evolve.
March 14th, 9 – 9:40 PM at Cheer Up Charlies Outdoor
March 16th, Midnight – 12:40 PM at The 13th Floor
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