SXSW Music is an invasion. A tidal wave of over 2,000 artists, bands, singers and musicians descend upon the Live Music Capital of the World for the annual sonic extravaganza. For five days, Austin is music.
But what about our local talent pool? Over 250 Austin artists are playing official showcases at this year’s festival, and I’ve gone through each and every one to find the cream of the crop. After hours of listening, note-taking and brutal decision-making, here are the 10 must-see Austin bands at SXSW 2016. Live local; listen local.
NOTE: Most of the following bands are playing several shows during SXSW. If a show is listed with an asterisk (*), it means it’s an official SXSW showcase. While these generally require badges or wristbands, be sure to check the band’s website for unofficial shows.
Lead singer and founder of legendary The Gourds, Kevin Russell has been a fixture of the Austin music scene for decades. His latest band, Shinyribs, combines his knack for off-kilter lyrics with rock solid folk/rock arrangements. An epicenter of joy, humor, musical prowess and old fashioned fun, Shinyribs’ sound shines through the March doldrums like a blinding light through a foggy shroud.
Recommended Song: Who Built The Moon
When: March 16, 12:30 a.m. at The Saxon Pub*
2/ Akina Adderley and the Vintage Playboys
Big Austin soul in a pint-sized package, Akina Adderley is a force of personality, passion and pure talent. Her ’70s-era party band features tight horn lines soaring above a booty-shaking groove that has the power to wake the dead. And if you miss her set with the Vintage Playboys, check out her ’60s girl group, Charlie Faye & The Fayettes. Pure retro gold.
Recommended Song: Say Yes
When: March 19, 1:00 a.m. at the Half Step*
3/ The Cover Letter
While finding rock and roll/bluegrass acts in Austin can be easier than picking out bluebonnets on 360, the members of The Cover Letter separate themselves with varied instrumentation and pure energy. Fronted by the expressive vocals of front man Jacob Shipman and front lady Chelsea Barbo, this Austin five-some explodes with four on the floor rhythm and soaring sing-along choruses. Saw them at Stubb’s Indoor last month and I haven’t shaken them from my mind since.
Recommended Songs: Her Eyes, The Ocean, Fancy Car
When: March 16, 10 p.m. at Handlebar
4/ The Rocketboys
Balancing tender vocals with energetic guitar riffs River’s Cuomo would respect, The Rocketboys are one of Austin’s most explosive and interesting rock acts. Lead singer Brandon Kinder channels Ben Gibbard while driving drums and heart-lifting harmonies provide the backbone. With a sound that pines for long drives, summer picnics under oak trees and quiet introspection, The Rocketboys have carved out a unique niche in the Austin music scene.
Recommended Songs: Viva Voce, On the Other Side
When: March 18, 1 a.m. at Lamberts
5/ Night Drive
Taking a left turn from the blues/rock/folk-dominated Austin music scene, Night Drive channels ’80s New Wavers, like New Order and Depeche Mode, to create a retro, yet modern, sound. With driving electronic drum beats and soaring synth, this throwback to the days of “Videodrome” and early MTV feels current, alive and vibrant.
Recommended Songs: Drones, Easy to Lie
When: March 19, 8 p.m. at Icenhauer’s*
6/ Gina Chavez
Given the amount of notoriety Gina Chavez has garnered in the last few years, including her on this list is almost cheating. With a Black Fret grant, eight Austin Music Awards and an NPR Tiny Desk performance under her belt, this uber-talented Latin songwriter has been everywhere. Her latest record, Up.Rooted, sings of tropical evenings, samba dancehalls and sweet acoustic guitar licks floating on a summer breeze. A sure-fire mind blower.
Recommended Songs: Siete-D, Fire Water
When: March 15, 8 p.m. at Sidewinder Outside*
7/ Golden Dawn Arkestra
A madcap blend of funk, afrobeat and Chuck Mangione fusion, this band of costumed hippies produces a beautifully-layered sound. Funky, joyful and masterfully-delivered, Golden Dawn Arkestra is a triumph of groove, energy and ATX weird. Prepare to dance the night away.
Recommended Songs: Osaka, Sama Chaka
When: March 18, 5 p.m. at Sahara Lounge
8/ Emily Wolfe
How to explain Emily Wolfe. Sometimes she’s brashly churning out Southern rock-a-blues; other times, she’s layering synth over guitar riffs; and occasionally she’s lulling us to sweet, blissful sleep with brilliant acoustic ballads. Eclectic and extraordinarily talented, Emily Wolfe’s wide range will keep your ears guessing and toes tapping.
Recommended Songs: Mechanical Hands, Accident, Atta Blues
When: March 19, 12 a.m. at Trinity Hall at Old School*
9/ Moving Panoramas
With an album purchased for my brother as a Christmas gift on reputation alone, Moving Panoramas has maintained a steady rotation on both our playlists. Combining stunning harmonies with bouncy, guitar-driven arrangements, this Austin three-piece deftly mixes melancholy and dreamy soundscapes. The result is your new “go-to” band.
Recommended Songs: One, Radar
When: March 16, 11 p.m. at Scratchouse Backyard*
10/ A Giant Dog
Aggressive punk rock growled through clenched teeth, A Giant Dog delivers hard-nosed, fem-rock rife with ear worm hooks. Pure garage rock played with energy and passion, their sound conjures up images of sweaty basement shows and ’80s-era CBGB. Joey Ramone would have dug this band, and you will too.
Recommended Songs: Sex and Drugs, Lady Slut
When: March 17, 1 a.m. at The Market*
The Just-Missed Five
The below artists and bands missed the cut by inches, but don’t count them out. They’re all more than worthy of your time.
Rebecca Loebe – Sweet and tender with exceptional chops, this folk/country singer impressed the world with her rendition of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” on NBC’s “The Voice.” It’s pretty much the best thing ever.
January May – Rock solid indie pop with dreamy vocals and room-filling instrumentation. Songs like “The Road” and “Young” showcase their remarkable range.
MISSIO – Atmospheric, expressive and highly musical, this electro-alternative act pulses with groove, beat and a spirit of experimentation. Check out “I’ve Lost My Way.”
The Vanity – Come for the ridiculously catchy “Stay,” and stick around for their hook-heavy, Kings of Leon-style alt-rock sound.
Tameca Jones – An Austin soul staple since 2005, Tameca has sung with ATX legends like Gary Clark Jr., Max Front and Bob Schneider. Her debut solo single, “Hot and Bothered,” is sexy, smoldering, and sensational.
Need all this awesome in one convenient place? Check out our Spotify playlist, which features every band on this list: The Austinot’s Top 10 (Plus 5) ATX Bands at SXSW 2016.
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Which Austin band are you going to see at SXSW Music 2016?