It’s over. Faster almost than it began, SXSW 2018 has come and gone and left us exhausted and invigorated in its wake. Musically, it wasn’t the mega-star-studded insanity that has been the hallmark of SXSWs past. Instead, the music was a throwback to the old days of SX, when the upstarts and foreign-born bands could have their day and peddle their songs in front of a ravenous audience. Certainly, there were headliners that drew more attention than others [and it is important to note that August Greene, Common’s new super group, performed in only their second or third appearance, but could not be included on our playlist, as their tunes aren’t currently available for stream, though you can find their NPR Tiny Desk Concert Here], but it was the new sounds and buzz bands that owned the week. So, here are a few of our favorites, with a little write up on some of them, for those who love to read; and a straightforward Spotify playlist, for those acolytes who, like us, just want the music.
The throwback was blatantly apparent when this folk singer, in the vein of early Bob Dylan and Woodie Guthrie, took the stage at CU29, toward the last half of SXSW 2018. Despite his California runway looks and languid demeanor, John Craigie – the ultimate traveling singer – threw down a pretty close rendition of his set from the recently released “Opening For Steinbeck” live album. And, to an audience that had yet to hear his songs and his pervasive banter, it was the most enjoyable way to end a night. For a taste of how he views his home, listen to “I Am California;” and for a taste of a modern day love song, check out “Let’s Talk This Over, When We’re Sober.” He’s a fun listen and a true heir to a musical tradition that is rapidly disappearing – singing storyteller.
Bear with us for a second. You’re thinking, “How can I respect a review of SXSW or a playlist from 2018 that includes FLO RIDA?!?” The reality is that there are far more radio-friendly hits to come out from the Sunshine State’s own than you are likely aware of. His collaborations with David Guetta and Sia, as well as T-Pain and Nicki Minaj, have his voice and signature cadence in part of around a dozen top ten chart hits. But it’s not just the number of hits that make his performance at BravoTV’s “Imposters” activation so worthy of making this list and review – it’s the fact that the artist was so excited about this concert that, instead of opting for track music, he brought his entire band with him to do SXSW and Austin the authentic way. The show was a party in every sense of the word, especially when accompanied by that soundtrack, and Flo Rida’s energy deserves inclusion. Amid a sea of moody and sullen sounds, his show stood out as a reason to get, keep and share happy.
We did not see this coming. The Driskill hosted a soul night in their Victorian Room, a venue that hasn’t made people’s “must-see” lists for SXSW in some time. Little did we know that their lineup was going to be a double-punch to the feels. Starting with the pained sounds of Rev. Sekou, this wasn’t a night for the stoic. The Missouri-born singer, activist and theologian, took an entire room to church – whether the church of the Almighty or the church of the lost loves – and invited the world to sing in his choir. It was a discovery that took us back to the days when Amy Winehouse shut down a loud venue by pealing off one note that soared over hundreds. But the follow-up to Rev. Sekou’s soulful set didn’t let a single bit of air out of the room. AHI (pronounced aye) stepped on stage, sporting a polo hat and a guitar. He also brought the most powerful moment we experienced at SXSW 2018, presenting his take on Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” And, despite the impossible challenge that living up to Sam Cooke’s vocals is, AHI simple nailed it [Don’t believe us? Check this out. You won’t be disappointed.]. He also brought that soul – which comes from the non-traditional origin of Canada, where the singer is from – to a host of his own tunes, all of which entertained and uplifted a SXSWeary crowd.
Yes, we stole the setlist to this show. *repeat repeat impressed us that much over a short stint at Red River’s Sidewinder bar. The Tennessee band features a married couple on lead and backing vocals and a sound that’s nearly impossible to pin down, as there are elements of Johnny and June, surf rock, punk, that California sound, and even a little B-52s in their music. For good measure, it must be noted that some of their lyrics sound as though they might be served as well in modern hip hop tunes (see: “I don’t want your maybes, I just want your babies” on ‘Girlfriend’). There were also dueling corded telephones on stage. Kristyn and Jared Corder work so seamlessly together that it’s clear that they’re married, and that any tension or struggle they endeavor upon makes its way into the music. It was hard not to fall in love with the band and want to join their family, so full of joy and verve was their too-short-for-our-preferences set.
We said it at the beginning of the week. G Flip was going to be the buzz around SXSW, and we did not lie. The Aussie debuted in her first ever live performance at SXSW, and it was not to be missed. On the strength of her one single, which was her first foray out from behind the drums in other people’s bands, she created enough gravity to draw a full house to her Rainey Street venue, where she catapulted over guitarists, stomped across the whole of the stage and even dropped back behind the drum kit to lord over the set from that vantage. Ending to not only a growing and overwhelming applause, but to everyone in the yard praising her sound, Georgia Flipino – her given name – succumbed to the moment and shed a few tears as the scene erupted in applause. This was PEAK SXSW and we were lucky enough to be on hand to witness the birth of a star, from whom you’ll hear plenty soon.
For the rest of what we loved about SXSW, keep reading as we recover and debrief interviews, shows and panels from one crazy year of SXSW. And, you can hear a sample of our hit list below, provided by our music sherpa, Hedda Prochaska.