SXSW Music Festival 2011 - Day 1 - Evening
The Small Ponds [Jump], Leeroy Stagger [Jump], Otis Gibbs [Jump], Telegraph Canyon [Jump], Colin Gilmore [Jump], Todd Thibaud [Jump], The Hobart Brothers featuring Lil' Sis Hobart [Jump]
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Austin, Texas
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16-March 2011
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The evening didn't start well for me: I had listened to a MP3 of a song by a band that shall remain nameless, and heard enough Springsteen and Petty influences to decide to check them out as they played close to the hotel, making it a good starting point for the evening. However, I failed to read the band info, which mentioned that their “highly energetic performances are drawing comparisons to arena rockers Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and Kings of Leon”. So I got the Bruce part right, but their generic stadium-rock didn’t work in a small bar in front of 10 people or so. There were warning signs even before the show even started: The singer carefully checking his hair in a mirror. The band huddle. A 5 string bass. I’m pretty certain that I was the only person in the room that wasn’t part of their entourage. The good news is there are always options during SXSW, so I moved on quickly.

The Small Ponds @ tenOak

“Caitlin Cary's at her best when collaborating. The fiddler and vocalist came to prominence as a member of Whiskeytown, the sweet foil to Ryan Adams' country-punk urges. The Cleveland native's ensuing work with Tres Chicas and Thad Cockrell brought out her strengths as a singer and composer, and those traits are a prime focus on Are the Small Ponds. She and Matt Douglas of Raleigh, N.C., folk rockers the Proclivities entwine their voices on a five-song EP. […] The pair sings of romance in a way that's poetic, never saccharine, and sonically impeccable. A tempting appetizer.” – Jim Caligiuri, Austin Chronicle
Caitlin Cary is always worth seeing no matter which project she’s involved in, and tonight was no exception. With Skillet Gilmore on drums they played a couple of songs from their debut EP and some brand-new material.
Watch a video from this show here.

Leeroy Stagger @ The Tap Room At Six

“A blue-collar roadhouse sound that borrows as much from Farrar-Tweedy as Springsteen. Stagger’s grit and gloom are on par with the influences.” - Harp Magazine
Leeroy Stagger spends a lot of time on the road, yet somehow he rarely plays in Toronto. This showcase presented a good opportunity to find out how the songs from his latest album would sound in a live setting. The set balanced old and new, with the new songs fitting in seamlessly with some of his best tunes from previous albums. Setlist: “Long Way Home”, “Petrified World”, “I Believe In Love”, “Everyone’s On Drugs”, “Stormy”, “Holy Water”, “Radiant Land”, “Where I Live”, “Saskatoon”
Listen to and buy his latest album Little Victories here.
Watch a video from this show here.

Otis Gibbs @ The Velveeta Room

“Otis Gibbs has a gritty vocal style that seems to automatically give his music an air of authenticity. Like Steve Earle or Tom Waits, this gives the impression of a man who carved his songs from hard-lived experience. The folk-country arrangements, from twangy steel guitars to backwoods mandolins, deepen these impressions.” - Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.,
I'm always a bit hesitant to add solo performances to my SXSW schedule. While it's good to have a balance between quiet and loud set, acoustic performances can be a bit tedious, especially after 10+ hours of live music.  But there was nothing tedious about Otis Gibbs' performance: he is a gifted storyteller and an excellent songwriter. It also helped that the
audience was quiet, attentive and appreciative, which unfortunately isn’t the norm for 6th Street clubs at any time of the year and especially not during SXSW.
Listen to / buy his current album Joe Hill’s Ashes here. Or watch the official video for the standout track “Kansas City” here.

Telegraph Canyon @ Esther's Follies

“Having cut its teeth in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Telegraph Canyon came to Austin to record its sophomore full-length, The Tide And The Current, with Centro-Matic's Will Johnson, with whom it shares a ragged, rusty-red-barn aesthetic. At the center of the seven-piece group is singer-songwriter Chris Johnson, who […] has forged an epic take on Americana that sits as comfortably with Broken Social Scene as it does with Old 97's.” – A.V. Club Austin
There was a good turn-out for this seven-piece, a very young audience. Esther's is a good place to see live music with good sound and a great view of the stage from pretty much anywhere in the room. It's also easy to judge how well the band is doing by checking how many people are stopping outside to watch through the large windows facing 6th Street. Some stopped for Telegraph Canyon, but most moved on after a couple of songs, and so did I.

Colin GilmoreThe Velveeta Room

“With his 2010 disc Goodnight Lane, Colin Gilmore returned to the Austin music scene with a twangy jolt. The son of Jimmie Dale, Colin mixes a bit of his West Texan, Buddy Holly-influenced style with a love for the Clash into songs that are memorably breezy and filled with youthful vision.” – Jim Caligiuri, Austin Chronicle
I had seen Colin Gilmore once before, playing a solo acoustic
gig at SXSW seven years ago and had not been overly impressed. I arrived in time to catch the last 3 songs of his full band set and enjoyed the performance a lot more in this setting.
Listen to “Laughing Hard Or Crying” here

Todd Thibaud @ The Velveeta Room

“Thibaud is a roots rock everyman, routinely cranking out hearty workingman’s music. [Broken] continues his streak of satisfying releases. Thibaud is at his best when he takes on the emotional conflicts of people grappling with their everyday lives. […] Guest vocalists Bill Janovitz (Buffalo Tom) and Lori McKenna lend their considerable talents to several of the tracks, their distinctive voices adding extra depth to Thibaud’s lyrics. In the end, however, it is Thibaud and his songwriting that shines brightest.” – Mayer Danzig, Twangville
Todd Thibaud is another example of one of my favorite artists who regularly tours in Europe, but rarely plays outside of his home base in North America. His Austin band led by
Tom Gillam delivered a solid, rocking set - a  highlight of the evening. Setlist: “Drifting”, “Lost Again”, “Broken”, “Anywhere”, “Northern Skies”, “Blue Skies Back”, "Stranger" (a new song), “Three Words”
Watch a complete show from 2009

The Hobart Brothers featuring Lil' Sis Hobart @ Speakeasy

“The Hobart Brothers & Lil' Sis Hobart is: Jon Dee Graham, Freedy Johnston and Susan Cowsill. The band formed in 2009 when Jon Dee and Freedy got together to write a couple of songs about their early days in music, when they washed dished for a living. The band name refers to the commercial dishwasher know to all aspiring songwriters. Then, at last year's SXSW, Susan Cowsill joined as Lil' Sis Hobart, and the family was complete.” – band info
What better way to finish Day 1 than to see some of my favorite musicians
together on stage? Backed by drummer Russ Broussard and bassist Andrew Duplantis, The Hobart Brothers and Lil' Sis Hobart covered a lot of ground from rootsy to power-pop material. They did get to play two encores, a rare occurrence during SXSW. I'm looking forward to hearing the album they plan to release later this year.
Watch a video from another one of their SXSW appearances here.

After 13 hours and 15 different bands I was glad that my hotel was not too far away. Read about Day 2 here...

All pictures (c) Steffen Paulus 2011