In mid-March, Austin, Texas will once again see its downtown streets explode with indie rock credibility. [band1]South by Southwest Music and Media Conference (SXSW) will take over the city from March 15-19. (You may remember last year\’s festival documented by the Real World: Austin, cast.)
Scenesters’ mouths have been watering all year as they have watched the list of bands grow, reviewing their top 10 lists of CDs released last year and checking off the names as they pop up on the SXSW itinerary. Animal Collective- check. New Pornographers, check. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!, check. What more could a hipster want?
Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2006, the fest will feature hundreds of bands performing on more than 50 stages citywide each night, many of which are mere blocks away from one another. Since its beginning in 1987, SXSW has developed its credibility among America’s hip youth by being host to such up-and-comers as The Strokes, Beck and, um, Randy Newman.
Bands come to SXSW from all over the world: from just across the border in Mexico is Genitallica, from the UK is the Arctic Monkeys, from New Zealand is Die! Die! Die!, and from the Netherlands is Gem. They come for the sheer prominence of the event and the vast amount of promotion that can be gained from it. According to the festival’s website, “There\’s more amazing music performed and crucial business conducted in Austin over those few days than anyone who hasn\’t been to SXSW can imagine.”
Like a pilgrimage to the indie-Mecca, several bands from Michigan will be making the trip down south.
Detroit band, Thunderbirds Are Now!, will be in attendance for their second appearance at the festival. Over the past year, the band has gained a much larger fan base, was signed to French Kiss Records and toured Europe.
“SXSW last year was a launch point for us,” said frontman Ryan Allen. He said playing the festival helped give the band confidence. “Things get better and weirder as time goes on.”
The band will be playing three times during the five-day festival, including the French Kiss Records showcase and the party with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and Aloha.
Allen said now that they are on the label they want to be on and have the booking agent they want to have, this year will be about getting the word out on their new album, which will come out in the fall. “We’re not going down there to be discovered,” he said, “it’s more of a press thing for us for when our record comes out.”
While Thunderbirds are performing in hopes of promoting their next record, Mt. Pleasant band Anathallo is simply excited to play the fest for their first time, not necessarily to gain any publicity.
[band2]“[There are] so many people just getting together and conferencing about music,” guitarist/vocalist Matt Joynt said.
Anathallo will be playing a showcase alongside Dashboard Confessional and Saves The Day. “I find it interesting to think of how I’d communicate in front of 3,000 people,” Joynt said. “If we do get exposure it’ll be really great.” He also pointed out that this event will be a divergence from the smaller shows the band is used to playing.
Joynt said that he enjoys both settings for different things. It is equally interesting to play in front of a small crowd at a bar and to play in front of a huge audience at a festival, he said.
There is a certain sense of camaraderie between the Michigan bands making the voyage.
“I have known those guys for so long,” Joynt said about the members of Thunderbirds Are Now! who he plans to meet up with at SXSW. “I was just this young high school kid who they gave CDs to. There’s a music community here [in Michigan] and it’s only growing.”
Michigan bands are able to shift and change, through picking up members along the way from other bands, sharing members, and touring with other Michigan bands. Thunderbirds drummer, Matt Rickle, recently toured with Anathallo as part of his other project, Javelins. The members of Anathallo are excited to meet up with him and share stories they have accrued in the past months.
Allen agreed that there is a connection with the other bands from this peninsular state. “It’s fun to hang out with somebody in a different city,” he said. He said he is excited to watch the bands play at SXSW who he has seen numerous times at the same venues in Detroit.
Other Michigan bands scheduled to play include, but are not limited to: the Holy Fire, Saturday Looks Good to Me, Blanche and The Hard Lessons.
For a comprehensive list of all the bands performing, visit If you plan on going, don’t bother Mapquesting directions, you can just follow the full-sized vans hauling trailers with the hippest bands’ stickers. They will be on any major highway heading, well, South by Southwest.

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