Another SXSW has come and gone and many people are still recovering. This year we had a laser focus on the music festival and conference with some fun film screenings and reviews to round things out. Although the weather was a bit weird and cooler this year we were lucky to not have any major storms or cancellations. Things were pretty much smooth sailing, despite the electric scooter epidemic in downtown Austin.
Overall the vibe was good, the weather was decent, and the music was incredible-with a nice focus on up-and-coming artists and not as much on A list or big name acts. There were still some big draws like Miguel at the Long Center music and meditation, David Byrne (film screening), Nathaniel Rateliff at Luck Reunion, Joan Jett at Stubb’s, Mavis Staples, De La Soul, and also X-Ambassadors, Big Boi, and Patty Griffin at the Outdoor stage for the free lake concert.
Here are the best things we saw for live music at SXSW this year (not in any order):
- Cautious ClayA Brooklyn kid with a soulful, deliberate voice and a multi-instrumentalist, Clay was all over the fest this year as many buzz artists typically do. He started with a really cool music and mediation event at the Long Center called Pure Golden Hour – ‘a mindful experience balanced with curated performances by Miguel, Bishop Briggs, and Cautious Clay’. He sang, played flute, and saxophone. We also caught him at Rachael Ray’s annual feedback party on the North stage at Stubb’s Amphitheater and people flocked to see his set. He was on our ‘Must See Music’ list for our SXSW preview and he fulfilled all our expectations.
- Angie McMahon
This Aussie singer-songwriter played many showcases including Rachael Ray’s Feedback party and Willie’s Luck Reunion and was one to watch on many lists prior to the fest. You know they are something special when they are included in both these exclusive events. She pokes fun at how people always assume she’s British. She got a break touring with Bon Jovi and is now getting lots of buzz after playing a Sofar Sounds set in London and being featured on Apple Music. We love her sultry deep voice and guitar chords- many songs are on the sad, contemplative side and totally relatable. Her sound that’s a little like KD Lang was influenced by classic folk/rock. She’s not just another pretty girl with a cool guitar. She’s got something special.
3. J.S. Ondara
A young guy with an angelic and serene voice wasn’t even on our radar before we caught him at Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion out in Spicewood on Willie’s ranch. Another newcomer invited to both Luck and Rachael Ray’s Feedback party, Rolling Stone magazine called Ondara ‘an artist you need to know’. He played in the chapel to an intimate crowd and people were mesmerized by his voice and his songs. Born in Nairobi he only moved to the states 6 years ago and obsessed with Bob Dylan, taught himself guitar- this kid is a rising star in the folk world. He says he is the guy playing sad songs for now. He is totally unique.
British born songstress, Yola was a big buzz this year playing tons of showcases around the festival. Everyone we talked to was raving about her- she has a beautiful presence and voice singing and playing guitar. Her Dan Auerbach–produced album is “a contemporary twist on a traditional sonic tapestry of orchestral strings, fiddle, steel, and shimmering tremolo guitars”. Singing about heartache and love, she is one of the top emerging UK artists today.
6. Mavis Staples
Miss Staples was at several SX showcases this year but her standout performance was at Luck Reunion where she headlined the all-female ‘Stronger’ stage and was backed by her amazing band. Her time-proven message of freedom and empowerment ring with a fresh relevance. Staples seemed genuinely surprised when the stage’s all female lineup joined her on stage for a soulful ensemble version of “The Weight” Staples closed her set with another unexpected guest Nathaniel Rateliff. The duo performed the blues classic “When Death Comes Creeping in Your Room” cementing Staples’ position as the crowd favorite at the Luck Reunion. The highlight was “Freedom Highway” where she reminisced about walking in the company of Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1965 Selma marches. We never wanted the set to end and Staples was by far one of the top highlights of this year’s SXSW.
7. Rachael Ray’s 12th Annual Feedback House and Party
Ray outdid herself this year for her annual parties. They are always much anticipated and only announced within a week or two of the event. It’s free and open to the public so fans line up early in the morning at Stubb’s BBQ to sample her amazing food, free drinks, and stellar music. This year her lineup was as eclectic as ever with our favorite sets by Bleachers, Big Boi, Mike D., Palm Palm, Cautious Clay, Angie McMahon, Billy Raffaoul, Yola, Lukas Nelson, The Cringe (Ray’s husband) and J.S. Ondara. We’re happy to hear she has signed on for another year at SXSW. The Feedback house is the low-key chill version of the Stubb’s party and is held in a small house on Caesar Chavez street with a cool vibe and intimate music performances. It covers 3 days/nights and had a great lineup with memorable sets from Jamie N Commons, Syml, and Cold Irons. See our photo highlights from the feedback party
8. Lukas Nelson
Austin local Nelson has had a stellar year with his music and heightened visibility with his work on the award-winning film A Star is Born. Playing several showcases such as Lucy’s Chicken, Rachael Ray, and of course his family’s Luck Reunion out at the family ranch, Nelson is really coming into his own as an artist. He often looks deep in thought and emotion as he plays. His performances are consistently entertaining and we love the stories about heartache leading to some of his biggest hits like “Georgia”. “Just Outside Austin” he says was written about Luck and the family ranch. Nelson and his band have a ball and always do big jump shots and manage to not hurt themselves. At only 30, his songs and sound are maturing and are totally relatable. He is unique, even if he does sometimes sound a little like his dad in some songs, which is awesome, he truly has is own rock n’roll sound and is becoming a great picker. We can’t wait to see what big things he does next.
9. Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters)
How lucky that we got to see this solo project of legendary Foo Fighter’s guitarist on a tiny stage inside the saloon at Luck Reunion. This was true rock and roll with big sound in a small space that could only fit about 50 or so. Shiflett seemed right at home as a lead singer/guitarist in his own band. He is versatile and his sound is energetic and upbeat and different from Foo. Shiflett is on tour and releases his new album ‘Hard Lessons’ this summer. Free drinks were flowing and it was one of the best sets of the day. Except for host Willie Nelson, of course. No words can describe the feeling of seeing this legend perform on his own stage on his own ranch at 85 years old. Everyone there treasures every second of it.
See our complete festival coverage and other event photos at Austin101Magazine.com