Music Cities

Texas has its own brand of March Madness

"It's like a reunion every year," says McManus. "It's more to me than seeing bands — that's way down the list of my priorities at South By." Some people, including Mc­Manus's friend Mara (who doesn't want her last name used), laughingly point to how few bands they actually see at SXSW while still having the time of their lives. One year Mara went with no badge and no plan and ended up spending four days serving as a sort of muse for comedian Eugene Mirman, at the very moment he and cohorts like Patton Oswalt and David Cross were changing the face of comedy. "That was fun," she remembers. "I didn't know who he was, but we met while were getting hot dogs on the street. Then he asked me to take him to his showcase, and then I ended up partying with him and Patton Oswalt and David Cross for a few days. Eugene's a good weirdo."

Another of her favorite SXSW memories consisted of hanging out in a downtown Austin park in the wee hours with her Houston friends and several bottles of cheap red wine, listening to Wu-Tang Clan and UGK blast from an iPod boombox. "Not seeing bands...that was fun," she laughs. "For me it was about the social thing. The music was in the background."

 Though he eventually learned otherwise, McManus and his buddies in the Fatal Flying Guilloteens once thought that SXSW was all about goals. "The first couple of years we played it, we were all excited, all like, 'Wow, we got accepted into this thing,' or whatever. And you always think that 'It's gonna be great,' but even if the show's packed, it's really not that great a show, just because these people go to shows all the time. Or there's the up-all-night factor at the day shows, so it's always a bit of a let-down."

Allen Hill says that gigs like this one — on the sidewalk in front of Rue's Antiques on South Congress — are rare instances in which Austin lives up to its self-proclaimed title as Live Music Capital of the World.
Courtesy of Allen Hill Entertainment
Allen Hill says that gigs like this one — on the sidewalk in front of Rue's Antiques on South Congress — are rare instances in which Austin lives up to its self-proclaimed title as Live Music Capital of the World.

Hill never thought of the event as anything other than a chance to have a good time. Perhaps because of that very inattention to networking and playing the game, the game has come to him. "Success is such a relative term," Hill continues. "I think a lot of bands are like, 'Aw, cool, we got accepted into this showcase.' For us, because we're there just to have a great time and play a crazy show and not to try to get someone to make us famous, it was drawing people in the business that are attracted to our element of 'Hey, this is crazy. This is why we got into rock and roll in the first place. 'Cause it's fun.'"

South by Southwest performers
flood into Houston...
but will anyone notice?

By Chris Gray

Over the next two weeks, SXSW 2010 performers are about to spread out all over Houston. Close to 200 acts will stop for a show at venues here on their way to or from Austin, from Mango's and Rudyard's in Montrose to Warehouse Live and House of Blues downtown to Fitzgerald's and the Listening Room at NiaMoves in the Heights. Even Toyota Center is not immune: MUSE plays the arena March 18 on the British neo-prog-­rockers' way to a SXSW date and venue TBD.

These artists may or may not have an official SXSW booking, a distinction that means less and less every year as unsanctioned showcases and parties continue to proliferate around Austin during the festival. Either way, almost half of Houston's 2010 SXSW strays are scheduled to play Super Happy Fun Land's "SXSW Overflow Fest," which runs March 11-24 — outdistancing SXSW itself by a solid week.

Super Happy's (very) loose affiliation with SXSW began in 2003, when the venue hosted South by Due East, the locals-only weekend festival that has since moved to Dan Electro's Guitar Bar. Thereafter, Super Happy's owner Brian Arthur decided to go a different direction and open his venue's doors to as many touring acts headed to Texas as he could squeeze in, some from as far away as Spain and the Netherlands.

Since then, Super Happy has done an Overflow Fest every year save 2008, when problems securing the proper building permits after moving from the Heights to its current East End location at 3801 Polk forced Arthur to cancel on more than 80 performers. By his last count, this year 99 separate acts will play Overflow Fest, sometimes as many as ten per night.

Overflow performers are being added and dropped almost up to the minute they step onstage, just like at SXSW itself. However, Arthur begins booking Overflow Fest in the summertime, when the first round of phone calls from bands and booking agents who know they'll be in and around Austin the following spring starts pouring in. He's able to fill out Super Happy's mid-March calendar through word of mouth alone, and in return Overflow Fest performers know to expect a minimum of frills.

"I tell them the deal, that there's ­really not much money for them at all here," he says. "Whatever money does come in has to be split between ten touring bands. It doesn't add up to a lot, but we make food for the bands, we give them a place to crash and they get a place to play."

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