South by Due East, Guy Schwartz and Marlo Blue’s annual free music festival, returns this Friday starting at 5 p.m. at Last Concert Café. A three-day event featuring a ton of local Houston bands from many different musical genres performing on two stages, SXDE is a good way to see and hear a lot of Bayou City talent together in one spot and save some bucks on cover charges while you’re at it. You’ll likely discover some bands you’ll want to go see again and support in the future, of course.
The origins of the festival date back to 2003, when Schwartz and Blue recall a night of drinking with then Houston Press Music Editor John Nova Lomax and Mark Martin of Internet radio station earthwire.net.
“On one of these nights of beer drinking, they [Lomax and Martin] were doing what they always did, which was criticizing things and having fun doing it,” Schwartz explains. “And they were criticizing that South By Southwest in Austin had named their artists and there were only three Houston artists represented.”
Blue notes that one of these artists was an oldies cover band and the other two were country and western; the conversation inspired Lomax to write an article exploring the subject and Blue and Martin to host a showcase of Houston artists in Austin during SXSW 2003, with Schwartz hosting a similar showcase back in Houston.
Blue rented a camera for Schwartz to record the bands in Houston so she could later see what was going on back home while she was away, resulting in a 20-minute concert film. The Austin showcase was a one-time event, but SXDE in Houston continues to this day, along with a professional video shoot of every band’s performance. Back in 2003, when the earth was flat, recording and uploading videos to the Internet was still a relatively novel idea; YouTube was not founded until February of 2005. Times have changed, obviously.
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“Every band out there has a member with a girlfriend who likes to take videos on her cell phone, and the quality of those videos is so good that our initial reason to make and give the video and well-mixed audio to the bands to help promote themselves is no longer apropos," Schwartz explains. “We might give them better-quality video than they're ever going to get from the girlfriend’s phone, but in reality that girlfriend’s phone video has just as much of a chance to be seen as anything we do. So the promotion of the whole scene and trying to expand into whatever services we can provide for Houston’s original musicians is becoming a lot of our new focus.”
All of the bands who perform at SXDE are still provided copies of the raw and edited videos of their performance upon request; as Schwartz mentioned, the benefit of these videos includes amazingly good multi-track sound that you can’t get when recording with a cell phone. The bands can even hire Schwartz to do additional editing to the videos if they so desire.
The videos shot of past SXDE band performances are featured on a Houston Media Source public-access cable television show created by Schwartz and Blue called, appropriately, South By Due East Television; the show’s 11th season is starting now and can be seen 10 p.m. Friday nights on Comcast channel 17, AT&T U-Verse 99, Phonoscope 75, Sudden Link 99, Kingwood Cable 95 and online at hmstv.org and youtube.com/siriushippies. This past Monday, South By Due East Television: At the Movies played at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park location.
As far as radio goes, audio compilations from past SXDE shows can be heard on various programs on KPFT, including Radioactive Fridays at 11 p.m.; at wildmansteve.com Thursdays at 7 p.m.; and various times on radio.guyschwartz.com.
Although the first SXDE came about because of the snubbing of Houston bands at SXSW, Schwartz and Blue emphasize that they have no desire or intention for their festival to be another SXSW, and making a huge profit was never a motive of theirs.
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"I know it’s fun; I know that we can give people things they like and enjoy and we feel good about it and they feel good about it," Schwartz says of SXDE, "and I feel I am making a living history of Houston’s original music right now and I would like to expand that into a bigger history of Houston’s music now and then.”
Schwartz says future plans include getting nonprofit status with the IRS so SXDE can get corporate donations and foundational grants for the arts to build, maintain and expand a full-time online searchable archive of Houston music past and present, among other goals.
Schwartz is a longtime Houston musician himself and always performs with his eclectic band The New Jack Hippies at SXDE; asked some of the bands he's looking forward to seeing perform this year, he mentioned PuraPharm, Ganesha, Milton Hopkins, Giant Kitty, Randy Meadows, Brad Absher & Swamp Royale by name. He finally stopped and said he would have to read his entire list if I wanted to know all the bands he is excited to see. Schwartz added that blues, hard rock, hip-hop, folk, Americana, alternative, noise, metal, country and many other genres will be represented at this year’s festival. Basically, if you like music, there will be something for you.
“We're just taking time to celebrate Houston's great original music scene and have a bunch of fun! And we're inviting everyone to join us — for free,” Schwartz concludes.