AUSTIN, Texas -- Even Robyn Hitchcock got here early.
Still, he's got nothing on Brandon Hodge. The 23-year-old struggling Austin
musician makes his way around the Convention Center on Wednesday afternoon,
moving between tables, passing out demos and flyers promoting his band Dot.
"We're one of the long-lost Austin bands," he says of his big-band punk-ska
group, which he says has been together for about a year and is set to play its
first South By Southwest show this Friday. "It's all new to us. We've never
played this before even though we live right here."
By late afternoon Thursday, normally sleepy Austin will be overrun by
young, ambitious artists as well as the cell-phone-toting opportunists hiding
behind shades and black T-shirts who have come to see and mingle with the more
than 800 participating bands. But on this sunny Wednesday afternoon, the hair-
streaked and pierced hordes are trickling in, reacquainting themselves with
old friends and getting their schedules together for the week, discussing who
the hot bands are to see and where dinner is tonight, and on whom.
Welcome to South By Southwest, otherwise known as rock 'n' roll spring break,
the annual southern migration that draws thousands of musicians, publicists,
writers and hangers-on for five days of music, drinking, schmoozing and the
endless search for a free lunch.
Even though it hasn't really kicked into gear yet, Tim Keegan already feels
overwhelmed. Hanging around the Austin Convention Center getting his all-
access badge as part of psychedelic folkie Robyn Hitchcock's band, Englishman
Keegan, 31, said while he's excited, he's also feeling a bit lost.
"It's pretty daunting," says the shaggy-haired Keegan, who first came to
Austin five years ago with his band Ringo. "There's too many bands in the
world and when you're in a band you don't want to walk around and know that
there's thousands of other bands just like you trying to get noticed."
If you ask an already harried-looking, two-cell-phone-toting Brent Grulke,
creative director for the 12-year-old festival, that's exactly the point.
"There's less discussion here about who will be signed and for how much," says
Grulke between gulps of a Dr. Pepper. "It's more like, 'Did you see this band
last night?,' or 'I wish I'd seen this band.' It's the most musical of all the
annual conferences, I think."
You can't toss a promotional CD in this place without whacking someone who has
either traveled from across the ocean, sounds like they have or is just trying
to look like it.
Brit-pop star Hitchcock -- sporting a fetching all-green ensemble that may or
may not have anything to do with the outfit he sports in "Storefront
Hitchcock," the 90-minute Jonathan Demme ("Silence of the Lambs")-directed
live film that will debut here Thursday night -- is here to schmooze. "I've
here four times," says a relaxed Hitchcock from behind a mop of shoulder-
length gray and black hair. "I get to spend three days seeing people I haven't
seen in a while, playing a few shows and maybe I'll make a big break here and
get my big chance," he says with a grin.
Seated over in a corner of the Convention Center, reading through his
promotional material -- handed out to press and industry types in snazzy tote
bags with a "South Park" motif -- is Alec Von Tavel. Von Tavel is a regular at
SXSW. The Swiss mountain of a man has made the trek five times representing
the record distributor Disctrade in Switzerland. "It's really about the music
here," he says, echoing Grulke's comments, "which is not what trade shows are
like in Switzerland. In Europe, they're more dance-oriented and not for the
Well, if it's public that Von Tavel wants, he'll get plenty of that. In
the more than 6,000 official attendees who will all invariably be trying to
into the same handful of shows, there are the thousands of Austinites who
will invariably try, and fail, to gain entrance with their pricey non-press
wristbands, which don't even guarantee entrance into any shows.
They'll just have to drown their sorrows in bock beer and some techno band
from Germany such as Surrogat, or Houston-based Tejano combo Los Palominos,
Australian rock courtesy of Garageland, maybe New York hip-hoppers Scavone, a
San Francisco dancehall artist named Jamalski, or whatever else floats out of
the doors and onto the soon-to-be-swelling sidewalks of the main drag on
Who knows? Maybe that Hitchcock guy will even get noticed.
(Senior Editor Matt Melucci contributed to this report)