SXSW Report #1: Solving A Classic Hitchcock Mystery

Longtime British pop star is the early bird at annual South By Southwest rock convention.

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

been

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

public."

Well, if it's public that Von Tavel wants, he'll get plenty of that. In

addition to

the more than 6,000 official attendees who will all invariably be trying to

shoehorn

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

6th Street.

Who knows? Maybe that Hitchcock guy will even get noticed.

(Senior Editor Matt Melucci contributed to this report)