As I weaved my way through spiraling lines and traffic detours, a refreshing message caught my eye. This wasn’t the predictable neon sign or flashy publicity stunt. It was a series of printed pieces of paper that read, in a stark bold font, “All Are Welcome.” Unlike the bumpin’ hot spots down the street, The Mohawk wasn’t putting on airs. If you were craving some unpretentious live music, then Nine Mile Records’ SXSW showcase was the place to be.
The Austin-based record label and touring company curated an impressive lineup. Whether you were dancing to the booming sounds outside or soaking up the intimate sets indoors, it would be hard to walk away without becoming a fan. Tinnarose started off the night with a hit of groovy, ‘70s-inspired melodies. Vocalist Devon McDermott’s haunting soprano transported the audience to a transcendental oasis. As she weaved her way through the intricate choruses, two dancers spun around her. The audience immediately became absorbed in the hypnotizing, psychedelic swirl.
As Tinnarose continued their intoxicating spectacle, another crystalline voice shimmered from the indoor stage. MUNYA, the moniker for singer-songwriter Josie Boivin, clearly has classical roots. Even though her music leans more towards shoegaze than Schubert, it’s immediately evident that she knows her way around an aria. MUNYA’s one-woman band setup was wildly engaging, even as her lovely songs lured me into a lethargic daydream.
Mountain man Izaak Opatz continued the introspective evening on the indoor stage. His gravelly voice paired well with his surfy guitar picking. And even though he rocked it solo, Optatz managed to take the small crowd along with him. Opatz’s songs make you want to quit your day job, sublet your apartment, and get lost in the wilderness. And this makes sense. According to his bio, Izaak Opatz spends a lot of time wandering through the national parks in Montana.
As the night went on, The Mohawk stripped away the cozy earworms and replaced it with a shot of caffeine. Spiral Stairs, the latest project from Pavement guitarist Scott Kannberg, had an immediate effect on the crowd. Their latest single, Hyp-No-Tized, just begs you to get on your feet and absorb the sound.
Low Cut Connie harnessed some Jerry Lee Lewis energy in their 11 pm set. Frontman Adam Weiner upstaged the rest of the band with his off-the-wall stage presence and exuberant antics. At first, his erratic energy felt jarring. The crowd seemed to look over their shoulder to gage people’s reactions. But three minutes later, that apprehension evaporated. We were with them. Even Weiner’s graceful arabesque wouldn’t phase us.
Hometown heroes Sweet Spirit played an all-too-short set at midnight. In reality, they probably got the same amount of time as all the other artists, but with so many crave-worthy songs it’s easy to be left wanting more. Sabrina Ellis commanded attention with her signature vocals guitar riffs. By the end of their whirlwind performance, we were all feeling the power.
Those brave enough to beat the beer-induced exhaustion experienced a thrilling spectacle from Austin locals, Golden Dawn Arkestra. The crowd’s delirious sleepiness added an extra level of wonder to this dazzling circus. Dancers in beaded skirts and glamorous headdresses turned this Red River music venue into a manic fever dream.
As the synths, horns, and vibraphone raged on, the crowd started to congeal. Inspired by the buzzing energy, solo festival-goers stopped huddling over their beers and started engaging with the fans next to them. Sure, there was plenty of card-swapping and predictable networking. But mostly, conversations vibrated with musical excitement. SXSW can often feel stuffy and forced, a chaotic spree of brand activations built exclusively for those with the $2,000 platinum badge. But in here — it was just another epic night in Austin. And everyone was welcome.
Photos by Craig McGreggor.