SXSW 2017 Music Preview: Here’s What We’ll be Listening to
What to see at the festival this year.
SXSW built its reputation on indie rock and Americana music. And in recent years, as more rappers appear at the conference, it’s been as much a hip hop showcase as anything. One genre it typically doesn’t touch, though, is jazz. In 2017, the jazz selection isn’t particularly vast, but it is outstanding—largely thanks to a stellar lineup at Empire Garage on Monday night.
Houston jazz pianist Robert Glasper first emerged as one of the genre’s sharpest talents over a decade ago. In the time since, the 38-year-old musician has acquired a reputation for innovation and collaboration that’s made him a sought-after creative partner for Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Kendrick Lamar, as well as fellow SXSW performers Erykah Badu, Bilal, and more. At the Empire Control Room—which is redubbed the Mazda Studio during SXSW (which the car manufacturer claims will be “a living, breathing art studio complete with a clay modeling workshop”)—Glasper will headline a two-and-a-half hour performance billed as “Robert Glasper and Friends.” Those friends aren’t any of the superstar names in his rolodex, but they represent the best of what modern contemporary jazz has to offer.
Glasper’s band for the night will consist of multi-instrumentalist and producer Terrace Martin (who helped oversee Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly), trumpeter Christian Scott (a Grammy-nominated bandleader), bassist Derrick Hodge (of Glasper’s Robert Glasper Experiment lineup), producer/DJ Taylor McFerrin (son of Bobby), and drummer Marcus Gilmore (grandson of Roy Haynes, widely considered the greatest living jazz drummer). That’s an impressive collection of talent, and it’s the kind that assembles in a club in Texas very rarely. You might find a one-off ensemble like that in New York, Chicago, or Paris, but it’s a unique bill that is an example of what SXSW does at its best: giving space to one-of-a-kind performances.
Here are some other music showcases that are very much on our radar for SXSW:
Lo Moon/Francis and the Lights
March 14 at Levi’s Outpost, 8 p.m.
Chance the Rapper’s go-to indie rock collaborator Francis and the Lights is anchoring the party at the opening night of makeshift SXSW venue Levi’s Outpost. He’ll be joined by newcomers Lo Moon, whose anthemic 2016 single “Loveless” poises them to be the breakout star of whatever year they decide to release a full-length album. The two acts should have no problem filling the parking lot-sized space that Levi’s and Rolling Stone acquired next to the convention center for the night.
Quiet Company/Mirror Travel/Jess Williamson/Moving Panaromas/Hard Proof/Walker Lukens
March 14 at Cheer Up Charlie’s (Inside), 8 p.m.
Talent from all over the world comes to Austin for SXSW, of course, but Austin’s homegrown crop is nothing to sneeze at. The lineup at Cheer Up Charlie’s on Tuesday is a tour de force of Austin rock and roll talent, ranging from indie pop to big-band soul to garage-y bangers to anthemic guitar rock. If you want to get a feel for what Austin sounds like right now, this is basically a one-stop shop.
NPR Music Showcase
March 15 at Stubb’s, 7:30 p.m.
NPR’s annual showcase tends to bring an eclectic lineup of up-and-comers and big names alike to the Stubb’s stage each year, and boy howdy is that exactly what they’ve got for 2017. Quirky Canadian indie rockers The New Pornographers are closing out the night at Stubb’s. Joining them for the showcase are rising rap/soul star Lizzo, indie pop duo Sylvan Esso, and New Orleans folk-rockers Hurray for the Riff Raff.
March 15 at Mohawk (Indoor), 9:30 p.m.
These El Paso by way of Guadalajara punks are warming up for a big year supporting At The Drive-In on their reunion tour, and fans looking for a chance to see what they’re capable of on their own would do well to stop by the Mohawk for an hour on a busy Wednesday night to get blown away by Teri Gender-Bender’s strident vocals.
March 15 at Hotel Vegas Annex, 10:15 p.m.
Deap Vally’s Femejism was one of 2016’s most intriguing, under-the-radar releases. The duo was both authoritative and vulnerable on a stomping collection of 13 songs that seemed poised to topple the patriarchy on the strength of grunge-y riffs and shout-along choruses. Translating that to the Hotel Vegas stage ought to be a snap.
Jimmy Eat World/…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
March 15 at Bungalow, 7:30 p.m.
The Wednesday night lineup at Rainey Street venue Bungalow is something of a homecoming for fans of early/mid-aughts indie rock. Although there are performances scheduled by newcomers like Twist, Måntra, and Weaves, the evening is anchored by stalwarts Matthew Logan Vasquez (formerly of Delta Spirit), hometown heroes …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, and one-time superstars Jimmy Eat World. The star on each of the headliners has fallen a bit since, say, 2005, but SXSW is nothing if not encouraging of a comeback.
CMA Songwriter’s Showcase
March 16 at ACL Live at the Moody Theater, 8 p.m.
Mainstream country music is often under-represented at SXSW, but the CMA Songwriters Series brings both big-name talent in the form of Lady Antebellum and two important behind-the-scenes players who’ll be getting a chance to shine. Songwriters Busbee and Nicole Galyon have written hits for stars like Miranda Lambert, Florida-Georgia Line, Maren Morris, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, and Garth Brooks, and giving the songwriters a chance to take the stage themselves is a very SXSW thing to do. (Also, if you’re hoping to see Brooks—Friday’s keynote speaker—show up anywhere with a guitar, this is the likely place for it to happen.)
March 16 at 800 Congress, 12:30 a.m.
There are a few big-name acts playing SXSW this year, as always, but there are rarely many who stop by at the very height of their career climb (unless Doritos or Samsung is paying them a million bucks for a private event). The Chainsmokers deviate from that norm on Thursday, though. The DJ duo is booked for an hour and twenty minutes at the as-yet-unopened space at 800 Congress Ave. Few artists had a single as ubiquitous in 2016 as “Closer,” and though Halsey doesn’t appear to be in tow for this set, expect to hear an assortment of songs from their forthcoming Memories… Do Not Open in a triumphant set.
March 17 at ACL Live at the Moody Theater, 11 p.m.
Ryan Adams is having a good year, and it’s only March. His February release, Prisoner, is the best collection of new material he’s released in a decade, and he’s in the midst of promoting it by alternating between festival and theater dates. In Austin, he’ll be delivering both, as he takes over ACL Live for a two-hour set—his second SXSW appearance in so many years.
Big Star’s Third & Friends
March 17 at Central Presbyterian Church at 10:30 p.m.
The “friends” portion of the lineup that celebrates the work of legendary cult rocker Alex Chilton’s Big Star at Central Presbyterian Church—one of the low-key best venues to focus on the music during the festival—is a strong bill featuring rising young songwriter Parker Millsap and legendary singer/songwriter Robyn Hitchcock. The Big Star’s Third tribute (named for the fact that the set will focus on songs from the band’s Third), meanwhile, centers on members of the original band, as well as fans from R.E.M., The Posies, songwriter Skylar Gudasz (who also plays a solo set), and more.
March 17 at Empire Garage, 12 a.m.
Metal isn’t exactly the center of SXSW’s wheelhouse, at least among the big-name acts playing the festival, but Atlanta hard rock vets Mastodon will be previewing their thunderous Emperor of Sand for a pummeling 40 minutes on Friday night.
March 17 at Blackheart, 1 a.m.
Ho99o9’s debut album, United States of Horror (the last word of which is also how you pronounce the group’s name, incidentally), is still a few months away from release. That makes now a great time to see a group that have been the “next big thing” for two years worth of SXSW performances now, and with the album on its way, the punk-influenced rappers (or maybe hip-hop influenced punks?) are finally poised to break out.
March 18 at Mohawk (Outdoor),9:35 p.m.
Trying to plan what you’re going to see on the final night of SXSW in advance is a sucker’s game. Whatever you’re excited about now could well end up blown out of the water when, like, Drake or U2 or the ghost of Jimi Hendrix or somebody gets announced (note: don’t expect any of those, but you never know). Still, even if you’re disinclined to plan too far in advance because of the fluid state of the bill, you would do well to make some time for Jay IDK, the trap star who’s one of the biggest people in hip hop right now. He’ll be anchoring a bill featuring other rising acts and—of course—a big ol’ TBA in the headlining slot.