After South by Southwest’s cancellation in 2020 and its all-virtual iteration in 2021, this year marks the return of live music (with COVID-19 guidelines in place) to the festival. Since the inaugural SXSW Music Festival in 1987, the event has grown to include national and international musicians, but it always celebrates homegrown Texas artists. This year is no different, with dozens of Lone Star musicians gracing stages throughout downtown Austin this coming week. Here are just five you won’t want to miss.
The alternative-pop and R&B singer has come a long way from singing covers of Mariah Carey and SZA in her San Antonio home in 2017 and 2018. Now based in Los Angeles, she’s since released her debut album, 2019’s Dream Catcher, as well as popular singles such as “Hometown” and “Blue Lights.” Her tender lyrics about heartbreak and longing, bolstered by her angelic vocals, perfectly encapsulate her claim to be a “sensitive gangsta from Texas who makes songs out of her diary.” Expect her to belt her newest single, “Pink Honda Civic.”
Performing: March 19, 12 a.m. at HouseParty
If you’ve spent a fair amount of time on TikTok, you’ve likely heard snippets of “Loverboy.” It’s hard to miss when the song’s been used in over 114,000 videos since its release in 2019. The viral hit from Aaron Paredes, who goes by the stage name A-Wall, is a catchy representation of “bedroom pop,” although he also draws inspiration from EDM and experiments with R&B and hip-hop sounds. Paredes writes, records, and produces all his music from his bedroom studio in Arlington, which he built after selling his beloved 1958 Ford Thunderbird. A-Wall is at work on his third album, Autopilot.
Performing: March 16, 11 p.m. at Esther’s Follies
The smooth, retro sounds of Luna Luna’s music transport me to slow dancing on a gym floor under a disco ball, wearing a pastel dress with puffy shoulders while my date holds me gingerly by the waist. Never mind that I haven’t actually had such an experience, because the dreamy synth-pop songs “Commitment” and, more recently, “Call Me Up” evoke such a specific mood of soft, young love. The band was founded in 2017 in Dallas by lead vocalist Kevin González, but soon expanded to include Kaylin Martínez, Ryan Gordon, and Danny Bonilla. The quartet has recently left its home base and brought its dreamy sounds to Austin.
The eight-member band long ago cemented its position as champion of “Gulf coast soul.” Led by the powerful vocals of Kam Franklin, guided by the smooth percussion of Jose Luna, and wonderfully punctuated by Jon Durbin’s trumpet, the band’s sound has a little bit of everything: rock, jazz, reggae, salsa, and a lot of soul. If you haven’t already experienced the Suffers’ good—and often danceable—vibes live, make sure to watch their performances on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert and the Late Show for a taste. The group may be entering its eleventh year, but it’s still putting out fresh songs, including a lively ode to pre-pandemic life, “Take Me to the Good Times,” and “How Do We Heal,” a somber remembrance of Juneteenth and a legacy of racial oppression.
Performing: March 17, 12:05 a.m. at Augustine
The four Mitchell siblings—lead vocalist Max, guitarist Chase, bassist Kit, and drummer Blake—make up my new favorite family act (and the best-named band at SXSW). WDRL looks like a Black punk-rock group, but it’s really so much more. Spend some time exploring the wide range of covers the siblings have shared online—including songs by Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Bob Marley, Lenny Kravitz, Mitski, and Khruangbin—and you’ll fully appreciate their musical talents. Despite only having a few original songs out, they’ve already toured with another of their musical inspirations, Willow Smith, and recently won the Austin Music Award for Best Metal. Two of their singles, “The Flies” and “Venus & Mars,” are fun teasers of what we can expect in their upcoming EP.