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sxsw2012 Tue Mar 20 2012
Final thoughts on SXSW 2012 from none other than lead singer JC Brooks (naturally of JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound). Photos and video are courtesy of the band.
The interior of our touring van is covered in wolfmother wallpaper, and as we leave Austin and our first SXSW in our rearview I can shove my overfed self-critic into a mental trou de loup and say that we did some damn fine work...
Our final day in Austin began well — we were all good little boys and got ourselves to bed at a reasonable hour the night before, knowing that we were facing a 4 show day at the end of the gauntlet that was SXSW. I was particularly nervous because my voice wasn't feeling too strong — it actually wasn't feeling much besides hurt-y (as Ralph Wiggum would put it). I did my morning routine of throat sprays and gargles, all the time wishing that I wasn't so grimly adherent to my work ethic/personal philosophy. See, I had been told through the week to be smart and conserve my voice because we have 4 shows on the final day of the festival. Unfortunately, all I heard was: Save the good shows for later. Being hyperaware of mortality in general, I know that later isn't necessarily going to be a reality for all of us, and that death can often be sudden and cruel, so I don't save anything for later. I have a deep and abiding fear of seeing death approach and (knowing the flagellate that I can be) using that last split second of life to kick myself for not putting it all out there during my last performance, for not fully listening during my last conversation, for not fully falling into my last kiss. So I saved nothing, and though I had a week of great shows, staring down the "home stretch" was giving me agita.
JCBUS and Counting Crows' Adam Duritz (photo courtesy the band)
JC and Ryan Spaulding (photo courtesy the band)
Our first appearance was at Rusty's, (a bar on 7th where I had popped in on more than one midmorning of their Mellow Yellow-sponsored free buffet) for a party hosted by Ryan Spaulding (an incredibly sweet fellow who runs the music blog Ryan's Smashing Life) and Adam Duritz (of Counting Crows). Ryan had seen us last summer at the Wilco-curated Solid Sound Festival and I'm so glad he liked what he saw enough to invite us to play his party (although I will admit that our set at Solid Sound was a band highlight). I was reminded what a small world this is when, as Filligar, the band that played before us, began, Billy leaned over and told me that their lead singer was a former student of his. I enjoyed their set more than I enjoyed the free barbeque (and believe me, I thoroughly enjoy some free barbeque), and I rocked out especially hard to their cover of Nirvana's "In Bloom" before I remembered that I should take it easy until I actually took the stage. Then we played, and although I had to sacrifice some of my stage dancing to appease the gods of pitch the show went well. We had to run immediately to get to our next set at Jovita's.
This party was sponsored by our St. Louis benefactors, KDHX, and for the second time this week (the first being when we got picked to fill in for the Ting Tings opening for Gossip) I got to open for a performer I greatly admire. This time around it was Nikka Costa, stone fox and booty-shaker extraordinaire. After resting in the van before our set (to clear my head and to make sure my inner Chatty Kathy didn't get the best of me before the set, prematurely tiring my voice) I took the stage with renewed vigor, swinging for the fences in a way that surprised the band after my somewhat conservative performance at Rusty's.
JC and Nikka Costa (photo courtesy the band)
We finished with a bang and stuck around to watch Ms. Costa work her wiles on the crowd. She was, expectedly amazing, and when she asked for some water from stage I was proud to be the one doing the "STOP THE PRESSES" run to fetch it for her. During her set the band left to go load into the next venue, but I stayed behind because this was likely my best opportunity to meet/thank Nikka for her music (and snag a photo with her...). As she greeted fans, I actually got to meet the other female in her band — Elizabeth — a standout trombone player with a badass stage presence all her own. As I prepared to book it over to Beauty Bar for our next show I got the bad news that we had to pull out because there was no backline (until the next band — maybe) and we were traveling with the bare essentials. It was ultimately a blessing in disguise because it afforded me a chance to rest up for the big show at 1am: The Bloodshot Party at Red Eyed Fly.
I took a nap, got some grub, and meandered through the streets for a bit, but headed back to the club when I realized that I wasn't wasted enough to enjoy being in the sea of South by St. Patty's Day revelers. I'd opted to not drink (anything but water) until after the show to protect my voice, so I was painfully sober. I distracted myself by watching some of my labelmates strut their stuff at Bloodshot's showcase and then it was time for the band to convene to go over our playbook for the evening.
When we hit the stage the room was packed, the mood anticipatory. We stand out among the Bloodshot roster because we are known as a soul band, and there were plenty of people there who are hardcore fans of Bloodshot's usual fare (alt country/rock) who were skeptically eager to see the much ballyhooed young Turks that Bloodshot had signed the previous year. Then there were the people who just wanted to see us period. A woman was heard whinging earlier in the evening, "Are you sure that JC Brooks is going to be here? He's cancelled every other show this week..." — we hadn't. Out of 12 shows we cancelled one and moved one, but it did my heart good to know that there were enough people trying to see us that there was a percentage that specifically chose to come to the 512 (we were summoned by the Google/Youtube gods to open for Gossip in a show that streamed live to over 50,000 people) and Beauty Bar (see above). Nonetheless, the clock struck one and we hit it. Hard. We played a fantastic set and the crowd was enthusiastic and generous whenever I asked them to join the band. We did throw the country fans a bone — we played our tune "Missing Things" with Austin musician (and friend of our drummer, Kevin) Phil Ajjarapu sitting in on pedal steel. He played with incredible passion, adding a yearning, haunting keening to the tune that almost had me in tears as I thought about someone back in Chicago who I wanted with me to share this amazing week. We finished the set with our post-punk anthem "Baltimore," and with a cameo from our friend Elise on the electric hula hoop. She was so mesmerizing I don't think anyone even heard the tune, but that was probably for the best because it was the end of a long week and I was very likely doing our bassist's composition a disservice.
Afterward was the really fun part: Beer!...and glad-handing, and just relaxing. For good or for ill, it was done. We packed up our gear, headed back to the hotel giddy from a week well worked and loopy from playing a day of great shows. We chuckled ourselves to sleep doing impressions of Venom's Chronos in his heyday, and using the last bits of energy we could muster to ignore the fact that the magic of SXSW 2012 was now over.