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sxsw2015 Mon Mar 23 2015

SXSW 2015: Day 6 Tour Diary from The Waco Brothers

Chicago at SXSW 2015

In our final SXSW Tour Diary update from The Waco Brothers, guitarist Deano answers the age-old question: Was it worth it?

The end is near.

In many past years, SX Sunday was a day to get some last minute face time with out of town friends and industry folk. We generally didn't have any gigs on Sunday and often were flying home that day. But the schedule seems to get more packed each year. This year, I've got four sets and a brief late night appearance at the Continental Gallery. It would not surprise me if I'm writing about our Monday gigs next year.

At about 11:30, Ice Cold Singles arrive at the Hole In The Wall for our noon set. The club is just getting ready to open. The bartender who unlocks the front door proceeds to have some sort of manic episode. Some issue with his keys is enough to send him over the edge. After the craziness of the weekend, staff at these joints are on edge. ICS plays a nice bloody mary set to about 15 people. Note to self- next year, no sets before 2pm on Sunday. If the fans can't get outta bed, we'll sleep too.

From there, it's off to Lucy's Fried Chicken for another Ice Cold Singles set, followed by a set backing Jon Langford as the Far Forlorn. The Lucy's party is a sprawling, mellow, family friendly affair. Kids and dogs running everywhere. We gorge on the provided fried chicken and set up on the tiny stage. Soundcheck mostly consists of trying to get singer Jo Walston to stop swearing into the mic. Family show. The crowd is great and both sets are a blast.

The scene at Lucy's Fried Chicken.

From there, it's off to the Carousel Lounge for the Wacos evening show at the Carousel Lounge with Churchwood and the Banditos. All of the bands rip it up. The Wacos set is short on patter...just one up tempo number after another. We are sweating mostly tequila and lime by this point.

Jon and I then race down to Jon Dee Graham's songwriter night at the Continental Gallery. This is very quiet, low-key affair. I get shushed a couple times. OK, first off, I'm not used to this singer-songwriter world. Second, I'm practically deaf at this point! But Jon Dee is funny and gracious. Jon and I perform a couple songs, then sing along to a Jon Dee number that (unbeknownst to him still) we have recorded for the upcoming Waco Brothers album. Being unaware that we're rehearsed, he's flattered that we seem to know all of the lyrics to one of his songs!

Wacos at the Carousel. "That pink elephant has been following me around all weekend!"- Joe Camarillo

After a long goodbye with Jon, I wander down South Congress. It's finally over. This street that has been a traffic and pedestrian snarl for a week is quiet and empty. Nothing but the sound of my ears ringing. I'm thinking about writing this final piece and decide to keep the repetetive recounting of our gigs to a minimum and devote some of this piece to a question.

Was it worth it?

I've taken a little razzing from friends over the weekend for being a SXSW cheerleader. Many of my Facebook friends posted a link to a recent article in The Week entitled "Why South by Southwest is a Huge, Exploitative Scam". The basic premise is that the SXSW corporation makes obscene profits off of the unpaid labor of the artists and the festival volunteers who do all of the grunt work.

Being a lefty, I can't really argue with this. Though the article focuses more on the artists, I think it's more true for the festival's other workers. SXSW often touts its major contribution to the Austin economy. They could and should contribute more by paying the people cleaning up trash, setting up barricades, manning check points, etc. And of course, I'd like to see musicians get paid more. But overall, I'll once again play devil's advocate and put a positive spin on this.

There never seems to be any difficulty in attracting volunteers to work for SX in exchange for a wristband. They work a minimum of 30 hours to earn the "perk" of a wristband, which sells for $189. No, that's not a great rate of pay. But I would argue that free admission to an unlimited number of shows over the course of a whole week in exchange for the work is not such a bad deal if you're a rabid music fan. ACL Fest, which operates in the standard "audience pays, bands get paid" manner, charges $250 for a three day pass. You'd need to work 30 hours at a $10 per hour job to pay for that pass. And ACL has far fewer bands, lasts only 3 days and offers no opportunity to see artists in more intimate settings.

Now let's look at the issue of paying the artists. For playing one gig, the "official showcase," bands are offered the option of being paid $250 or taking wristbands for all of the members. It's a sad fact but the real truth is that 90 percent of these bands rarely, if ever, make $250 for a gig. And rarely, if ever, play to a packed house.

I genuinely believe that SXSW offers bands a real opportunity to get noticed by talent buyers, radio, press and, yes, even get signed by a label. The Waco Brothers have been offered many high-paying gigs, received high level press coverage and generated radio play all over the country as a direct result of playing SXSW (and the hard work of our label, Bloodshot). On top of all of that, we meet and share experiences with loads of great musicians.

Yes, there are travel costs. Yes, I would like to be paid more for our shows. Yes, in an ideal world, most of the profits would go to the bands, not a corporation. Welcome to America. Each band has to decide for themselves if the benefits outweigh the costs. Your band is free to make a stand against "the man" and boycott SX. But I get somewhat annoyed by the article (and jaded fellow musicians) portraying us as chumps who don't realize we're being exploited. There are a great number of artists who appear here each year that are far more successful than I'll ever be. Are all of these veteran bands just rubes? I don't think so.

What did I gain from this years SX? I won't know until somewhere down the line. I do know that I packed about two weeks worth of touring into four days. I know that the audiences were incredibly gracious and appreciative. I know that I just had wild weekend long party with some of the people that I love the most.

Was it worth it? Abso-fucking-lutely. See you next year.

- Deano

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


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