By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
What SXSW does do -- and does so well -- is provide a living, breathing, strumming, drumming reminder that despite what the radio man might be telling you, there's still plenty of great music being made in America. The festival creates the surreal and nearly impossible dilemma of choosing from hundreds of amazing artists playing at any given time; this, for example, is the only time you could have a reasonable excuse to hesitate when asked if you'd like to see all of the best Bloodshot Records artists playing outside on one perfect afternoon. Care to take in the entire Merge Records roster, with free chicken wings? Hmmm. Judgments become almost arbitrary. A five-minute wait in line to see the Ike Turner Review becomes too much when you can pop across the street and catch the tail end of Lucinda Williams or Brassy or Half Japanese -- Jad Fair and Jason Willett at the Alternative Tentacles showcase, which included a fabulous effort from Slim Cessna's Auto Club, complete with MC work by Jello Biafra himself.
Of course, the best moments are often the surprises, which is sort of the point: Stumbling onto great bands you've never heard of but whose music you joyously bounce along to is one of life's true pleasures. And then there are the odd opportunities to see stuff that just doesn't come to places like Denver. In Backwash's case, it was the never-to-be-repeated chance to catch personal cult heroes in the flesh, including Astrology Songs creator Harvey Sid Fisher (please see harveysidfisher.com immediately if you are unfamiliar with this gem, a gift from the gods of Los Angeles cable access) and Daniel Johnston (who performed with a group of extremely stoked high school punk-rockers called the Nightmares).
Of the million ways you can experience SXSW, the marathon approach is favored by those who have an abundance of both stamina and cab fare. No matter what strategy you employ, though, you're almost certain not to be bored or disappointed. And if you are, you can simply try some other stage on for size.
Showcasing bands are encouraged to soak all of this up: For their trouble, they can either accept a fee ranging from $100 to $200 or get free badges and wristbands to all shows -- a no-brainer for those who crave the full SXSW experience. At a time when it's easy to be cynical about the dearth of good stuff being released, admission to this event is priceless for anyone who makes -- or just loves -- music. Can I get a yeee-haw?
Denver still has a long way to go before it has its own SXSW-like event (which some people, such as traffic cops, might view as a blessing). But we do have a couple of minor approximations of it, and both of them are coming up quickly.
This weekend, Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods hosts band auditions for the People's Fair, which celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year. Under the surprisingly calm direction of CHUN entertainment committee co-chairs Sharon Rawles and Jackie Annis, the auditions will take place during two days, on two stages, at the Soiled Dove; auditions will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. (The musicians with morning slots who lament getting up early should remember that they have the advantage of playing for what will likely be an exhausted/hung-over/bleary-eyed crowd -- an easily pleased group.) If you get a bit skittish after a few hours of loud music, you may want to bring your earplugs: According to Rawles, when one band stops, the next one begins, leaving only enough time for a quick turn of the head to the other side of the room. All told, about sixty local bands will play sets of ten minutes each in a friendly sort of battle of the bands that will determine the majority of the People's Fair talent lineup. It's a marathon, all right, and one that doesn't require non-musical participants to do much more than sit around and enjoy it. It's also the year's most diverse sampler of local music.
Finally, no mention of local music samplers would be complete without a self-promotional nod to Westword's own Music Showcase. The omnipotent forces who run the show from behind the scenes (and whose identities are so closely guarded that Backwash received the following information from a masked carrier pigeon) have made the following announcement: Leftover Salmon will be among the thirty bands that take to various LoDo stages on Sunday, May 20. The rest of the ballot will be announced in a later issue -- but judging from the names leaked so far, it's worth waiting for.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get this pigeon out of my office.