It's a strange thing, going from the constant cacophony of thousands of bands playing at once down to nothing at all. But it's a process that is as much a part of attending SXSW as all of the incidentals of the festival: BBQ, suntan lotion, beer, beer, beer. Sure, I feel a bit hungover on life right now, but I'm also feeling an overwhelming sense of pride for my hometown and a stronger sense of unity pulsating through the scene than I've ever seen or felt before -- and for that reason alone, I hope you'll give me just a few more minutes of your time to reflect on the experience that was attending SXSW in 2011.
[jump] In one of the first recaps I filed of this year's festival, I remarked somewhat flippantly how impossible it was to stroll through downtown Austin and avoid running into at least a handful of people from the Twin Cities. And there was nothing hyperbolic about it -- by the end of the week, it was almost frustrating how often I would end up stopping in the middle of the overcrowded street to chat with everyone from Christy Hunt and Arzu Gokcen to Jake Dilley to Cyn Collins to the entire Doomtree crew, who roamed the city like a pack of prowling alley cats.
Ah, Doomtree. Of the 60-odd Twin Cities bands down at SXSW this year, Doomtree worked the place like they owned it. "My mission with SXSW is to completely stomp this place out," Sims declared in the middle of a hyper set at the Gimme Noise and First Ave day party, and he meant it. The whole crew meant it, and each time they performed, which was about three to four times a day for five days straight, they performed like was their only gig, bounding around the stage like an optimist's answer to Odd Future. At night, they would meet up with members of overlapping groups like Gayngs and merge together like Voltron, spilling out into the streets and alleys, going to each other's shows, screaming and tweeting about hometown pride.
The concept of taking a 1200-mile road trip to hang out with a bunch of folks from the Twin Cities may seem silly to some of you, but think of it this way: When's the last time you've spent 22 hours in a car with a person, or stayed overnight in a hotel with a person, or even just saw the same person for five days in a row and didn't feel at least a little closer to them? We don't all have to support each other all the time -- and lord knows I'll be the first one to tell you when a band I've been invested in or cheered on starts to take a turn toward the disappointing -- but to go that far away and run into people from back home does something to us all, whether we're expecting it or not.
Fine Line booker Kim King put it this way: "We just get so much done here." She was sitting at the bar chatting with publicist and We Became Actors lead singer Jesse Stensby about how many professional relationships in the Twin Cities music community have either been forged or strengthened down at SXSW. In the music industry, relationships aren't formed in board rooms or offices. They're fostered in dark bars and through barely audible conversations shouted over the loud music that we can't seem to stop consuming. If you've ever felt like the music scene is too insular (which it can seem, I know) or too insider baseball or unwelcoming, here's a piece of advice: Come out to the clubs and dive in. Whether you're in Austin, Minnesota or Austin, Texas, there's a network of people out there who are just as obsessed with music as you, just as willing to sacrifice everything to make it their life. And it's a network that grows every day.
Before I start crying or something (GAWD), I'll leave you with one final thought: There are banner acts in the Twin Cities that appear again and again in the headlines because of their myriad accomplishments, both at home and out on the road. And those bands and musicians contribute to making our scene as vibrant and healthy as it is, but they aren't the be-all, end-all of Twin Cities music. What makes our community so strong, what makes me feel so incredibly proud, and what makes me believe we are in the midst of another "heyday," if you will, is that there is a pulse beating here that is growing stronger all the time. There is an upswing happening as a result of hundreds upon hundreds of musicians bumping into one another, inspiring each other, and working to build something much bigger than all of us.
And for that, I'm thankful that my tired bones have been hauled back to Minnesota, because I can't wait to see what we're all going to do next.