Snapshot: Free Week 2019

David Brendan Hall talks with 10 Austin bands about what it takes to feel musically "free"

From a musician's perspective, is it possible to interpret the "free" aspect of Austin's annual Free Week beyond the financials? What does "free" feel like within the context of writing and playing music?

"Snapshot" posed these questions to 10 artists after making their portraits during the zero-fees (save for any bar tabs), locals-only SXSW of sorts, shortened this year to six days (Jan. 1-6) due to the Monday New Year's Eve. Read on for the results. (Full Free Week live gallery at

Caleb De Casper (Jan. 2 at Empire Control Room): "I feel the most free whenever I'm onstage and I've had a few drinks and I'm able to just let it out. And the whole reason why I moved to Austin was to be able to let it out and have people receive it. It's for everyone. That's the whole point [of music], to transfer energy between individuals. If you're coming to one of my shows, I don't care who the fuck you are – you better be free."

Hong Kong Wigs (Jan. 2 at Empire Garage): "The cool thing we did with [this band] is that this is a brand-new thing, so I'm still feeling out what the conceptual nature of it is going to be, so it's nice to have a ready-made audience right in front of you to test out your new schtick and see if it works or not," says vocalist/guitarist Jon Fichter (left). "During Free Week ... we feel like there's no pressure to earn money or have any expectations beyond the music. It's like having free rein to just sort of fuck around and see what you like and don't like onstage."

Belcurve (Jan. 2 at Stubb's): "I mean, I work at a coffee shop to be able to pay for what I do, so I think that music doesn't really have a price tag on it for me," says frontwoman Sarah Castro (right). "The fact that I'm able to do it makes me feel like I have something. When you're sick ... and you're throwing up and you get onstage, and right before you get onstage, you feel like shit, the minute you're onstage, it goes away. So that's freedom to me. Stage health, healing. And it also heals other people."

Mt. Grey (Jan. 2 at Scratchouse): "Whenever I'm playing music in any capacity, but especially live, it allows me to just step outside of myself, and anything that is either bumming me out or I'm unhappy about, I'm able to just release and not think about while I'm doing it," says frontman James Sargent (right). "My whole mind is clear ... so that in itself is freeing."

Löwin (Jan. 3 at Cheer Up Charlies): "Music, in a lot of ways, has always been my identity, and to me that's always been very freeing because it has nothing to do with the way that I look, or my gender, or how much money I make, or how many jobs I have to hold or anything," says frontwoman Sara Houser. "It's literally something that's always come out of me and it's a release for me, which is also very liberating to put out into the world."

Magna Carda (Jan. 3 at Stubb's): "When you're creating anything, you're the master, you're in control, [so] you can actually, literally be free," says MC Megz Kelli (left). "When you go and give that to people, or you show that to people, it also shows them that my work is boundless. So when you're here in this moment with us, in turn, you're boundless. There were no rules when we were making it, so obviously no rules apply when you're listening to it."

SMiiLE (Jan. 4 at Swan Dive): "To me, there are moments of freedom that lie in whenever the music overcomes you, and that can happen while playing live or that can happen in the recording studio or practicing or writing," says frontman Jake Miles (middle). "If you're playing live, it's pretty psychedelic. The lights are flashing, you can feel the energy of the crowd, and you've sort of just become the music."

Night Glitter (Jan. 5 at Cheer Up Charlies): "I feel like Free Week brings this feeling of experimentation, like, try something new that you've never done before," says LouLou Ghelichkhani (right). "You want to get in that vibe where nothing really matters and you're just floating in sound. No one's trying to get signed. They're just playing, hoping that people who are reluctant to pay 10, 15, five dollars to come and see them are excited to just kind of tumble in."

Ume (Jan. 5 at Scoot Inn): "I think anyone that's seen us live would say that we're a type of band that plays like our lives depend on it," says frontwoman Lauren Langner Larson (second from right). "We try to lay it all on the line with every single show. It's a cathartic and ... liberating experience. [During Free Week], we got to share our love of playing live with people who love music so much that they sacrificed the warmth of their home. It's so inspiring, it's hardcore. It shows why we're making music. We're not doing this because of any kind of money. We're doing it because we love it and it's so great to see that they love music so much that they're showing up, too – it'd be a lot easier to sit by the heater."

Sun June (Jan. 6 at Beerland): "Based on the nature of who we are, being very nervous people, it's hard to get to that place [of feeling free], so we rely on bandmates to get us there," says Laura Colwell (top middle). "So [freedom is] the feeling of having people on your side and playing with you to elevate your own self. People are able to come out [during Free Week] if they want to, and they don't have any restrictions on budget or anything like that, so there are no reservations. Everything is flowing naturally to be like, 'Here's the world that everyone gets to play in, and everyone gets to partake in it.'"

For a gallery of Free Week photos and live reviews, go to

See more "Snapshot" at Want to pitch an event, happening, idea, or person for "Snapshot"? Email the author/photog:

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Free Week, Caleb De Casper, Hong Kong Wigs, Jon Fichter, Belcurve, Sarah Castro, Mt. Grey, James Sargent, Löwin, Sara Houser, Magna Carda, MC Megz Kelli, SMiiLE, Jake Miles, Night Glitter, LouLou Ghelichkhani, Lauren Langner Larson, Ume, Sun June, Laura Colwell

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