SXSW Music 2023: The Best Things We Saw on Friday
A Margo Price keynote, Koffee's evolution, & Obongjayar's rising star
By Abby Johnston, Derek Udensi, Raoul Hernandez, Dan Gentile, Angela Lim, Kevin Curtin, Wayne Lim, and Katie Karp,
11:30AM, Sat. Mar. 18, 2023
With a day of official festing still to come, Friday wrapped a number of South by Southwest Music spectacles.
Margo Price delivered the last Convention Center keynote, while Koffee closed out the final day of Rolling Stone’s major first-year Future of Music run. The Chronicle Hair of the 3-Legged Dog rolled to capacity at go-to free fest destination Hotel Vegas (read our day party recap here), amplified by an Osees set time two hours after. Willie Nelson gathered friends at his ranch for a rain-rescheduled Luck Reunion, and Ben Kweller performed a moving memorial for his late son Zev. Find more Friday favorites below, and revisit our coverage from Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
Margo Price on Vulnerability at SXSW’s Closing Session
In some respects, there are now two artists in one: Margo Price the musician and Margo Price the author. She's built the former over four albums that push the boundaries of country music, but at the closing session of the SXSW conference Friday, audiences got to know the latter. Price lifted the curtain on the process for her October memoir Maybe We'll Make It. The artist first knew she wanted to write a memoir after reading Patti Smith's canonical Just Kids as a young artist, stalking around the streets of New York to visit the sites in the book with "tears rolling" down her cheeks. She'd later need to channel Smith's raw emotion. A memoir, Price said, unlocked a new level of vulnerability than songwriting, which can allow a mask for some of the most deeply personal moments. “It was like I was standing naked for all the world to see," she told Rolling Stone's Angie Martoccio. "I really did struggle with it.”
As a result, music took an unintentional backseat. At one point, Price's husband and collaborator, Jeremy Ivey, pointed out she hadn't written a song in a month. In conversation, Price tackled other topics she wrestled with in Maybe We'll Make It: motherhood and the music industry, too much drinking (she's since quit). Price's press junkets for the memoir and stunning fourth album Strays, released in January, have coincided so much that they almost feel like companions. But notably, Price was speaking at – not playing – official SXSW, though inclement weather at Willie Nelson's Luck Reunion allowed her to be added to Friday's bill. She flicked at recent and upcoming essays she's written on titanesses of music: Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Janis Joplin. Could there be a second book? “Absolutely. I’m sadistic like that.” – Abby Johnston
Future of Reggae Becomes Future of Music
Koffee's second local showing occurred under much different circumstances than her moderately-attended afternoon appearance at ACL Fest 2019. Heralded by many as the future of reggae upon releasing Grammy-winning debut EP Rapture four years ago, she returned to Austin as the closing headliner of Rolling Stone's four-day Future of Music showcase at the Moody Theater. (Before Koffee’s solid crowd, preceding performer Chloe Bailey put on a ravishing display in front of even more people in Austin City Limits' famed home.) Though Koffee’s first album Gifted, released last March, saw the West Indies luminary lean into pop, her core identity shined through in a captivating 50-minute SXSW performance. A spectacular backing sextet replaced her former British band, the Compozers, which in turn added a scorching electric guitar and trombone/saxophone combo in favor of more traditional percussion. Yet even when synths and powerful bass all collided during "West Indies," the 23-year-old’s infectious exuberance and uplifting songwriting still shined brightest. She sang while performing a little Super Mario-esque leap in place once she arrived at breakout track “Toast” as closer. And by that point, a few on the Moody floor jumped with her. – Derek Udensi
Afrobeat Heats Blustery International Day Stage
“All the way from sunny London,” waved Yahael Camara-Onono toward his nine bandmates behind him onstage while looking out at the cold, gray Friday afternoon before him. “Where the weather is better than this!” Temperatures 30-40 degrees below normal and gusting winds at the International Day Stage tent on the corner of Trinity and Cesar Chavez hardly stopped Balimaya Project from blowing white hot. As noted herein after Wednesday’s Jazz Re:Freshed showcase, the UK brigade adds new dimensions to Afrobeat – gutting kora plucking by Jali Bakary Konte, an Aston “Family Man” Barrett-type bass clinic in Jonathan Monga Moko, and the frontman’s nonstop engagement – but still they only proved warm-up for the real show. Camara-Onono remained onstage for Nigerian singer Obongjayar (Steven Umoh), who radiated the beauty, ferocity, and lyricism of Family Man’s boss Bob Marley in a stunning Afrobeat demonstration leaving 100 or so onlookers grinning madly afterward. Intense physicality, social manifestos such as “Message in a Hammer,” and a prowling/scowling/beaming stage presence landed a larger-than-lifeforce live wallop. Nicaraguan fivepiece La Cuneta Son Machin, behind electro marimba and keytar, faced the unenviable task of following Obongjayar with tropical cumbias, but even SX tweakers need a comedown after such a visceral tag-teaming from the first two acts’ U.S. debut. – Raoul Hernandez
Snooper Will Sleep When They’re Dead
God bless a SXSW co-op show. Snooper blew me away, wish I still had this type of sleep-when-I’m-dead energy pic.twitter.com/Jam86SQFOC— Dan Gentile (@Dannosphere) March 18, 2023
Despite West Campus’s descent into luxury apartment living, a few strongholds of community-driven lifestyle still remain. And the co-op folks holding on to that particular slice of old Austin still know how to throw a killer DIY show. I was at House of Commons sipping free Yerba Mate before Singaporean buzz band Sobs (who straight up slayed) when I found my favorite surprise of the week: Snooper, a Nashville fivepiece decked out in bright Nineties windbreakers whose sleep-when-we’re-dead energy inspired a 2pm mosh pit. In one of three shows they played on Friday, the group shredded with post-punk abandon, running as far into the crowd as their guitar cables could stretch. Vocalist Blair Tramel pogoed relentlessly while screaming electroclash maxims, then ran back to the “stage” (read: patch of concrete under a tent) to trigger synth stabs that sounded like launching missiles. A pair of CRT TV-style art pieces framed the stage, a small piece of production value that went a very long way in an otherwise empty parking lot. The music itself was equal parts vitriolic and playful, but what glued it all together was a pure confidence that you rarely see in such a young band. It’s even rarer that a band has the chops to back it up. Snooper does, and they know it. – Dan Gentile
Esther’s Follies Loves Georgia Lines Right Back
Everyone in the room knew Georgia Lines’ name by the end of her intimate, vibrant nine-song set. “I have a giant, obnoxious sign on my keyboard. It’s very practical, I think,” the singer-songwriter from Aotearoa – the land of long white clouds – said, referring to her all-caps moniker adorning the instrument. Sporting monochromatic greens, the New Zealand pop-R&B artist charmed a congested Esther’s Follies for 39 minutes, swaddling the crowd in warmth. The soulful vocal powerhouse made her first impression with a band-enhanced “Never Had Love,” oscillating between sonorous belted ad-libs and a syrupy head voice. The Tauranga-born and -raised conversationalist also expressed earnest vulnerability, pounding a drum that echoed the heartbeat of grief (“Leave Behind”) and standing among her audience to sing the Māori lullaby “Hine E Hine” in ethereal a cappella. Before her groovy performance for “Faith,” the SXSW newbie requested showgoers raise their arms during the chorus’ buttery bass licks: “If you’re next to someone that does not throw their hands up, I fully give you permission to give them an elbow.” As the savant conducted, the crowd immediately memorized the bridge melody of synth-bathed favorite “Made For Loving.” Dedicating its lyrics to Lines, the whole venue serenaded back, “I know it’s true/ I was made for loving you.” – Angela Lim
Bonny Doon Are There For Each Other
Eric D. Johnson knew better than to not have a band at SXSW. Like bringing a knife to the proverbial gun fight, the Fruit Bats leader’s solo acoustic set on Lucille’s patio was auditorily strangled by the din of neighboring bands and DJs on Rainey Street. Bonny Doon, amped up as a quintet, followed with an astonishingly heartening performance of lyrically searching indie rock that turned its own technical difficulties into delight. When singer/guitarist Bill Lennox broke a string on second song “Crooked Creek,” he sourced a string change from the crowd while playfully trying out some lead-singer moves. “That was nice – I never get the opportunity to let loose,” he joked. Four songs later, an unreleased cut – presumably from forthcoming Anti- Records release Let There Be Music – turned into a 10-minute experience when Lennox broke another string, then attempted to play tambourine. “I wish I was good at tambourine,” he said, sheepishly. “I’ll try. Why don’t you play my guitar?” offered co-frontperson Bobby Colombo. “Wow, your rig sounds really good,” Lennox said appreciatively. Colombo replied: “I know. It’s these backline amps.” Audience members were already smiling ear to ear over the Detroiters’ supportive friendship when, at long last, the Telecaster returned for a triumphant two-guitar ending. – Kevin Curtin
Dutch Criminal Record’s Frenzied Endorphin Recharge
UK indie rock quartet Dutch Criminal Record’s jangly feel-good riffs steered through a 39-minute set of non-stop headbanging. “For whatever reason, all of us seem to be on our last legs, healthwise,” lamented bandleader Joe Delaney-Stone. But even with coughs littering the set and rental guitars demanding constant retuning between songs, the Brighton band powered through the 10-song treat at Sellers Underground. The SXSW newcomers thrashed so hard that the In-N-Out paper hats they walked on wearing were all four on the ground by the end of the instrumental prelude of the second song (“Wasted Time”). Endorphins permeated the room as the band juggled tempo, oscillating between radiant interludes and dramatically slowed-down fake-out endings. Consecutive standouts “Stuck Between” and “Socks & Sandals” caught fans nodding violently, stomping to the beat, and cheering each member on during frenzied solos. Crisp, snappy drumming then built onto a pulsating bassline, to usher in the swelling riffs of closer “Outside.” The cheeky foursome brought the pace down once again before the room burst into a final raucous headbanging hoedown, while cymbals and applause blended into one last hurrah. – Wayne Lim
JW Francis Finds Home at Fairweather Cider Co.
After spending over a hundred days walking alone across the Appalachian Mountains, JW Francis moves from the trail to the road. In a flowy flannel and floral-patterned bell-bottoms, the “John, Take Me With You” singer brought his free spirit to Fairweather Cider Co.’s stage. The curly-haired 25-year-old’s solo set only featured his cheery yellow guitar and recorded backing beats, produced by a fan whose work he found on the internet. Swirly and squiggly rainbow visuals matched the high-vibe warmth of the 30-minute set on Friday night. Growing up between Tulsa, Paris, and New York, Francis undeniably has an affinity for finding familiarity no matter the location, something he carries into music. The comfort of his old tunes, like “Lofi” – combined with sunny bedroom pop in his most recent album – set the scene for an open environment to connect with fans. Francis’ genuineness was clear throughout, as he sang “Dream House” and devoted a song to his mother. Between pointing fingers to fans and his eccentric “thank you” cries between songs, the artist further forged a sense of home. – Katie Karp