Faster Than Sound: Wait, How Does SXSW Music Work Again?

Breaking down the basics, and some favorites, after three years away

Japanese Breakfast (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Flip-flopping spring weather and a familiar tension in my upper back can only mean one thing. My badge awaits at the Convention Center, but after a whopping three years since my last tote-bag-toting participation, I can't remember exactly where I'm supposed to channel this energy. What's South by Southwest Music all about again?

While much has changed globally in our forced hiatus, a comforting amount looks the same at America's largest musical convergence. With the fantastic Chronicle Music team's supplement handling all your cutting-edge, cult-y artist recommendations (see "101 Essential Acts" in our SXSW insert), I'm reviewing the building blocks of the March monolith. Nile Rodgers, rockumentaries, British buzz ... it's all coming back to me now.

The Stars Talk Music, Among Other Things

The musical bigwigs don't come to SXSW just to play songs – most tote an extraneous project. Lizzo previews her upcoming reality competition show Lizzo's Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, Beggars Group label exec Nabil Ayers talks creative pivots, and Michelle Zauner discusses bestselling debut memoir Crying in H Mart. Her indie-pop band Japanese Breakfast is billed to perform Wed., March 16, at 3ten.

We're not sure exactly why highly influential songsmith Beck is coming – paired with one of my favorite music writers, The New Yorker's Amanda Petrusich, author of the epic 2019 profile "Beck Is Home." The 2022 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominee also plays solo and acoustic, Sat., March 19, at ACL Live, benefiting trans-supporting Texas orgs.

On the advocacy end, English visionary Brian Eno speaks, virtually only, on artistic response to climate emergency with the artist Beatie Wolfe. Americana-maker Jason Isbell roundtables on addiction recovery, while Missouri troubadour Nathaniel Rateliff integrates sound and social movements. Sticking to decidedly musical topics: Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler and Skid Row's Sebastian Bach discuss "the enduring power of metal," Chic co-founder Rodgers argues for better songwriter compensation, and producer/songwriter Linda Perry roundtables on bringing women into the industry.

We Watch Movies, but About Music

As usual, there's a heavyweight slate of documentaries focused on figures behind the music. Anticipated Look at Me! follows the meteoric rise of SoundCloud rapper XXXTentacion before his death at age 20. I'm excited to see the beautifully shot 16mm feature Anonymous Club, following the introverted interplay of Aussie figure Courtney Barnett.

Getting It Back accompanies the much-anticipated stateside performance of early Seventies British funk group Cymande, recipients of renewed interest after sampling by Eighties hip-hop acts like De La Soul. The unsung groove influencers join cult Seventies Zamrock band W.I.T.C.H. at the in-demand Aquarium Drunkard x Gold Diggers showcase, Fri., March 18. Even more docs cover Sheryl Crow, Dio, Nick Cave, King Crimson, Tanya Tucker, Jazz Fest, Cesária Évora, Chumbawamba, and Kishi Bashi.

The exterior of Chess Club, still in progress, on Monday. (Photo by John Anderson)

All the Venues Changed Names

Downtown Austin real estate scramble leaves SXSW with a considerably altered layout. Most prominent in size, the decadelong project of Waterloo Park's Moody Amphitheater now partakes with Billboard and Samsung Galaxy, March 17-19. Young Thug, Gunna, Kygo, and Shawn Mendes are free to badgeholders, with public tickets starting at $95.

Following the shutter of longtime home Latitude 30 on Dirty Sixth, the well-funded, hype-delivering British Music Embassy shifts to the larger-capacity Cedar Street Courtyard on West Fourth – also utilizing Sellers across the street. Dance outpost Coconut Club and adjacent Neon Grotto add to participation in Austin's Warehouse District.

Since last time on Red River, Beerland became the Green Jay and Barracuda became NYC-transplanted comedy club the Creek and the Cave, which will once again host music indoors and out next week. Funnily enough, the team behind Barracuda – including Hotel Vegas' Jason McNeely and Brian Tweedy, plus Flesh Lights singer/guitarist Max Vandever and Cliff White – hold a soft opening of new space Chess Club around the corner, with daily bands, at 617 Red River (formerly Plush). Also nearby, I'm charmed to see a Run for Cover Records showcase, Wed., March 16, at must-try eatery Vaquero Taquero's new Sixth Street location.

Not a move, but a face-lift – campus-area standard Hole in the Wall recently debuted a bright yellow and black paint job. Management assures the Chronicle the bar merely "needed a fresh coat," but one could certainly imagine a Third Man Records, Waffle House, or Charlie Brown pop-up.

Free and Unofficial Still Works

A badgeless chest and empty wallet can still get you far, like to the classic outdoor stage at Lady Bird Lake. Thursday brings locals like Golden Dawn Arkestra and Heartless Bastards via Spaceflight, followed by Sammy Hagar & the Circle on Friday and Mt. Joy on Saturday.

For the first time, KUTX early-morning-broadcasts from UT-Austin's on-campus Studio 6A, host to the first 36 seasons of the Austin City Limits television series. Open to the visitors again, Wed., March 16, and Sat., March 19, the radio station offers 225 seats first come, first served, for a $20 donation to the Central Texas Food Bank – featuring acts like Sarah Kinsley, Mattiel, Cimafunk, and Gustaf (endorsed as Beck's favorite band).

Austin City Limits Radio also brings back morning broadcasts, March 16-19, at Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt. For a $5 donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, see Muna, Delta Spirit, Midlake, and more. There's too many other good freebies to name – like SoundCloud's new Next Wav and the Chronicle's own Hair of the 3-Legged Dog Day Party – so I'll refer you to our extensive listings at

Cifika (Photo by Alex Griff / Courtesy of Cifika)

Mishmashing Music With New Tech

Dolly Parton helped convince America to get the vaccine, and now she's dabbling in NFTs. Fri., March 18, at ACL Live, Parton makes her first-ever SXSW appearance to perform and speak with actress Connie Britton and author James Patterson (co-author with Parton of new novel Run, Rose, Run). The event streams free on Parton's new limited-run "Dollyverse" at The Festival partners with Fox Entertainment's Blockchain Creative Labs to launch the effort, alongside Web3 emphasis throughout the week and inevitable panels asking, "Can blockchain revolutionize music royalties?"

Integrating live visual mapping, South Korean electro-pop creator Cifika performs from within a translucent, cylindrical water tank. View the otherworldly deep-sea portal, entitled "HYDROVOX 2.0," Mon., March 14, at Central Presbyterian Church – on display 8pm-12am with a 10pm performance. And while podcasts may not be new media, I'm excited to see first-time presenter Song Exploder thoughtfully integrate interview sets, Wed., March 16, at Central Presbyterian Church, with a stellar lineup of Perfume Genius, Kimbra, Fly Anakin, Sarah Kinsley, and Jenny Owen Youngs.

Rules and Regulations

With Austin's return to Stage 2 guidelines, the Festival's latest mask policy leaves it at a recommendation for indoor gigs. Specifically: "Masks will be required in all conference session rooms, exhibitions, registration, and pre-function areas, and as determined by individual venues and client spaces. Masks are strongly encouraged indoors in all other areas and where social distancing cannot be maintained."

With free testing on-site (for both the public and registrants), all participants will be required to provide proof of full vaccination or a recent negative test. The recommended Clear App Health Pass took me about 10 minutes to register on with my vax card and ID handy. Another tidbit to consider, Stubb's and the Moody Amphitheater both enforce clear bag policies – which this columnist personally confirmed will be enforced for all SXSW programming.

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South by Southwest, Dolly Parton, James Patterson, Beck, Lizzo, Japanese Breakfast, Michelle Zauner, Chess Club, British Music Embassy, SXSW 2022, SXSW Music 2022

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