The Spotify event at SXSW was one of many sponsored gatherings where free stuff was pretty much the main point.

A born-and-raised Austin grandfather laughed when I told him SXSW was “crazy,” and he replied, “You don’t realize how crazy it is, till you get to my age son … Then you see how crazy it really is.”

Two things learned at SXSW.

One, the fest is not what it used to be.

Two, Louisville’s favorites did all right down in Austin.

The reminiscing about the good old days of the festival came from just about everybody — record label owners, bands, fans, dudes on bicycles and born-and-raised Austinians.

The Pass at Friends.

“They gave into the drinking community,” one happy taxi cab driver claimed.

And it’s true.

The masses of young people typically followed their iPhone apps to free, big-corporate samplings. Free drinks, free food, free sunglasses and free tote bags were usually the deciding factor in the youth market at SXSW.

Which made it hard to convince folks to check out Louisville’s acts, where only the music and better-tasting beer were the perks.

The Spotify House gave out free Bacardi, Miller Lite, Doritos and “Thai BBQ” from one local food truck.

Spotify, Fader and other forces in the music scene teamed up with the app world and corporate sponsors to put together marketing packages — sealed by SXSW and the city — that targeted young adults.

It was a collaborative effort to get 20-somethings into the city and drinking early — most free binge sessions required a 10 a.m. or earlier arrival time in order to dodge lines that went on forever. The free shows that featured the biggest acts also featured pricey drinks and an uncertainty of whether or not “you’ll get in.”

Cheyenne Mize

Which is pretty baffling: banking all your bucks on one show when there were live music options everywhere.

You can’t blame college-aged kids for wanting free stuff, but the externalities have yet to be explored, and no one really likes to talk about the underbelly of the festival scene.

In some ways, SXSW caters to drug users, binge-drinkers and encourages the youth to dive right into the party lifestyle of “anything goes.”

As most festivals do.

Sensationalism is alive — and well —  at SXSW, and it is not only just in the state-of-the-art sound and lighting, big stages and over-produced music.  There were shows where free marijuana was thrown from the stage, and concerts where lap-dances were available to those in the front row.

Not joking.

Is live music really coming to this?

Free drugs and lap-dances to win applause are pretty pathetic, both from a musician’s and from a moral perspective.

Sex, drinks and free stuff were what many of the youth were after.

Not the music.

Yellow Red Sparks

Luckily, some were there for the music. Young professionals were everywhere, as there were shows all across the city’s districts, and you could catch great acts while sipping Austin craft beers on a nice patio.

The smaller showcases allowed for serious networking, which is one of the biggest perks of traveling to SXSW. As bands, press, producers, entrepreneurs and many looking to collaborate were commonly found at venues without lines.

Rainey St. and East Sixth was where most of the underground showcases took place, and record label reps even passed out USB’s equipped with a bottle opener and a bevy of free music.

It was the free, badge-less and more intimate shows that were the most rewarding from a true music fan and entrepreneurial perspective, as you could collect L.A. business cards and make a long list of new bands to check out.

Most of the gigs involving Louisville artists were free and accessible without badges.

On Tuesday, Yellow Red Sparks — a band promoted by Louisville business Crash Avenue — performed at Nomads, which was a bar on the outskirts of town.

The L.A. band had a “dark and cryptic sound,” according Joey Neely, who watched the show, “(I) love the vocals and the natural-sounding folk.”

Lead singer Josh Hanson was at SXSW to primarily find the right booking agent, he said, but has enjoyed working with promoter Jeffery Smith and company at Crash Avenue.

Nerves Junior

On Wednesday, The Pass played at Friends, a bar on Sixth Street. They had a decent set time at 9 p.m., with an hour to play. Friends was a popular spot throughout the week; about 150 gathered for the electro-pop band from Louisville.

“These guys are pretty awesome,” said concert-goer Clare White while watching the band. The band got pretty good applause, yet no eruptive dance party happened.

Local boys Nerves Junior played a few blocks away on Rainey St. About 100 people were there for the experimental-rockers’ show on the beautiful patio of the Lucille Bar. The band let loose on “Goodnight Nobody,” which is a pretty killer track.

sonaBLAST!’s The Seedy Seeds went on after Nerves Junior, and their upswing style of folk-pop was received well and won a few dancers.

On Friday, Cheyenne Mize played for a handful of folks at the All Saints Episcopal Church, which is practically on University of Texas’ campus.

“Her voice is beautiful,” said Lauren Eierman, a first time Mize listener.

Jim James, Houndmouth and Ben Sollee all had big weeks, but were less accessible to the commoner, as badges, credentials and VIPs were typically required.

Overall, Louisville’s favorite local acts did all right.

Undercover on a balcony, soaking it all in.

But the days of SXSW being a music festival that discovers and makes bands all in a week’s time are seemingly over. How much the fest will help the bands who made the voyage is unknown.

Press credential sign-ups were over before I decided to venture down. So, I didn’t sign a contract that banned me from writing on particular issues in exchange for access and a lanyard.

My experience was that of your average SXSW attendee rather than a credentialed journalist, and luckily I met a lot of locals who showed me a good taste of Austin and SXSW.

I paid for bike-cabs, fought through crowds, avoided lines, saw rampant drug usage, met fascinating people from all over, danced, ate tacos that were simply divine and caught a lot of bad music, along with a lot of good music.

It was your typical SXSW experience, as almost anything goes during one wild week in Austin.

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Michael Tierney
Michael Hannon Tierney is a writer for InsiderLouisville, various blogs, and does occasional freelance work. The world traveler, and magna cum laude graduate from the University of Kentucky holds degrees in History and Political Science. Tierney also writes, and performs original music time to time...

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