Unofficial Guide to SXSW Music:
2015 Expert Picks

In the beginning there was Music. Before the juggernaut of Interactive, before Edu and Eco and Sports and Fashion, before V2V – before Film, even – South by Southwest was a music festival.

It started in 1987, to be exact, and featured 177 showcasing artists on 15 venue stages. There were 700 registrants for the conference and festival (“badgeholders” in current parlance), plus an unknown number of fans who bought a $10 festival pass (or proto-wristband) to see the shows.

We all know what happened next. SXSW ballooned slowly and then all at once, spinning off into other fests (one of which – guess! – soon outpaced it 3:1 in attendance, if not in decibels and debauchery), regularly doubling in registrants, and attracting a sort of parallel fest of day parties, backyard barbecues, and private muckety-muck shindigs with big-name headliners. With exponential and ancillary growth, inevitably, came problems, followed by a corrective, welcome reining in. Heading into its 28th year, SXSW Music continues to grow, attracting plenty of fans who are happy to dance with the one who brung ‘em.

Some of those fans – veteran performers, panelists, critics, music-biz pros – are happy to help point the way to the optimum festival experience. Here are recommendations from a few of them.

As always with SXSW, the thing I’m most excited about is the thing I don’t know I’m going to love. Last year, I got dragged to a rooftop show by Parker Millsap, the young Elvis from Oklahoma, and was utterly converted to his rock ‘n’ roll Americana thing. I expect I’ll happen on a few great things that way, by accident. I don’t go looking for the bigger picture at this point, just small but potent revelations.


Our Panel of Experts Shares Their Picks and Pro Tips for SXSW Interactive Below

As always with SXSW, the thing I’m most excited about is the thing I don’t know I’m going to love. Last year, I got dragged to a rooftop show by Parker Millsap, the young Elvis from Oklahoma, and was utterly converted to his rock ‘n’ roll Americana thing. I expect I’ll happen on a few great things that way, by accident. I don’t go looking for the bigger picture at this point, just small but potent revelations.

Sessions: SXSW Interviews with Wynonna Judd

Friday, March 20, 5-6 p.m.
Austin Convention Center, Room 12AB

Sessions: Should Music Mags Survive or Get Killed Off?

Friday, March 20, 12:30-1:30 p.m.
Austin Convention Center, Room 12AB

There are a few acts I’ve never seen that I want to catch up with, including Laura Marling, Banditos,
and Big K.R.I.T.


Wednesday, March 18, 3-3:30 p.m., Radio Day Stage
Austin Convention Center, Ballroom D

Musical Acts: BANDITOS

Wednesday, March 18, 10-10:40 p.m.
Continental Club 1315 S Congress Ave

Musical Acts: BIG K.R.I.T.

Date TBA


Thursday, March 19, 12:301:30 p.m.
Austin Convention Center, Room 18ABC

As for panels, I’m definitely catching that one with Paul Krugman. He’s gonna drop some wisdom about late capitalism on the crowd.

I’m as interested in music history as in the present day, and there are some panels — one featuring music archivists, another on reissues, and yet another on vintage technology — that will offer a picture on preservationism. I’ll be checking that out.


Wednesday, March 18, 2:003:00 p.m.
Austin Convention Center, Room 10A

Panels: Vinyl, Tape, Lathe: Thriving with Vintage Technology

Thursday, March 19, 2-3 p.m.
Austin Convention Center, Room 8C

Panels: 100 Years from Now: Preserving Pop Music History

Friday, March 20, 5-6 p.m.
Austin Convention Center, Room 15

2015 actually marks my 10th year in music as Big Phony, though I wrote my first folk song when I was 14… I was born and raised in New York City, but I currently am living in Seoul, South Korea, to find further missing parts of myself. My folks left Korea for the US in the ‘60s in search of a better life. I came back to Korea to find out what went wrong. I’ve been lucky enough to find an audience in the last three cities I’ve lived in: New York City, Los Angeles, and now Seoul. I’m hoping I might make a connection at SXSW with kindred spirits from wherever they might hail from.

Showcase: Big Phony Showcase

Friday, March 20, 11-11:40 p.m.
The Majestic, 419-B E 6th St

There’s a couple of films that I contributed music to that are premiering at SXSW this year — one of which I had the distinct pleasure of acting in as one of the main cast members, called Ktown Cowboys. The other is a documentary by the name of Twinsters. I’m really excited for both films and plan on attending screenings/events for both.

Films: Ktown Cowboys

Sunday, March 15, 6:45-8:08 p.m.
Alamo Lamar B, 1120 S Lamar Blvd

Films: Twinsters

Monday, March 16, 11a.m.-12:28p.m.
Alamo Lamar A, 1120 S Lamar Blvd

I’d love to check out some other singer-songwriters, but
also I’m interested in seeing some electronic, pop, and avant/experimental acts and showcases.

Musical Acts: Real Estate

Date TBA

Musical Acts: Tokimonsta

Wednesday, March 18
Highland, 404 Colorado St

Musical Acts: Dana Falconberry

Thursday, March 19, 10-10:40 p.m.
Red Eyed Fly, 715 Red River St

Musical Acts: Cathedrals

Saturday, March 21, 9:30-10:10 p.m.
Empire Control Room, 606 E 7th St


Exhibit: John Lennon Educational Tour Bus

Thursday, March 18 – Saturday, March 21, 11a.m.-6p.m.
Austin Convention Center, Exhibit Hall 5

I’m really interested in the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, which will be at the Music Gear Expo, as it relates to that mission — finding unique opportunities for kids to experience doing things themselves – hands-on learning opportunities. This bus travels all around the US and Canada offering free workshops in pro audio and pro video. You get an all-around experience right there on the bus.
There are some events that involve Austin bands that have supported and been part of 18 Below and continue to be an inspiration to the kids who are currently part of it. One of the bands, GLAASSSS, is in The Park Grubbs Story. That band has done it all themselves, went on tour this winter, they release their music on cassettes, and they’re part of this big underground punk scene that’s continues to thrive all over the country. Residual Kid is another band that’s been great – they speak for themselves, getting signed to Sire Sire and all their other successes are amazing.

Events: Calls to Okies: The Park Grubbs Story

Saturday, March 14, 2-3:42 p.m.
Rollins Theatre at The Long Center, 701 W Riverside Dr

Events: Residual Kid showcase

Saturday, March 21, 12-12:40 a.m.
Holy Mountain Backyard, 617 E 7th St

Thursday, March 18 – Saturday, March 21, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Austin Convention Center, Exhibit Hall 5

Austin Music People was of the first groups that who recognized 18 Below and what it’s doing. It’s an organization that strives to cultivate and maintain a supportive relationship between the city and the local music scene. They awarded me with Esme Barrera Award for Music Activism and Education last year. I’m looking forward to going to their SXSW meetup — I want to support the organization that recognized 18 Below and all of our efforts.

We’re going to be pretty busy when we’re at SXSW this year, but I’m going to try and check out these bands/artists.

Showcase: Tom Brosseau showcase

Tuesday, March 17, 10-10:40 p.m.
Cheer Up Charlie’s Inside, 900 Red River St

We were on the same label for a while and played a few gigs together. He’s a really nice guy, and we’re all really big fans of his music.

Showcase: Mew showcase

Wednesday, March 18, 11-11:40 p.m.
Red 7, 611 E 7th St

I’ve been a fan of these guys for a while but haven’t had the chance to see them live yet. Every time they play in our hometown, we’re away on tour.

Showcase: Girl Band showcase

Saturday, March 21, 1-1:40 a.m.
Latitude 30, 512 San Jacinto St

Andy, our guitarist, recommended this band to me. He hasn’t had the chance to see them live yet, so we’ll try and catch them at one of their showcases.

Cindy headshotCindy Widner

Follow Me on Twitter
Cindy Widner is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience in the industry. She is the former managing editor of The Austin Chronicle and served as editor-in-chief of CultureMap Austin.
Her writing has appeared in The Austin Chronicle, Tribeza, CultureMap, Kirkus Reviews, Pop Culture Press, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Bitch magazine, Tom Tom magazine, and other publications.

Writing: Cindy Widner – @cwidner
Photography: Lead Image by Chris Perez – @citygrammag

Click below for the rest of our expert picks…

SXSW Interactive


SXSW Film: Editor’s Picks


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