If Friday was the busiest day of SXSW for me, Saturday was the most intense. If you would have told me I’d end up seeing 39 performances and almost half of them would be hip hop or rap, I wouldn’t have believed it. But that’s what SXSW is partly about, broadening your horizons.
My day began with The Church at Waterloo Records. I remember hearing “Under the Milky Way” in Donnie Darko in middle school and loving that song. The rain began coming down again and they played an acoustic set, performing that hit and some newer stuff. Vocalist Steve Kilby sounded fantastic and there was a sizable crowd for it being just 2 PM.
Canadian band Alvvays were up next. I caught half their set my first day at Hype Hotel and wanted to see more and was lucky I got the chance. They were introduced in a hilarious way, the emcee mentioning that at SXSW last year, they got sick from food they ate and projectile vomited.
For their performance, they had quite a few die hard fans up front singing along to their full set. I grabbed their album while I was there (support record stores guys!) and got some GoPro footage asking them about their experience in Austin.
On the walk down to where all the action was, I walked by Brew Exchange, where there was a showcase done by Beautiful Buzzz. The previous night I had gone to see Aussie singer Meg Mac and her set was cut short due to time restraints. I saw she was performing at this showcase within that hour so I stopped in.
Before Meg went on, this group from Nashville named Basecamp performed. They did an awesome cover of the Ace of Base jam “All That She Wants” that I’m hoping I can find somewhere.
Meg Mac delivered a memorable performance. She got to do a cover of the BROODS song “Bridges” and her awesome single “Roll Up Your Sleeves” that she didn’t get to the previous night. SXSW is also about catching those artists that are in America performing music for the first time, and Meg Mac was one of those artists.
After her set I headed to FADER Fort for a bit. I caught Baton Rouge rapper Kevin Gates briefly before Porter Robinson did a short DJ set. All I could hear about while in there was “Who is the special guest closer going to be?” and if Kanye West was going to show up. SPOILER ALERT: He didn’t. I had fun at FADER Fort all week and people are hung up on the fact that the special guest spot that night ended up being a bit of a fail.
I went down to the Moody Theater for the SXSW Takeover event, all rap acts of varying degrees, with J. Cole the night’s closer.
When I got there, Allen Kingdom was wrapping up. Already the place was getting full, and a couple on the rail told me they got there at 3 PM to get their spot. By the time I got in around 8, they weren’t letting anyone else in without a badge.
Next was a rapper from near where I’m from in the Bay Area named IAMSU. His set was high energy and at the end, Bay Area legend Too $hort came out and did “Blow the Whistle,” taking me back to high school and the whole “thizz movement” that was happening. This wouldn’t be my last Too $hort sighting of the evening.
Up next was hip-hop legend Redman. He knew his audience was full of teenagers, and he gave the ’90s babies a lesson in rap music, playing back some tracks of other artists from back when Wu-Tang was at their peak. His set wasn’t given as much of a reaction as it would have gotten from an older crowd.
Next up was another Bay Area rapper, the fast-rising white boy G-Eazy. There’s something about this guy that has the young ladies really interested, and this was now the third state I’ve seen him in. The girls had the same reaction, but a couple of good ol’ Texas boys at the back weren’t really feeling it. Despite that, I saw their heads bopping a bit to the hook of “I Mean It.”
Joey Bada$$ came out in a throwback Grant Hill Detroit Pistons jersey (the ugly colors they had for a little bit) and he brought it. At one point he brought out his whole crew and they put the “LIVE” in ACL Live, which is where the venue was. He insisted the crowd make a mosh circle and I was able to get into it a little bit. One guy in Joey’s crew ran and jumped into the crowd, spin-kicking as he did it. He definitely connected with the audience — being 20 years old himself — and showed he’s got a high ceiling.
J. Cole set this event up to showcase his Dreamville Records stable. After Omen, Cozz and Bas hit the stage for a few tracks each, J. Cole walked on and it was the livest venue I had been at all of SXSW.
Though SXSW lacked the true festival headliner like a Kanye or Drake, J. Cole is the rapper I feel like people will be bragging about seeing a few years from now. As evidenced by his crowd support, he’s already pretty huge, but he’s not far from Drake status in my opinion. “Wet Dreamz” started a set that had tons of great ebb and flow to it, like a high-action boxing match.
There were no special guests that stopped by — just J. Cole and his fans, especially the ones that “have been fcking with J. Cole since the beginning” in his words.
After talking to some people about their experience at the show (all really positive), I walked down to 6th again and did something I hadn’t done all week at SXSW: I paid to see a show. Too $hort was performing at the Palm Door and the taste I got earlier left me wanting to see more. What better way to end a festival that you traveled halfway across the country for than to see someone who grew up 30 minutes from you?
After paying my $15 cover and enduring an hour of acts I wasn’t familiar with at the end of a long night, Too $hort came out with a massive entourage. Though a couple others performed their songs in between, Too $hort performed some of his biggest hits, including the nearly 20- year-old “Gettin’ It.” The vibe was great even though it was the end of a really long week. I saw a bunch of people from the Bay all in this tiny room supporting one of their own, and that’s another of the things that SXSW is all about.
My first SXSW experience was unlike anything I could have imagined. The people were almost all very friendly and I got to see so many performances in so many venues.
Words + Photos: Mark E. Ortega