Mar 212012

My SXSW 2012 started before the official music festival got underway. As a native Austinite, I felt that was somewhat mandatory. On March 10th I made my first trip downtown for what would be a thrilling, jam-packed, leg-taxing, ear-rewarding week.

Immediately one is thrust into the maw of “where do we park?!” no matter where you go. If you’re south of 45th street, you’re gonna be looking. The first intended destination actually had little to do with any official SXSW business and more with taking advantage of the many specials available throughout Austin’s bars and clubs. I was off to Molotov Lounge to take part in a special offer put together on behalf of iPhone app TabbedOut. I was aware of the whole thing through AME’s good friends at Do512. Although the prices at Molotov aren’t exactly the best I was most worried that the app offer wouldn’t actually work. So many people were trying to use it (even in the mid-afternoon!) that it was hard to connect. I was relieved (and impressed) to finally pay my tab without having to step up to the uber-crowded bar. With five bucks off, let’s-party dance music pounding and conversation from friendly outside-ATX visitors, it was a choice start to the festivities.

Then I met some colleagues at Bikini’s (no special SXSW event there, just dinner; I never have gone inside so I didn’t realize the staff wore such incredibly skimpy outfits) and we headed to the Driskill Hotel. The main entry room and bar were already filled with media professionals. There was no time to look around for celebrities, of course, because I was back to playing parking space roulette. The revised parking meter times on Saturday make sure someone on a day-long SXSW sojourn will have to make at least two return trips to his/her vehicle to feed the meter. Because you don’t want to risk not having a parking place again.

When I got back to the Hotel, I didn’t even get to have a drink at the bustling Driskill bar. It would’ve taken 10 minutes, anyway, and I wanted to get over to the other free party I had RSVPed to. Trover‘s multi-day graffiti party at the East Side Drive-In was the place to be for the artistically inclined on these early SXSW days. I arrived just as the place was shutting down, but I still managed to see the finished results of Trover’s event: an entire Volkswagen Beetle covered in that thick, eye-popping graffiti paint, finished, multi-artist murals and graffiti slingers so multi-colored from their work that they looked, in their damaged artist’s digs, like the living dead. The next few days at Trover would feature other crazy sights like an entire graffiti-festooned bus and fire eaters. Honestly I wish I had spent more time at the event.

After a quick drink at Shangri-La, I got a text from a colleague that Quiet Company was playing Stubb’s. It was a free show (one of the last before the proper festival was under way), officially called the Girl + Guy Party, so plans to go home we scrapped. Sadly, we missed Austin’s indie anthem-rockers, but after getting some more drinks we were able to see The Tontons. The Houston rock quartet is noticeable for its sensuous rhythms and punchy delivery, but lead singer Asli Omar is what makes the band special. She moves around the stage like David Bowie and sings with a vocal incantation that recalls PJ Harvey. Members of the crowd could be forgiven for not being able to recognize the other three members, because The Tontons’ first impression is all Asli. Check this band out here.

I was further saddened to realize I’d also missed Wild Moccasins on the same all-Texas artist bill. SXSW was already proving one of its oldest adages: you can’t see everything you want. Austin’s noisy Ume was the closer at Stubb’s, but the group I was with had already decided to hightail it back to the Driskill. We paid $10 for parking and got in to see a line leading out of the Driskill’s bar trailing into the main lobby. So we changed our plan and went to Sixth Street’s Recess Arcade Bar. I had never been inside here, either. Frankly, the events from arrival at the bar on out are a little hazy, but major plans were made for the upcoming week (more on that later) and some nasty aliens were shot down in cheesy first-person classic Area 51. I would’ve gotten further, but one of the guns was out of order! They better get that fixed.

I didn’t get back to SXSW until next Tuesday. I had to make festival preparations/recommendations and tell ya’ll about them on here! Things start for real then.