Austin, Texas — At the South by Southwest music festival, the spring break of the music industry, sensory overload is practically guaranteed. From March 17-21, nearly 2,000 acts played in Austin, Texas, convention centers, outdoor amphitheaters, concert venues, bars, restaurants, street corners and just about any other nook or cranny where a band can play. With thousands of concertgoers walking blocked-off streets while corporate sponsors hand out bags of swag, free BBQ and beer, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
Since 1987, the annual festival has given recording labels, artists and concertgoers a chance to mingle and enjoy diverse music, justifying Austin’s claim as the music capital of the world. In the ’90s, coordinators added independent films and a technology conference where gurus talk about the next big software trend. Twitter, the 140-character messaging and social networking service, launched at the interactive conference in 2007 and became the Internet phenomenon of the decade.
For those outside of the tech or film spheres, South by Southwest, or “SXSW,” still is a music festival. Among the motley cavalcade of bands was Common Loon, a Champaign duo who’ve known each other since age five. The two recently put finishing touches on their first album, “The Long Dream of Birds,” a CD half-a-decade in the making.
“There were times where we thought we wouldn’t finish,” says Matthew Campbell, drummer for Common Loon. “There were times when we thought that we would finish, but that it would suck. There were times when we were tired of listening to it. But ultimately, we’re happy with the way it turned out.”
The band’s mellow, hypnotic sound has a dash of surf-rock influence, says Robert Hirschfeld, the band’s guitarist. That fits the archetype for bands that typically play SXSW, where set lists are dictated by the young, independent, eclectic, art-rock set. Austin attracts the demographic that music labels ache for — those alternative few who live outside the norms but inevitably set the trends.
SXSW is a petri dish for the next music sensation. But like other musicians, Campbell and Hirschfeld were aiming to put on a couple of shows and partake in the festivities. If they happened to generate buzz about their album, network with record labels and win fans over, that’s an added benefit.
“You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone in the music industry,” Hirschfeld said.
The Forecast, a quartet from Peoria, making its fifth SXSW appearance, also promoted a new album. The self-titled CD drips with reminiscence of friendships and love in their central Illinois home, but is tense with aspirations of touring and musical success.
“The first track, ‘Losers,’ that’s a bar in Peoria that we all hang out at,” says Tony Peck, drummer for The Forecast. “It’s cool in a way, because it’s kind of a tribute to friends and relationships we have in Peoria.”
Peck sees the The Forecast as an alternative to the angsty sounds prevalent on the coasts, which helps the central Illinois band separate itself from the hundreds of other SXSW bands. Their message resonates in Texas, where the reception is positive and a small fan base materialized.
Besides mingling with folks in the record and radio industries, The Forecast set out to accomplish the same thing they do at every show — connect with the audience and represent the hometown that made the band possible.
“We’re damn proud of the fact that we’re from Illinois and we’re from central Illinois,” says Peck. “We feel like we wear it more on our sleeves.”
Matthew Schroyer is an independent journalist based in Springfield, where he grew up. He enjoys blogging about political events, natural disasters, music and journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.