Photo Credit: Melanie Kolbe
Austin is a 15-hour drive from Athens, and let’s be honest: that’s a two-day trip by car. After a stop for the night in the shadiest Red Roof Inn I have ever seen in Monroe, LA, my girlfriend and I hit the last stretch of road before Texas. After having a robot whip us up a milkshake north of Tyler, TX, we were confident that we wouldn’t need to stop any more before hitting the city.
But we weren’t so lucky. Somewhere just north of Athens, TX (ha), I was pulled over by a Texas Highway Patrol Officer for speeding. It was a 75 MPH zone. My 1991 Mercedes-Benz 190E can’t even go 80 MPH. When I explained to the officer that my insurance information was on my smartphone, I was asked to step out of the car. This is horseshit, I thought. There’s no way I was speeding—this guy thinks that I’m running drugs.
When the cop returned to issue me a written warning, I politely asked him how fast I was going. He didn’t say a word. “Sign this,” he grunted as he put the warning (which had no information other than my name on it) on the hood. “I guess you think you can just take off and go to some music festival whenever you want, right?” he asked.
“No. I’m a writer. I’m going to the festival for work,” I said. Less than a mile later, the same cop had someone else pulled over as well. What a dick.
The great thing about SXSW is that what counts as an “official showcase” is meaningless. Last year, I saw hundreds of people crowd into a room where there was no chance that the event was sanctioned. Hotel Vegas seems like a good place for that sort of thing, so that’s where my friends (including Kayla Schmandt, featured on the latest installment of Behind the Scene) and I wound up.
Things were already well underway by the time we showed up at 7:30 p.m., but it was between sets on the outside stage so it was my first opportunity after getting to Austin to take a deep breath. American Sharks, a stoner-punk band from Austin, came on next. Good, fuzzed-out stuff. There was some obvious Dinosaur Jr. influence in there, but they sounded straighter and there wasn’t as much shredding. No matter; this was what I needed to redeem my day.
Shortly before Diarrhea Planet hopped onstage, a man in a motorized wheelchair ran over my heel. It wasn’t intentional, and he was incredibly apologetic, but still, another ominous sign. It looked like day one of my 2014 SXSW experience was about to be a bust.
A couple of pain-easing Lone Stars later, the Nashville punks were melting faces and I had forgotten all about the cop and my throbbing heel. A few songs in, the band had a crowdsurfing “contest,” which was really just an opportunity to give away T-shirts to people that would dive off of the stage to keep the momentum going. It worked—arms and legs were everywhere. At one point, a stage diver was straddling the tent pole while hanging upside-down.
“Separations,” from the I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams LP, sounded especially brutal, all four guitars chugging along, breaking only for mind-numbing soloing. The band joked that it was “the premier Springsteen cover band from New Jersey,” adding that no one knew who they were. But by the time Diarrhea Planet blasted into perennial closer “Ghost with a Boner,” it was clear that everyone had showed up to watch these particular guys throw their bodies and hair around like mad.
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