I’m beyond excited to be returning to Austin next week for the music portion of SXSW 2018. I had to miss out on the action last year and had serious FOMO after taking part in the madness the previous two years. This year I’ll be with the rest of the sickos waiting in lines to catch artists from all over the world, eat some free BBQ, and imbibing on some free drinks.
I’ve been digging into the SXSW 2018 lineup as much as I can, and if you’re anything like me, the seemingly endless list of acts performing is enough to make you want to reach for a Xanax. I’ve narrowed down a list of 20 acts you should try and make every effort to see, along with a list of where you can catch them — all in one place! Quite a few are Los Angeles-based!
SUNFLOWER BEAN (New York, garage rock)
This three-piece rock band wowed me at Firefly Fest last year and then blew me away a couple of months later on Desert Daze. I’ve been hungry for new tunes from them ever since and they managed to blow away those expectations on their sophomore record Twentytwo in Blue, which drops a week after SXSW via Mom + Pop Records. All three members will be 22 years old when the album drops, and it’s such an impressive chronicling of what it’s like to be youthful while everything around you (*cough America cough*) is in turmoil. Lead singer Julia Cumming draws to mind Chrissy Hynde of the Pretenders meets Jenny Lewis vibes, particularly on the more ballad-driven jams like “Twentytwo”, which just dropped as the latest single.
Mon. Mar. 12 at Karmarama Sundowner Event at Prohibition Creamery at 6 PM // Tue. Mar. 13 at PledgeHouse Day One at 3:30 PM (RSVP) // Wed. Mar. 14 at FLOODFEST at 1 PM (RSVP) // Thu. Mar. 15 at Pandora SXSW at 2 PM (RSVP), Brooklyn Bowl Family Reunion at 4 PM (RSVP), SMILF at The Showtime House at 6 PM (RSVP), and Hotel Vegas at 11:35 PM (OFFICIAL SXSW) // Fri. Mar. 16 at Radio Day Stage Convention Center at 12 PM (OFFICIAL SXSW), Mohawk’s All Are Welcome at 4 PM (no RSVP needed), and Urban Outfitters at 6 PM (no RSVP needed) // Sat. Mar. 18 at South By San Jose at 6 PM (no RSVP needed)
MORGAN SAINT (New York, pop)
Morgan Saint is pretty unique sounding as far as pop singers come. Her voice is jaw-droppingly gorgeous and the minimal production behind it allows that voice to shine. When I heard “You”, which features mostly finger-snapping and a simple electronic groove, allowing her voice to breathe on the track. A visual artist that is responsible for all the visuals that accompany her music in every facet, she’s got a keen understanding of what she’s trying to be.
Wed. Mar. 14 at Neon Gold Records showcase at Empire Garage at 9:30 PM (OFFICIAL) // Thu. Mar. 15 at 800 Congress at time TBD (OFFICIAL) // Fri. Mar. 16 at Sony’s Lost In Music at Trinity Warehouse at 9 PM (OFFICIAL)
BILLIE EILISH (Los Angeles, pop)
16-year-old Billie Eilish is going to be playing massive venues in no time at all. Currently in the midst of a sold-out tour that included two nights at the El Rey her Los Angeles hometown, Eilish is a unique teenager in that she truly does her own thing. Homeschooled her entire life, Eilish never had to deal with the trappings of high school life where teens are taught to conform in order to fit in. Her brand of music is a bit Lana del Rey meets the swagger of MØ, and she’s got the vocal chops to back it up. She will certainly be one of the buzziest names at SXSW this year.
Tue. Mar. 13 at Vevo x ATX at Pelons at 10 PM // Wed. Mar. 14 at The FADER Fort at 5:15 PM, at Central Presbyterian Church (acoustic) at 11 PM (OFFICIAL) // Thu. Mar. 15 at SoundExchange Sessions at The Mohawk at 9 PM (OFFICIAL) and WFNM/Peppermint Club at Palm Door on Sixth at 12:05 AM (OFFICIAL) // Fri. Mar. 16 at Sound + Color M&Ms party at 10 PM (OFFICIAL)
MEN I TRUST (Montreal, pop)
I came across this Montreal indie pop act on one of my Spotify Discover Weekly playlists about a month ago and it’s been in my rotation ever since. The song “Tailwhip” reminds me of that Zero 7 song featuring Sia that plays in Garden State when Zach Braff takes ecstasy and the film time lapses. Singer Emmanuelle Proulx definitely gives me early Sia vibes with her seductive vocals, and the bass lines are always grooving in all of their songs. They’re the band I’m most excited to see for the first time on this entire list, so circle them on yours.
Tue. Mar. 13 at Cheer Up Charlies at 4:15 PM (RSVP) // Wed. Mar. 14 at The Sidewinder at 10:50 PM (OFFICIAL) // Thu. Mar. 15 at BrooklynVegan day party at Cheer Up Charlie’s at time TBD (RSVP), at ATO Showcase at Cedar Street Courtyard at 8:45 PM // Fri. Mar. 16 at Radio Day Stage at Austin Convention Center at 2 PM, at Seven Grand at 11:15 PM (OFFICIAL)
NATALIE PRASS (Cleveland, folk/R&B)
Prass’ 2015 self-titled debut was a helluva folk record, tapping into a ’70s singer-songwriter sound that fit her serene vocal talents like a glove. But the first release from her upcoming sophomore effort signals a potential musical shift, one that you could have seen coming. Prass was regularly covering Janet Jackson baby-making banger “Any Time, Any Place” in her live sets and her new single “Short Court Style” is so reminiscent of that ’90s Janet sound. Even better is Prass makes it work just as seamlessly as she did her folksier tunes.
Wed. Mar. 14 at Georgia Theatre Presents showcase at 9 PM (OFFICIAL) // Thu. Mar. 15 at Cedar Street Courtyard at 8:45 PM (OFFICIAL) // Fri. Mar. 16 at Radio Day Stage Austin Convention Center at 2 PM (OFFICIAL) // Sat. Mar. 17 at BrooklynVegan day showcase at Cheer Up Charlie’s at time TBD (RSVP)
DURAND JONES & THE INDICATIONS (Pennsylvania, soul)
A week after Charles Bradley passed away, I happened to be hanging out with Durand Jones & The Indications while they were in LA for Music Tastes Good in Long Beach last year. It’s interesting because I find this band to be a great fit for that void that was left by Bradley’s passing, and I got the same kind of goosebumps watching them perform that I did whenever I got to see Bradley perform. This band has a ton of soul and if their song “Make a Change” doesn’t make you feel anything, well then you my friend have no soul at all.
Tue. Mar. 13 at C3 Mgmt. Showcase at Scoot Inn at 2:30 PM // Wed. Mar. 14 at PledgeHouse at The Blackheart at 12 PM (RSVP) // Thu. Mar. 15 at StubHub at Banger’s at 3 PM (RSVP) and at Barracuda at 12:50 AM (OFFICIAL) // Fri. Mar. 16 at South By San Jose at 5 PM (no RSVP needed)
LAUREN RUTH WARD (Los Angeles, rock)
Few people have captured vintage rock and roll sound with a new spin on it like the Baltimore-bred, Los Angeles-based Ward, whose voice has been favorably compared to that of the late Janis Joplin. Ward is also a total dynamo on stage, always delivering looks that match her fiery songwriting. She’s writing anthems for bad ass women you don’t want to fuck with, which is what the world needs an endless supply of.
BLACK PISTOL FIRE (Austin/Canada, rock)
This band is further along than most on this list, and only has one showcase scheduled for SXSW. I first saw Black Pistol Fire at Sasquatch 2015 and was drawn in as they played on one of the smaller stages at the festival. By the time their set was over, the crowd had grown ten times the size as the two-man rock band made enough noise that you would’ve thought there was five of them on stage. They have a Black Keys vibe with more of a twang to them. Frontman Kevin McKeown has insane stage charisma and is usually all over the stage and into the crowd before a show is over. This band is Austin-based, so they should draw a helluva home crowd.
Thu. Mar. 15 at TWIX House of Duos at Lustre Pearl at 9 PM (OFFICIAL)
KITTEN (New York, pop/rock)
Few performers know how to ignite a crowd like KITTEN singer Chloe Chaidez, but she’s been doing it for basically her entire life. The 23-year-old singer opened for acts like Paramore and Conor Oberst when she was a teenager and has built her reputation via word-of-mouth as a generational live performer. She can flex her voice as good as anyone and is known for climbing and jumping off things perfectly in line with her band name. Their sound is drenched in synths, a call back to the best the ’80s had to offer. With new music on the way this year, the band is expected to be firing on all cylinders at SXSW.
Wed. Mar. 14 at Empire Garage at 8:30 PM // Thu. Mar. 15 at Girls to the Front at Paper + Craft Pantry at 5:15 PM (RSVP) // Fri. Mar. 16 at The Mohawk at 10 PM (OFFICIAL) // Sat. Mar. 17 at Radio Day Stage at Austin Convention Center at 1 PM (OFFICIAL)
JADE BIRD (England, country)
Few acts have as much buzz as this rising English country star, and the only way you miss her at SXSW is if you go out of your way to do so. Bird is playing no less than 11 showcases over the course of the week. Her single “Lottery” showcases her impressively strong voice, one that can reach the back of the room without a microphone. If you’re a fan of First Aid Kit’s genre-tightrope sound between country and folk, Jade Bird is right up your alley.
Mon. Mar. 12 at VEVO SXSW at Pelons at 9 PM // Tue. Mar. 13 at PledgeHouse at 4:30 PM (RSVP), and KCRW Showcase at Elysium at 10 PM (OFFICIAL) // Wed. Mar. 14 at KGSR Morning Broadcast at The W Hotel at 8:30 AM, at Pandora SXSW at The Gatsby at 2 PM (RSVP), at BBC Radio 2 showcase at Latitude 30 at 9 PM // Thu. Mar. 15 at Luck Reunion at time TBD, at SoundExchange + Paradigm showcase at Stubb’s at time TBD (OFFICIAL) // Fri. Mar. 16 at KUTX Morning Broadcast at Four Seasons at 8 AM, at KAMX’s West of the Fest at Buford’s Beer Garden at time TBD (OFFICIAL), at Waterloo Records at 3 PM (no RSVP needed)