Austin calls itself the "Live Music Capital of the World" — and for good reason. Just take a walk down 6th Street and there's as much music pouring out of the bars as there is beer flowing from the taps.
We traveled down to Austin to host a panel at the annual SXSW Interactive conference and report on activism in a post-Edward Snowden world. The music portion was still a week away, but there were some great musicians taking stages across the city.
One stage at the conference was at the Spotify House. Judging by the long line of people waiting to get, the lineup was hot.
When we got there, a blonde Aussie named Conrad Sewell was onstage singing to hordes of screaming fans. After his set, basking the glow of his rising star, we convinced him and his guitar player to give us a solo rendition of one of his hits.
It was weeks before I wasn't constantly humming this song. Just see for yourself:
Back at the Spotify House, we cornered a tall Belgian musician named Stromae. We had been looking for Stromae, whose real name is Paul Van Haver, since arriving in Austin days before. His street team had plastered every telephone pole, building column and blank wall in the five-block radius around the Austin Convention Center with poster asking "Who the hell is Stromae?". We wanted to know.
We even left the maddening hustle of the conference and headed out into the Austin countryside for one of the musical highlights of our teip. We grabbed a cab — driven by perhaps the only taxi driver in the tech-centric SXSW universe who didn't have GPS — and drove 30 minutes outside the city to a quiet neighborhood where fresh air, flowers and chirping birds dominated.
It wasn't lost on us that we, the journalists, were late for a band — normally it's quite the opposite. But when we finally arrived and were taken around the back of the house, the members of Sweden-based Amason were ready to go. The setting was idylic, and Amason played beautifully.
As an encore to our harrowing GPS-deficient cab ride out to the country, we opted to take Uber back to Austin as we rushed to make a special live broadcast of The World from KUT. When you grab an Uber in Boston, where we're based, the car arrives and then takes you to your destination. That's it. But for some reason, the default settings in Austin are for something called "Pool" — meaning Andrea and I were going to be sharing our car back to Austin with a complete stranger. It was slightly annoying to say the least.
When we pulled over, two women climbed in the van. They, too, had accidentally selected the car pool option, so they were equally shocked to have company as we were. We made polite conversation and told the stories of why we were in Austin. As luck would have it, they were in town for the premiere of a film their company had produced, called "They Will Have To Kill Us First."
Our new car pool pals told us the film featured an amazing band called Songhoy Blues, telling the story of how the band had formed after Islamic extremists took over northern Mali and banned music. Take a listen their music and read more about our random Uber encounter here.
Two other music notes from Austin: Luck would strike one more time for us at the Spotify House when we bumped into the talented guys who make up Centavrvs. After peforming for hundreds of people, the Centavrvs remade their song "Mańana No" just for us, this time as an acoustic version with a cow bell and guitar instrumentation.
As I mentioned, we were in Austin to host a panel conversation at SXSW and report on protest culture in the modern era, and that's how we met one last musician. Local hip-hop artist D.Hawk was attending a Black Lives Matter protest that took place while we were there. He had strong words to say about police violence, and an even stronger message for his fellow musicians, who he says must stand up and do something to help heal the wounds after death of Michael Brown, who was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, last year.
D.Hawk wrote a song following Brown's death that he performed for us. It's good, but you be the judge.