Austin, Texas, becomes a magnet for musicians each March, when South by Southwest takes over the city. Hotels, museums and barbecue joints become makeshift concert venues, and performers often squeeze multiple shows into a day, hoping to cross paths with music-industry VIPs. Sets can shrink to just a song or two if a concert is behind schedule, sound systems can malfunction, and crowds can grow to unfathomable sizes. In other words, the experience is like a boot camp for many performers.
Isthmus asked three touring bands how SXSW has prepared them for concerts in Madison and beyond.
Majestic Theatre, Thursday, April 3, 8:30 p.m.
Michigan's Cheap Girls are SXSW veterans, so they knew exactly how to approach this year's fest. The pop-punk band came and went within 24 hours, according to bassist Ian Graham.
"This was our third time at South by Southwest, and it was easily my favorite," he says. "It was exhausting, but it was worth it.
Graham says SXSW shows are valuable because they add variety to the band's tour schedule. Playing a taco stand or rooftop garden offers a change of scenery, and the concerts are good places to hang out with musician friends from across the country.
Some of Cheap Girls' most famous friends, the members of punk band Against Me!, shared the bill at one SXSW gig. The groups will do the same at their Madison show, where Cheap Girls expect to play material from the forthcoming album Famous Graves.
High Noon Saloon, Sunday, March 30, 8 p.m.
Warpaint bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg says SXSW is a study in scrappiness.
"A lot of things are beyond your control, like acoustics, but South by Southwest is more about your ability to...have a good time with the means you've been given," she says.
The huge crowds and intense schedule are a workout, she says.
"When you leave, it's like you've gone through a year of touring."
Warpaint are relatively new to Madison audiences, so they're excited to play here. Lindberg says she hopes to take in a few local sights and perhaps visit a massage therapist.
Even if those plans fall through, she has a good feeling about the show.
"Our album is very new, so it's been a nice surprise to see people singing along to [its] tracks," she says.
High Noon Saloon, Saturday, March 29, 9:30 p.m.
Atmospheric indie rockers Yellow Ostrich played five shows in three days at SXSW 2014. This was a piece of cake compared to the 11 shows in five days they played in 2012.
"The South by Southwest shows help make every other show on the tour seem very calm and organized," says guitarist and singer Alex Schaaf.
A Wisconsin native, Schaaf especially enjoys Madison shows because his family can attend. And he fondly remembers playing the High Noon with his college band, the Chairs.
This week Yellow Ostrich will bring their new album, Cosmos, to the High Noon. The record also has a Madison connection. Former Smart Studios employee Beau Sorenson served as engineer.
"He's so open to whatever we want to do, and just devoted to helping make our ideas happen," Schaaf says. "We could say, 'I want a big noise cloud to take over the song here and then melt into the next song,' and five minutes later we're [doing] that."
The Madison show represents a winding down of Yellow Ostrich's current tour. After visiting the High Noon but before touring Europe in May, Schaaf must accomplish a very important goal.
"I'm going to take a very, very long nap," he says.