Context, as the saying goes, is everything, and there's something to be said for leaving home to gauge how a largely uninitiated festival audience responds to our homegrown talent. Not to promote the idea that you should travel all the way to Austin for South by Southwest only to immerse yourself in the once-in-a-life-year experience of watching bands you could see any night in Nashville — but if you wanted to do that, you certainly have plenty of options.
On Thursday alone, you could hop among the various clubs, cafes and pop-up venues of Austin and see Tristen, Those Darlins, The Features, Emmylou Harris, The Kingston Springs, Natalie Prass, Kyle Andrews, Caitlin Rose, The Honeymoon Thrillers, Heavy Cream and The Apache Relay — and that's not counting day parties, spontaneous back-of-the-van video shoots and other unofficial appearances. (Granted, this is the night of the official Next Big Nashville at SXSW showcase, so it's a bit stacked.)
It's a lot of bands, and keeping track of who's playing where isn't always easy, even for the artists themselves. Daniel Pujol — this year's officially sponsored Scene SXSW artist — had to pull up a crowded spreadsheet on his phone to remind himself, and the tangle of data seemed a bit overwhelming: "Well, I'm playing at least six or seven times, I think," Pujol said with a bemused look. "I know I'm playing the Panache thing." (In his defense, it was a brand-new phone.) He was referring to the showcase hosted by Michelle Cable's Panache Booking, the Brooklyn-based agency that features a gaggle of Nashville bands on its roster — local rockers JEFF the Brotherhood, Turbo Fruits and Natural Child will also be appearing at the Mohawk that night.
Thanks to a constant stream of catchy, kinetic and sometimes darkly funny songs — "God is dead / And the Internet did it," he sings on should-be-hit "Too Safe" — Pujol has put himself on the national radar, gathering notices from Nylon and AOL's Spinner website, among others. Oh yeah, and Jack White produced his "Black Rabbit" single and released it as a Third Man Records Blue Series 7-inch last year, which probably didn't hurt. Speaking of 7-inch records, Pujol released his single "Bonedaddy" earlier this month on local imprint Jeffrey Drag Records, with all proceeds going to benefit Candice Burnside of Battle Tapes studio — she's been battling breast cancer and the medical bills that go with it. Pujol will represent Nashville well in Austin, both music-wise and solid dude-wise, and we'll see how the SXSW pilgrims respond.
Gauging out-of-town reactions to our local bands is one thing — but what do they think about when they think about our hometown, if they think about us at all? One of this year's SXSW panels is called "Nashville Now," and while the premise of the thing — Music City has changed in the last 100 years! — might seem obvious to those of us who haven't been Rip Van Winkling our lives away under an oak since Keith Whitley walked the earth, it says something that one of the world's most sprawling music festivals has taken up our fair city as a topic worth paneling about. And the moderator's name will strike a major chord of civic pride in the hearts of local music boosters: Jason Moon Wilkins, CEO of our hometown four-day multi-venue music festival Next Big Nashville, leads the discussion. The official description alludes not only to our recent chart-topping glory — Taylor Swift, KOL, etc. — but also to "obstacles and perception problems." (Who, us?) Third Man Records' sergeant-at-arms Ben Swank will also sit on the panel, as will Grimey's record shop co-owner Mike Grimes and Turbo Fruits' frontman Jonas Stein, who started his own Turbo Time record label last year in addition to founding the Bruise Cruise. Lee Parsons of Ditto Music and Mark Montgomery of Claritas Capital round out the panel lineup.
If you're headed to the Texas capital this week, maybe we'll see you there. If not, don't worry: We've dispatched a crack team of our finest festival rats to bring you all the coverage you can handle. Follow along at www.nashvillecream.com for bands, bands, barbecue, purloined beer and more bands — and maybe a little context.