Making the 1,300-mile trip from Michigan doesn’t always pay off for a band seeking exposure at the Texas music conference. Michigan House is a place they can make connections … and relax.
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If anything describes the atmosphere of South By Southwest, it’s the non-stop, music-at-every-turn pageantry that fills concert halls, nightclubs and all manner of temporary venues in Austin for this annual celebration and scrutiny of music, film and interactive media.
It’s tough for attendees to sort through the must-see performances by 2,100 acts playing official showcases, not to mention hundreds more at unofficial concerts.
And it’s even tougher for bands seeking attention to get lost amid the flurry of all that activity, hubbub and just plain noise.
VIDEO: SXSW Highlights (March 15, 2016)
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the trip for Michigan bands who’ve made the 1,300-mile journey south for the music industry’s biggest festival/conference.
“It’s pretty special because people from all areas are in one place at one time,” said Katie Larson of Traverse City’s The Accidentals, noting that there are numerous opportunities for networking, getting endorsements, making industry contacts and rubbing shoulders with “other musicians, too, that we’re finally getting a chance to be in the same spot at the same time and getting to know them.”
Bandmate Savannah Buist said the indie-folk trio’s experience at SXSW 2015, when Billboard named the group one of its seven breakout acts to watch, has “definitely helped gain momentum for the band,” which plans to release a new EP in June.
“I think South by Southwest brings so much to the table as far as a collaborative network of people that you can build relationships with. It’s really cool to have that at a time when you need it most.”
Erik Hall of In Tall Buildings and Wild Belle said it’s all a matter of expectations: Bands traveling to the mega-conference for the first time, he suggested, may have an unrealistic goal of drawing attention to their music from industry heavyweights and new audiences when there’s so much going on.
Hall, a University of Michigan graduate whose wife is from Hamilton, Mich., and who spends a lot of time in the Great Lakes State, has been coming to SXSW for more than a decade. He and his bandmates come now for the vibe, to see other bands, to make contacts and “to just have fun,” without attaching unnecessary weight to a particular performance and its ramifications.
Plunging into the SXSW maelstrom even on a Tuesday night dramatically proves Hall’s point: Lines of festival attendees snake outside venue after venue along 6th Street, with throngs of strolling festival-ites gathered around street musicians, piling into tented private and semi-private corporate events sponsored by everything from Prius to Pandora scattered throughout the downtown area, and meandering from bar to bar. Some “venues” only host live music during SXSW and then they showcase several bands in one night.
As one participant in a Tuesday afternoon Michigan House roundtable discussion put it, SXSW is “a mile wide and an inch deep” and it can be difficult for bands – or organizations – to have a real impact.
The relaxed Michigan House, on the other hand, allows for “a lot of depth and repeat connections,” whether it’s a musician seeking to network or a Michigan company trying to promote its brand, according to ArtPrize’s Todd Herring.
Organizer Ted Velie noted that Grand Rapids’ Jesse Ray & The Carolina Catfish had the opportunity to play SXSW for the first time this week thanks to Michigan House’s opening night Founders Tap Takeover party at Stay Gold, an Austin nightclub. The rockabilly/blues band traveled to Texas for just that show, regaling a big audience of Texans and Michiganders, and even getting interviewed by Oakland Press and Billboard magazine writer Gary Graff.
Velie said that’s an example of Michigan House “providing a benefit that’s hard to count.”
Another benefit: Michigan House offers a comfy home base for touring Michigan artists.
Larson said the comfortable, pressure-free and air-conditioned Michigan House provides the sort of respite bands need from the hubbub.
“Everyone’s so sweet and it’s kind of tucked away. It’s almost like a jungle around this house,” she said. “That’s how we feel whenever we go home to Michigan. We can breathe, we can rest and we’re surrounded by people we can feel comfortable with.”
PHOTO GALLERY: SXSW 2016/MICHIGAN HOUSE, Day 2 photos by Anna Sink
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