Creative Many’s Michigan House and Local Spins are back in Austin for the giant SXSW conference this weekend, shedding an even brighter spotlight on Great Lakes State artists, products and innovators. See which acts will be joining them and why.
For The Accidentals, The Outer Vibe, Flint Eastwood and other Michigan bands who’ve experienced the joy and the chaos of Austin’s South by Southwest, diving back into that immense, turbulent musical pool is about “building relationships in the music industry” and reveling in a “great place for exposure.”
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For SXSW newbies — The Go Rounds, Seth Bernard and Michigander, among others — getting their first taste of the world’s largest music conference and industry showcase can be a daunting yet exciting expedition into the unknown.
For both sets of musicians, the Creative Many organization and Michigan House will once again aim to make SXSW more manageable and more productive as it returns to Austin for the third straight year to host a pop-up venue with panel discussions, receptions and more — all designed to promote Michigan’s creative community.
“I say all the time that I think the creativity and the energy in Michigan can stand up against any place in the world. Getting a chance to showcase all that talent – the music, the art, the ingenuity – under the banner of Michigan spotlights that fact for those who aren’t from here,” says Ted Velie, of Grand Rapids, a lead organizer of Michigan House in Austin, which sets up shop March 11-14.
“There just aren’t that many events that provide the big stage that SXSW presents: Twitter was launched there, Academy Award winning films have premiered there, countless musicians were discovered there. If you’re like me and think that Michigan can play in that company then, yeah, it makes a huge amount of sense for us to be there.”
This year, in particular, stands out because Michigan House for the first time is an official presenter at SXSW, hosting panel discussions on a variety of subjects with panelists ranging from Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss to Earthwork Music collective founder Seth Bernard. (See the full list of panels and a schedule online here.)
Creative Many and Michigan House also will host a special Michigan showcase event at Austin’s Stay Gold nightclub on March 14 featuring performances by five acts from across the state: The Go Rounds, Flint Eastwood, Michigander, ONEFREQ and Stef Chura.
Preceding that will be a “Lessons Learned From Austin” roundtable discussion hosted for the second year in a row by Local Spins with musicians from Austin and Michigan taking part. (Check out the Local Spins Facebook page at 3:15 p.m. March 14 for a live stream of the Local Spins roundtable discussion.)
Also, to commemorate this year’s SXSW experience, all five acts playing the Michigan House showcase have recorded songs at Peter Fox’s Stone House Recording in Grand Rapids. The songs will be entered in this year’s ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids; keep following Local Spins’ SXSW coverage for the premiere of these songs.
WORKING ‘TO CELEBRATE AND SUSTAIN THE POWER’ OF MICHIGAN ARTISTS AND MORE
Joe Voss, director of strategic partnerships for Creative Many, said having Michigan House return for the third year to Texas is all about “maximizing the quality of the connections” that musicians, artists and businesses can make at SXSW.
“We are also excited to be working with some new partners this year that really deepen the degree of engagement among the Michigan communities that are involved. For example, Southwest Michigan First has been extremely helpful to the collaboration, and we are excited to work together with them and all of the other partners from around the state that pitch in to make Michigan House happen,” Voss says.
“Creative Many works to celebrate and sustain the power of Michigan’s creative industries to connect people and make the state vibrant, and Michigan House is a great vehicle to do that with the people from around the world that experience it.”
Of course, Michigan musicians want to show folks with connections that the state plays a growing, vital role in the music industry.
“I believe it’s highly important that we show the strength in numbers we have in the Michigan creative community,” says Grand Rapids hip hop artist Rick Chyme, who’s attended SXSW the past two years and whose merch includes “Michigan Love” apparel. “The Michigan House is a great way to show our unity and build momentum.”
Savannah Buist of Traverse City’s The Accidentals, who will release a new single, “KW,” from the band’s upcoming Sony Masterworks album at SXSW, calls the Austin conference “a culmination of all of the arts, and a learning environment for the business side of the arts.
“It’s the one place you can go and connect, learn how to connect and get connected,” she says. “From a band perspective, it’s critical to make yourself easily accessible to press, venues and other industry professionals who are looking for bands to promote. SXSW is where all of those things come together.”
After being tagged the past two years by national publications as a “band to watch” at SXSW, The Accidentals will play four official SXSW showcases next week, along with several other performances in Austin that will “put an emphasis on the new album coming out” and help them “touch base with as much press as possible,” says fellow band member Katie Larson. They’ll also take part in the Local Spins roundtable.
MAKING CRITICAL CONNECTIONS AT A CRITICAL TIME
Larson says SXSW also offers a great opportunity to “connect with some of the bands we’ve been watching this year and would love to collaborate with, attend several panels that we feel will be beneficial going forward, and actually shake hands with some of the people who will help us make the next year happen.”
Kalamazoo’s Graham Parsons of The Go Rounds says it will be the band’s first trip to SXSW, though he himself attended the conference/festival several years ago with singer-songwriter Chris Bathgate.
“We hope to accomplish the same objectives we strive for everywhere we go: genuine connections with peers and concertgoers, movers and shakers,” he says.
“We seek to listen and learn, share when it’s asked of us. I personally don’t love the smell or pretentious ethos surrounding SXSW as an organization. As much as it is great to hear a ton of new music, the festival acts as a magnet for the most regrettable and toxic aspects of the biz.”
For that reason, Parsons appreciates efforts by Michigan House to represent the state and assist its artists, which includes helping some of them with transportation costs to the conference.
GRATEFUL FOR AN ORGANIZATION WITH A ‘GREAT MISSION’
“I’m incredibly grateful that groups like the Michigan House exist. It almost seems too disparate or intangible or multi-faceted to work out, but I always end up impressed by the cohesion and execution of their events,” says Parsons, who insists Michigan is a “hotbed” for music right now.
“Real human beings. Great mission, again, genuine connection seems to be their goal. Representing the Motherland in a great way. So important.”
Another newcomer to SXSW this year is veteran northern Michigan singer-songwriter and Earthwork Music collective founder Seth Bernard, who’s hoping “to connect with new folks to strengthen the national network and to absorb a lot of inspiration to bring back to Michigan as a musician, educator and organizer.”
Like Parsons, The Accidentals and many others, Bernard believes “Michigan’s talent pool is as strong as anywhere on the planet and our sense of real community and camaraderie is unrivaled anywhere I’ve been. The key is for us to keep lifting each other up and making great art that inspired people to do good work.”
Meanwhile, for members of Grand Rapids’ The Outer Vibe, who recently relocated to Nashville and who are returning to SXSW this year, Michigan House helps make SXSW “a great place for exposure. We’ve learned that collaboration is one of the most important tools for artist growth, so it would be cool for more outsiders to know about the Michigan House and all the great artists who are showcased there.”
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