A view of the crowd and the stage at Bright Eyes Saturday night concert at Austins Auditorium Shores.
BY ANDREW NORMAN Watching the grass turn from tan to yellow to green through the car's window — and feeling the air warm at stops — during the 14-hour trip to Austin, Texas, is enough reason to attend the SXSW Music Festival every year in March. After a Nebraska winter, the climate change provides a nice reminder that spring really will come. And then there are the bands. Almost 2,000 of them. Our half of The Reader/HearNebraska.org team rolled in about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, and we were out when we hit the pillows at the house of a Lincoln transplant in Austin, in order to get rested for the upcoming week of music. After registering for media badges the next day (a go-anywhere at anytime pass that screams 'asshole' as you walk past every poor sap standing in lines at venues), I filed some work at the media lounge at the conference center, walked past Jack White — who was on his way to the restroom — and headed east on 6th Street. This year, only a handful of Nebraska bands are playing: Bright Eyes played a big show Saturday at an outside auditorium; Lincoln folker Orion Walsh picked up a last-minute gig, and played at a small club Thursday night; Midwest Dilemma played a house show; and Daniel Christiansan and Reader-sponsored band Satchel Grande played at the same time at different venues Wednesday night. Here’s a re-cap of South By Southwest 2011. As the founder and editor of HearNebraska.org, I’ll supply reviews of the local stuff, then hand it over to Chris Aponick, who’ll report on several bands he now hopes to see coming through Omaha soon. Satchel Grande Satchel Grande's showcase at Karma Lounge, an off-the-beaten-path venue, had a sparse crowd as the big Omaha soul-funk-pop band started its set. Wearing orange and brown business casual attire (obviously inspired by this website's color palette) and their Blueblockers-sponsored shades, they look the part of a serious band. And though this was their first non-Nebraska show, the nine-piece left no questions about their substance. As they played their catchy tunes — every single one of which you feel like you know on first listen, which is a good thing — more and more people moved from the back of the room to the front. There were only about 30 or 40 people there, but they were fixed on these white guys who brought soul from Nebraska. Our state should be proud to have been represented by them. They killed it. After the set, I overheard a guy telling his buddy, “This was definitely worth $10.” Satchel made some fans in Texas. Let's hope they got the road bug and continue to spread the word. Orion Walsh Orion Walsh, Amy Schmidt and Brian Brazier had driven down Wednesday to play an afternoon show, which I missed, at a coffee shop. So I'm glad to be catching them playing a similar set of Walsh's songs to an organic group of locals hopping to and from a bus, and concertgoers moving to and from sobriety. Walsh on acoustic guitar, kick-pedal tambourine, kazoo and harmonica, Schmidt on the banjo and Brazier (Bolzen Beer Band) on the tuba, the trio played, in front of a Starbucks, about a dozen of Walsh's blue-collar, Phil Ochs-style folk songs. The crowd was diverse and many surprised me with their attentiveness. Six people dropped money in Walsh's guitar case, and grabbed one of his CDs. A couple Nebraskans were among them. Betty Levitov and Carla Stormsberg were in town for the film portion of SXSW — Levitov teaches film at Doane College. I asked them why they were standing on this street corner at about 10 p.m. Levitov points to Brazier's T-shirt, peeking out from behind his swinging tuba. It read, “Nebraska Matters.” “We walked by and turned back because we liked the sound,” Levitov said. “We stayed because we saw his shirt.” Midwest Dilemma Justin Lamoureux and three other members of Omaha folk band Midwest Dilemma played an unofficial show east of downtown in a little grotto area behind Uncorked, a wine-tasting bar. The show was a Paper Garden Records/Lonely Hearts Club showcase — a Brooklyn-based label founded by Nebraskan Bryan Vaughan. (They put out Eagle Seagull's self-titled debut.) The walk there put us about 15 minutes late. But when we arrived, Lamoureux was standing with a beer, chatting with a couple of the probably 40 people in the sit-down, fenced-in area. Midwest Dilemma was only at 4/9 power — acoustic and electric guitar, stand-up bass and flute — but few people knew it. Staring out at the Texas Capitol, the band moved swimmingly through about eight grab-you-by-the-throat folk songs that had people dancing between tables. The song “The Great Depression” particularly captured the crowd's attention, with its lifting melodies and chorus that you can't help but sing: “Victoria, Victoria, you don't have to give up your land.” They represented Omaha and Nebraska well. Bright Eyes I try to catch up on some world news — Libya, Japan — while I wait for Bright Eyes. As the sun sets, I realized the space — capacity 20,000 — quickly filled. It's packed. The Omaha band was a four-piece that night, with The Mynabirds' Laura Burhenn (keys), Clark Baechle (drums) and Nate Walcott (guitar) flanking Conor Oberst, whom everyone came to see. The band's first SXSW show in a decade began with “Firewall” from its new album, The People's Key. They followed with four songs from the new album within the first 10 songs. Even way back where I was standing, peopled were singing all the words. The crowd was there for bright eyes, and got one helluva concert, complete with an intense light show. The band played for some 105 minutes and the show culminated with a fireworks display. Not a bad representation of Nebraska music, I'd say.