They came by car loads and U-Hauls, traversing state border after state border with acoustic guitars in tow, leaving a frosted Wisconsin for heat and sunshine during spring break. In Austin, you could locate them by the distinct smell of Janesville’s Blue Farm and Watertown’s Detjen’s Meats-or the palest skin tones south of St. Louis. March 17th saw the first iteration of SXWI invading Rainey Manor during SXSW in Austin, Texas. Headliners included All Tiny Creatures, Group of the Altos and Cedarwell. Three Madison-based music blogs hosted three sections of the showcase; Urban Agrarian (P.C. AllenCorcovadoPioneer and Cedarwell), Mezzic (Shane ShaneBrett NewskiAmy MusserSubvocal and Group of the Altos), and Rock of the Arts (Double EwesAndrew FitzpatrickRichDad and All Tiny Creatures).

For more coverage, check out the following recaps:
Rock of the Arts – South by Wisconsin Debuts at SXSW 2011
Urban Agrarian – SXWI

The afternoon was a sunny reprieve from the dreary winter and near non-existant spring we experienced with temperatures topping mid-80s, cloudless skies and breakfast tacos as far as the eye could see. Ale Asylum’s Hoppalicious and New Glarus’ Spotted Cow flowed freely in the land of Lone Star, with the stage set up within grilling distance. With the Wisconsin state flag mounted on the basketball hoop and the screen printing station ready, the set shifted from Cedarwell to Shaneshane-the randomest juxtaposition imaginable. Shane Shane, fiercely armed with a loaded iPod, took the stage and launched into “Boomedley.” Accompanying each song were props, a giant “BOOM” for the opener before golden locks of hair with “Pretty”, or a giant weather-immune ice cream cone for “Dairy Queen.” Parts bombastic, parts shock-electro, if you weren’t in awe of the sheer showmanship, you were instead probably checking on your ticket for the official SXWI meat raffle.

Following up Shane Shane, Brett Newski of The Nod (their CD release show is July 8th at the Terrace) stepped away from his band to perform acoustic with Hutch Harris/Ted Leo evoking vocals. Impassioned despite minor technical problems delaying the start and cutting short the set, Brett adjusted to perform uptempo folk-rock fitting the constraints. Yet evidenced by wrapping up with the harmonica-laced ” “, the heat of the moment didn’t overwhelm him as the stage was given over to the cool, softer songwriter Amy Musser.

Amy extended the previous night’s French showcase to Rainey Manor with her French/English mini set. With a cool breeze coming in and deep into the afternoon, everyone moved up to the front, sitting as the little community we are as she began with “Champagne” and “Rien de Rien,” two French songs that formed in the snowy north before their southern debut. Amy joked with the crowd introducing with “Love and Warfare,” a ‘drinking song’ where every mention of ‘it’ was five sips. She was as calm as a summer’s night as the collaboration with P.C. Allen debuted. “You showed me how to love wrong, or be smitten” introduced Peter, leaning over his acoustic as the upstrokes and smiles between the two counterbalanced the solitary, trouble-with-love lyrics. For the first appearance I caught outside of Madison, the crowd easily caught on to what Wisconsin had grown to know, drawing Amy into open arms.

Subvocal was moved to after Group of the Altos, changing the set lineup a bit. Mark Adkins had the look of a traveled musician on stage with the dust of state after state still settling around his guitar. Singing, even in the late afternoon heat, he still captured the classic essence that gave life to classic rock and echoed against the sun-bleached fences to give a timeless element to the inaugural showcase.

Milwaukee’s Group of the Altos headlined our section of SXWI, starting their instrumental opuses off with a saw, trumpet, violin, keys and three guitars, a bassist and a drummer. Involving members of Collections of Colonies of Bees and Volcano Choir, Group of the Altos stirred the dust and enraptured the attention of those who strayed away from 6th Street. The songs, without introductions or the expected small talk, started with a fresh foundation awash in layers of guitars. The violin and trumpet were the counterweights, pivoting songs away from a path to dreariness that comes from pure expertise.

They led us each on those trails long enough to mesmerize, only to turn a corner or traverse a hill revealing a soundscape. The final song lasted five minutes, established by two drums with precisely placed tight cymbal strikes. A trumpet surged with crescendos, opening the music as if commanding military columns to break the front lines. The front lines let the entire opus march straight to a sheer wall before dropping back with a swiftness as if the dust and debris around the Manor dissipated with the daylight.

SXWI still elicits fond memories and late night Austin cravings, with many of us have succumbed to creating makeshift breakfast tacos to cope. 2012 is too, too far away bringing with it the next bastion of Wisconsin musicians, artists, promoters, beer and brats return for a follow-up.

Founder, Editor, Writer, Photographer. (Austin, Texas)

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