Austin Free Week Reflections

ATH Free Week 14 BannerDespite the debates of recent months concerning Free Week and proper pay, it’s probably best if we look at the unique situation set up by promoters here in town (and Transmission wasn’t the only force putting on great shows!).  For a little over a week, every big venue in town was filling out line-ups with their favorite acts, the newest bands and the old stand-bys. Personally, I had an incredible time, and relished in the environment Austin offers.  

Here’s some thoughts for you, as well as my highlights. 

First, I’d like to thank the great Austin music community.  You can say what you want about the positives and negatives of the event, but as a “writer” and huge music fan, it’s probably one of my favorite weeks.  I relished in various nights on the town, surrounded by great photographers and writers alike, all reveling in the pure joy that comes with discovery and witnessing great shows.  It might not be perfect, but it offers every one in Austin a chance to experience the music scene in perhaps a different way; it’s like our own personal SXSW, filled with friends and bands we adore.  Seeing the camaraderie among the venues, promoters, bands and even the bloggers displayed a community that’s dedicated to one thing: music.  Sure, there’s imperfections, but if you give yourself over to Free Week, you’ll find that you’ve got nothing to complain about.

Second, I caught several acts that really inspired me, offering a glimpse at a strong Austin musical future.  Reservations, fronted by Jana Horn, was remarkable over at The Belmont on opening night, stealing the show.  The band offers up powerful vocal strength, poetic lyrics and a sprawling creativity with a complimentary band to back Horn.  Isaiah the Mosaic were also impressive, and incredibly tight during their set over at the Mohawk.  They had this combination of psychedelia blended carefully with the pop sensibility of an Animal Collective, and were supported by a well-orchestrated light show. Jonly Bonly killed their quick set at Red 7, providing listeners with a unique combination of mod, blues and punk.  Perhaps most powerful was the set provided by Night Drive.  There have been whispers of the group in the carefully curated blogs about town, but I was really in for a treat.  They have an organically crafted electro-pop sound, and a simplified light show, but the response of the crowd, including myself, was a huge nod to the band’s rising star.

Third, some acts who’ve been around for years just continue to get better with age.  Orthy continue to impress with their new wave leanings, owning the stage with a full-band behind singer Ian.  If you want hooks and fun, you’re not going to find too many better.  Shivery Shakes are getting better each day.  We’ve been watching William for years, since he was a wee teen, but his set at Cheer Up Charlies, while battling illness, was one of the most impressive sets I caught the whole weekend.  Several line-up changes and a changed name, and it seems like Will’s only going to make our town better.  A.Sinclair, formerly Frank Smith, continue to be impressive, and vastly overlooked.  They’re sets have grown tighter, and louder, moving into a more traditional alternative sound focused on loud guitars; love watching them.  Little Radar also did a wonderful job at Cheer Up Charlies on Saturday evening, showing why they’re another one of our best kept secrets. And of course, two bands in our small stable, Grape St. and Young Girls always put on great shows, and it’s great seeing them get much deserved love.

In conclusion, I’m not going to ever say a disparaging word about Free Week. I know it might not be the ideal situation for everyone in town, but they’re allowed their opinions.  For me, I caught so many bands that I hadn’t seen yet, not to mention watched incredible sets by some of our ATH favorites.  There was a spirit in the air that reminded me that the musical community in Austin, though far from perfect, still has the ability to unite for the benefit of all, and I was just grateful to be part of it.

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