Anna Hamilton was the newcomer most hadn’t been acquainted with, winning a contest to open for Dermot Kennedy as a local act. A Kansas native and one of 12 children in her family, Anna’s music dripped with bits of nostalgia and hopeful thoughts for the future. It was also an insanely beautiful experience, her sweet-as-honey vocals accompanied only by a guitar. It was mesmerizing.
By her third song, we caught a glimpse at specificity in a track about a boy that left her for a city – “Me For Barcelona.” The song had never been played in front of a live audience before and is not currently available, but is open for preorder via her link in bio at clever Instagram handle @a.ham.sandwich. Her fourth trach was about leaving Kansas to pursue her singing career in Tennessee, something so many artists struggle with. She has clearly found a safe haven and inspirational options in her relocation, as her last track – “Self Help” – was realized so early on. Of the track, she admitted that it was about taking care of yourself before allowing others to benefit from you. “You need to be 100% before your cup overflows and they can receive it.”
Bishop Briggs emerged, energetic as ever and donning a leather jacket on a pretty balmy night in the midwest. It was shed quickly, to reveal skeleton-printed fingerless gloves and delicate tattoos dancing across both forearms. The first time this town got acquainted with Bishop, she had barely edged into the world of tattoos. Now, you find yourself mesmerized by them as she jumps across the stage with every robust, belted line.
An artist that truly allows you to feel the songs with her, Bishop has cultivated a fandom that spans generations, cultures, and ideals. Perhaps the show’s littlest attendant – a young man no older than 10 or 11 – could be found belting out lyrics and clapping in time with his family during the intense track “Hi-Lo (Hollow)”. Her set included “Someone Else,” “Darkside,” and her most recognizable hit, “River”, among others.
August 7, 2021 was my first show back. Back, from where? Who even knows? While the pandemic rages on, I wonder, more often than not, if leaving my house is even worth it. But I’ve been enjoying – and producing – livestreams and digital concert experiences since COVID-19 took SXSW 2020 from us all, and I knew the joy that came from that massively sustained me over the last 17 months.
The first time I saw Dermot Kennedy was in a church off 6th Street in Austin, Texas during SXSW 2018. I chose to spend the evening with a handful of friends from my hometown, wandering into shows and experiencing new acts to write about and photograph for the (still new) site. But something about Kennedy’s vocal delivery – the vulnerability and intensity with which he delivered some of the most emotionally charged lyrics I’d ever heard – made me forget I was trying to compile content for the site at all. A handful of distanced, “between tall guys’ bobbing heads” photos happened, but the music was so compelling that I spent an embarrassing amount of the set with my eyes closed, or staring up at the vaulted ceilings, marveling at the magic that music creates, and the magic from which it is derived.
When SXSW 2020 was canceled, I decided to make the quick, 4-hour jaunt to St. Louis to see Kennedy. Within a couple of days, the tour was indefinitely postponed. COVID-19 set in, and March saw stages around the world shutter. Deafening silence. And while artists tried to keep the spark alive with their multi-dimensional at-home creations, new directions, and interactive experiences, there was just something missing. That spark that live music incites, the way it can make an entire room feel like it’s on fire, hearts dancing in unison. As someone who once took for granted a 2-5 concert per week schedule, I began to feel lost in a sea of digital analysis and curation. I am humbled by the art that has come from our time locked away, but it never had the energy of a live show.
By the time I realized live music was coming back, Kennedy had sold out his St. Louis reschedule. And his Red Rocks performance. I spoke with a friend who was going to work with me on getting tickets in Wisconsin, which would be my saving grace for his tour since Kennedy was no longer appearing on the postponed Bonnaroo lineup (because of touring conflicts). But my sister happening upon a radio tour announcement a couple of weeks before her big move to Los Angeles and a random discussion that occurred a half-hour before tickets went on sale for the Kansas City stop made it all possible. Me – the woman who often feels jaded by the industry, especially for how little people truly rallied for the arts through this dark time -, I allowed myself to finally get excited about an event. I had something to look forward to that I knew could help me heal.
And still, I wondered, could I possibly stand in a crowded venue again? Could I find joy in the music – the one thing that makes me feel like I have my head screwed on straight on a daily basis – amidst a crowd of maybe-vaxxers from the midwest? (That wild, wild midwest that we have come to know as a largely “denying science” crowd.) I spent days before this show panicking about everything. Would there be space to spread out? The show wasn’t entirely sold out, the venue was more intimate, it couldn’t be too insane. Right? Would I melt in my mask? Would my friends be comfortable?
I almost had no words to explain how it all felt. Sure, I annoyed my +1 (Hi, mom!) and a couple of friends (I see you Anjelica and Kevin!) with some fears about everything. But, I was mostly entirely back in my element. As an observer, an enjoyer. I ensured we got pretty good spots to watch the show, over by the rail on the right side next to the stage. Dermot Kennedy’s Kansas City (Missouri) leg of his Better Days tour was officially sold out at the Uptown Theater, however, there was substantial space on the sides of the stage to ensure that we felt comfortable. I did some people watching like I used to. (I’d like to think that people couldn’t handle their liquor because they hadn’t imbibed at that level in a while, but who knows?) And, truly, I spent the majority of the evening belting out lyrics behind my mask, staring up at the shadows dancing on the ceiling, really indulging in the collective atmosphere of it all.
Set List: Lost Power Over Me All My Friends An Evening I Will Not Forget Outgrown The Corner Rome For Island Fires and Family Outnumbered Better Days Moments Passed Glory Giants Encore: After Rain Without Fear
Thank you to Anna Hamilton, Bishop Briggs, and Dermot Kennedy for “an evening I will not forget.” (I know I’m the first one to use that reference, of course.) I can only say that it helped to inflate my sad, darkened, emo heart. So perhaps I’ll Grinch less for a while. 😉
Anna Hamilton and Bishop Briggs thoughts + photos to come.
During SXSW 2021, I had the privilege of being able to see musicians that I would not otherwise get a chance to see. One such showcase was the CLOSE UP: A Sounds Australia Showcase. Each of the three nights had six different artists, each performing two songs. As Sounds Australia said in their release, “These performances have never been seen before and all were recorded in the artists’ ‘backyard’ (however they chose to interpret that theme).” Dom Alessio and Glenny G, both of Sounds Australia, hosted from Glenny’s actual backyard.
On this third night of music, Dom kicked off the festivities by paying respects to the elders, past, present and future, and any Indigenous people. No Money Enterprise, a hip hop quartet from Logan City, Queensland, played their energetic music in what looked like a park. In a nod to their Polynesian heritage, native dances were incorporated into the set alongside the hip hop rhythms.
Hauskey, from Western Australia, was next on deck playing from a studio. Playing the first song on the piano and the second on guitar, Hauskey displayed a pop flavor and versatility that reminded me of Ed Sheeran. He was followed by Indigo Sparke, an artist from Sydney. She played a stripped down acoustic set. Indigo Sparke has a voice quality that is both sweet and haunting.
The Merindas played their set outdoors at night and I wanted to be invited to that party! The Melbourne based duo performed dance tunes that mix pop and R&B beats. Like No Money Enterprise earlier in the evening, The Merindas infuse their music with their native Indigenous language and culture.
The next artist was Didirri, who hales from the town of Warrnambool in Australia. He also played an acoustic set, using a piano for the first melancholy love song and a guitar for the second song. Didirri’s voice is raw with emotion that perfectly matches his lyrics.
The biggest surprise of the night was the appearance of Jaguar Jonze. They played a live set in front of an audience – people in the comments of the broadcast were as pleasantly surprised as I was. In all honesty, I have no idea how big the crowd was, but the people there were very responsive to Jaguar Jonze’ brand of rock music. They had an energy and stage presence that we haven’t seen since March, 2020.
I look forward to the new music that artists in this Sounds Australia showcase will be making in the coming months!
Thursday, March 18th brought with it some new sounds from far-off places. I was overjoyed to sit in on night 2 of “Close Up: A Sounds Australia Showcase.” Hosted by Dom Alessio of Sounds Australia, this relaxing evening featured music by Kee’ahn, Beans, Death by Denim, The Chats, and Kota Banks & Ninajirachi.
We think the photos do this showcase quite a bit of justice. The feeling of connecting with the earth and these natural landscapes while engaging with incredible international artists is absolutely captivating. Check out the snaps below, and add these bands to your next playlist!
St. Patrick’s Day this year was just as entertaining as usual, as a slew of music showcases kept us popping in and out of different virtual spaces, much like we would be popping into different storefronts and venues along 6th street at SXSW had it been in person. (You’re welcome for that masterful run-on sentence.) Fierce Panda and End of The Trail Creative threw an absolute bash with some moody ass lighting. Caiine, Jekyll, Scrounge, Family Jools, and Enjoyable Listens left their best out on the floor for us. We took some screenshots while dancing around the living room. Highlights below.
The Island Stage is a platform dedicated to bringing music of the Caribbean to the forefront of the international music scene. Pioneered by rising artist Kalpee who hails from Trinidad and Tobago, and his manager Miss Vivianna of Therapy, the aim was to create a platform for Caribbean artists to come together and showcase their musical heritage. THERAPY.XYZ is a brand new series of boutique wellness and soul repairing events such as Music Festivals, Charity Events and Wellness Retreats & Seminars, which will take place in locations across the world that naturally promote healing.
On Friday March 19, I was introduced to a music showcase treat – Therapy presents ‘The Island Stage’. ‘The Island Stage’ has a mission to promote West Indian artists on the world stage. This first time entry streamed exclusively to SXSW and provided an hour packed with talented musicians, live from Hope Gardens, in Kingston, Jamaica.
First up was Mortimer, who sang an acoustic three-song set. ‘Careful’ was a blend of Caribbean rhythms and cautionary tale lyrics. This one easily segued into ‘Fight the Fight’ which also featured haunting lyrics. ‘Lightning’ is a love song written for his wife and three kids, and it was easily my favorite because of the emotion that Mortimer has in his voice. He definitely set the bar high for those artists who would come after him.
Khalia was next on the bill and she also provided an acoustic set. Her two songs, both released in 2020, were the perfect showcase for her incredible voice. ‘Love is Real’ had more of a rock sensibility but smooth vocals. ‘Easy’ was a song that made me dance in my chair! The island beat was hard to resist.
The third artist was Sevana. You may have heard her on NPR Music’s Tiny Desk (home) concert – she performed with a full band on that platform and acoustically for the SXSW stage. It was a real treat to hear the stripped-down versions of songs from NPR. The four-song set was bookended with ‘Blessed’ and ‘Mango’. ‘Blessed’ starts out slow like a torch song and builds to use the full range of Sevana’s voice. ‘Mango’ is a love song with irresistible lyrics and an unforgettable melody.
Tessellated was a complete departure from the earlier three acts in that he was backed with a full band, including horns. His songs were hip hop with a Reggae beat. You may have heard ‘I Learnt Some Jazz Today’ in an Apple commercial, but the full-length song is a jazz and island blend. Very fun! ‘Pine & Ginger’ and ‘Tropics’ also possessed Tessellated’s own original stamp of mixed genres.
Rounding out the showcase was Kalpee, who was doing triple duty for the ‘The Island Stage’. In addition to performing, he was hosting the event and is one of the pioneers of ‘The Island Stage’ with his manager Miss Vivianna of FVP Global. With a message of “music is medicine”, the Trinbagonian artist capped the night with a set that included ‘Water Flowing’ and ‘Put a Record On’. His songs have a pop energy with a Caribbean flavor, but I feel like he could sing just about any song with his voice quality. So very emotive.
I hope that this is not the only time Therapy presents a showcase. The artists that were highlighted show such range and variety. I loved this entire showcase. I will definitely keep these artists on my radar when their new music comes out.