Whether from of the pure adrenaline of engaging in a new experience or the anticipation of all that’s been imagined, “firsts” are always exciting. SxSW was much more than a new experience and much more than imagined. I couldn’t have asked for anything more than a few days off of work and a vacation centered around music. I went into my first SxSW experience not knowing a lot of the showcasing bands — a common experience at an event with such independent roots. I only had a few bands I wanted to see, with the most anticipated being Port O’Brien. But, just as I had hoped, I saw a lot of new bands, and whether or not they would be bands I’d typically listen to was a moot point. To me, live music is live music. There is always something to be appreciated and admired when someone is on stage living out a dream.

Here are my top 3 picks for SxSW 2009.


Zee Avi


Hailing from Malaysia, Zee Avi is a new singer-songwriter whose debut album drops May 19, 2009, on Brushfire Records. Discovered on YouTube, her raw talent lies in her voice and songwriting abilities. She immediately captured my attention the moment she began singing. Her jazz-infused, Big Band-style voice made me do a double-take when I saw a petite Asian girl on stage.

Her voice, coupled with one of my favorite instruments, the ukulele, immediately struck a chord with me, and from the looks of it, the audience was as much in tune with her music as I was. Everyone swayed happily beneath the burning sun, enjoying the tenderness and fluidity of her music.


Port O’Brien


One of my only must-see bands of the trip, California’s Port O’Brien had a lot to live up to in my book, but they did just that. To me, the main attraction of their music is their folk-indie sound heightened by multiple voices banding together for what comes off as, well, music magic.

I have always imagined the band members recording in a large dark room, singing into one mic, each wielding a different instrument and playing off of one another’s vibes. They made this a reality on stage. Each member of the band sounded just as he did on their recorded works, and the vibe of their music flowed through each person and each instrument.

The entire crowd seemed to pick up on the same genuine vibe as well, and clapped and sung along to every song. During the last song, the band revealed that the large displaced trunk near the front of the stage held pots and pans for everyone to bang on together during their finale and fan favorite, “I Woke Up Today.” I couldn’t have been more pleased to “bang” along, just as I’ve done so many times on my car steering wheel.


The Mae Shi


I had to travel all the way to Austin, Texas to discover a band that’s based right in my own backyard. Los Angeles-based experimental punk band The Mae Shi has been around since 2002 and are now really starting to pick up the pace. I went to two of their shows at SxSW and both were filled with energy, charisma, theatrics, and great music.

Each member of The Mae Shi present on stage at SxSW helped add to the overall vibe of their show. Whether interacting with everyone from stage, or running down from stage to weave through the crowd, their performance demanded attention from every pair of eyes in the venue. At both shows, they pulled out a bright orange parachute — the kind we all played with in P.E. during elementary school! Both band members and show attendees helped wave it up in the air while the music continued, creating a rare moment at a rock show.

During their second show I saw, at the Beerland the last day of SxSW, The Mae Shi members moved their instruments off the stage and had everyone sit on the floor with them as they finished off their set. Currently on tour with PRE, The Mae Shi is sure to wow new and old fans with their ridiculously addictive beats, lyrics, melodies and energy.



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