SXSW: The lows and highs of putting on a showcase

Categories: SXSW
Photo by Leah Haselhorst

By Conrad Schoenleber

During SXSW, Austin has a specific kind of gravity. Each year, huge masses of people are drawn to the Texas capital to seek out the best of what new music has to offer. I was pulled down south once again in 2013 as an event planner.

With my production team at Hydrive Shows, I helped produce our second annual Drive the Noize showcase with Chicago-based CrowdNoize. The event showcase -- featuring Chance the Rapper, a few Wiz Khalifa's Taylor Gang associates, Branchez, Sweater Beats, Minneapolis's own the Chalice (pictured above), and Willy Joy -- was held at Karma Lounge on Thursday, March 14. Here's a personal, behind-the-scenes account of what running a SXSW showcase is like -- delays, disputes, and all the good stuff too.

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12 p.m.: Our first act, locals, the Chalice, is supposed to go on. Half of our speakers are missing, and the sound guy couldn't be more clueless. My partner, Patrick Welby of CrowdNoize calls his in-house sound tech to sprint over. He arrives and immediately starts working damage control. So far our SXSW showcase is a huge success.

Photo by Leah Haselhorst
1 p.m.: The sound is finally working and the Chalice goes on, putting on a great show to a meager crowd. Chris Riemenschneider of the Star Tribune is here, I immediately start stressing over whether or not he will give us a bad writeup due to the production delays (he did).

1:45 p.m.: I haven't eaten yet and am starting to shake from hunger. I run to a nearby barbecue joint with one of our second acts, Branchez, a DJ/producer from New York who had just hit number one on the Hype Machine. He opts out of barbecue and instead grabs Fig Newtons and sunscreen, but forces us all to secrecy because, "it's an embarrassing meal for a DJ to eat." Sorry, dude.

2:15 p.m.: I get back to the venue and it's starting to fill up. Nerves are starting to calm and the show will essentially run itself from here. Branchez and fellow label partner, Sweater Beats, perform their "future RnB" sets to a decent-sized crowd.

3 p.m. Our first headliners, the Taylor Gang featuring Chevy Woods, Berner, and Tuki Carter, as well as one new label signee named Quay Meanz, arrive reeking of weed. The club owner obviously has an extreme distaste for marijuana and tells me under no uncertain circumstances will there be any pot smoking in his club. As a guy who spends much of his time with rappers and their constant THC consumption, this seems very backwards to me. It's just another reminder that musicians have invaded this normally calm city.

Photo by Leah Haselhorst
3:30 p.m.: Our next act, Chance the Rapper, makes his way to the club and informs us that his set at a much larger Red Bull showcase has been pushed forward and he needs to perform now. It's my job to tell Will -- the manager of Taylor Gang and the same guy who manages Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J, and more -- that his artists' sets need to be cut to make room for Chance the Rapper to go on. This is irksome, especially because I would like to do business with Will in the future. Will turns out to be easy-going about the situation and Chance the Rapper goes on to perform for the most packed crowd we've had all day.
Photo by Leah Haselhorst
4:15 p.m.: The last Taylor Gang artist, Chevy Woods, wraps performing and our in-house DJ, Milwaukee's Nick Edmonds Yo, is playing tunes in the downtime. The club owner tries to close out the bar with me right now, essentially trying to cut us out of some of the profits as I remind him our bar split deal was set to close at 6 p.m. Caught, he apologizes by giving our whole crew very small tequila shots on the house.
Photo by Leah Haselhorst
5 p.m. Our final headliner Willy Joy goes on stage, playing a hard-hitting and energized DJ set. Everyone involved with running the showcase is completely depleted of any energy, but the crowd is enjoying it. Some bigwigs from prominent DJ software company Serato are in the building. I would like to shake hands and network, but I'll be damned if I can find them. One woman on the dance floor is especially enjoying herself, perhaps having had one too many Lone Stars and demanding Willy's signature.
Hydrive and Crowd Noize crews.jpg
Photo by Leah Haselhorst
6 p.m. Willy Joy finishes up his set and we immediately begin taking everything down as another company has a showcase in two hours. Turntables go in cases, cables are put away, and the car gets packed up. The Hydrive and CrowdNoize crews hug and take photos as we most likely won't see each other again until the next SXSW. We close out with the club, say final goodbyes, and head back to nap at an apartment full of college kids where we're staying.

9 p.m. Everyone wakes up and we head back to downtown. Our showcase is over and we're all still tired, but this is our last night in Austin and we're celebrating.

4 a.m. We stumble the five (!) miles back to the apartment.

9 a.m. I wake up, and am ready to go. I tell my friends it's time to leave. They ignore me.

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