In its 27th year of cultural convergence, South by Southwest, arguably the country’s coolest sonic cotillion for musicians on the verge, will spotlight more Louisiana artists than ever before—and that’s just on the official event marquee.
Running March 12-17, the music component of the multimedia juggernaut, which also includes film and interactive technology, features more than 1,200 acts on the main bill—to say nothing of the offshoot showcases and parties scattered throughout downtown Austin, Texas.
No fewer than 20 New Orleans acts will make the trek west, a local crop that spans everything from trad jazz, folk and pop to death metal, indie rock and bounce. The hip-hop contingent is especially impressive this year, thanks to a who’s who of local beats, rhymes and booty: cover subject Cheeky Blakk, Katey Red, Vockah Redu, Game OvaHound, Culotta Rock, Danger Boyz, Lil Man, Diamond Dolls, Ha-Sizzle, JC Styles, Kenji and Magnolia Rhome.
SXSW veteran and 2013 speaker Truth Universal weighs in on the thriving New Orleans hip-hop scene, and community at large. “It’s an honor to be an ambassador for NOLA, and also independent and progressive hip-hop, for the fourth consecutive year at SXSW,” he says. “I’m indeed very proud to a part of the growing presence of New Orleans hip-hop artists at the festival/conference.”
The Trinidad-born, New Orleans-bred rapper and activist acknowledges the value the event affords in terms of networking with both fans and industry folk. For the second time he will appear in a panel session, “New Orleans Music Today,” along with Preservation Hall Director Ben Jaffe, Q93 DJ Wild Wayne, Grammy-winning producer and musician Scott Billington and OffBeat Publisher Jan Ramsey.
“Heading out to SXSW is always crazy, but to represent our sector of the New Orleans music scene is important to me,” says Alynda Lee Segarra, whose band Hurray for the Riff Raff will make its fifth consecutive SXSW appearance this year. “I wanna do us justice and show that not only can bands from NOLA play incredible traditional jazz and make you bounce, but we also know how to write a heartbreaking country song.
“We always do it our own way. It’s also important to remind all those touring bands to make a stop down in our city by the Gulf when they’re on the road.”
Other homegrown acts on the official 2013 SXSW showcase include Americana tunesmiths Sam Doores and Riley Downing and the Tumbleweeds, acoustic songstress Carsie Blanton, metal mainstays Goatwhore and Suplecs, seasoned power trio Dash Rip Rock, indie faves Royal Teeth, the Revivalists and Generationals and the venerable Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk.
Dumpstaphunk bassist Nick Daniels III remembers his first SXSW experience, in 1993 while playing with Zachary Richard’s zydeco lineup. “I had a ball,” he says. “New Orleans has always been represented [in Austin] in some sort of fashion, but even more so after Katrina when a lot of folks like myself moved there. At the beginning there were so many New Orleans entertainers in Austin—Big Sam, Ivan, even Ian [Neville] was there for a minute. Most have moved back but that connection still remains.”
Ivan Neville adds, “It’s probably the most soulful place in the world, New Orleans, and Austin is a place that definitely appreciates good music. Call us ambassadors if you want, we’re proud to represent for the city and share that soulfulness with a festival like this.”
Bill Davis, founding member of Dash Rip Rock, echoes his fellow Austin-bound musicians. “We’re always happy to represent Louisiana and New Orleans at SXSW,” he says, “but Dash Rip Rock is a band that tours outside of Louisiana most of the year—and have for most of our decades of playing. We’re a heavy roots rock band that’s used to representing the state in the U.S. and Europe. That’s where most of our business is.”
And that reality points to the much-debated challenges of, as the SXSW panel will discuss, “New Orleans Music Today.” For all the increased exposure the local scene is experiencing outside city limits, Truth Universal notes, “It’s both disheartening and frustrating, as a recognized artist both in New Orleans and abroad, to not get greater support from the New Orleans heritage/tourism community, talent buyers, promoters, etc.”
“The best thing for Louisiana artists playing SXSW is they get to experience firsthand a cohesive, well-run and supportive music scene in Austin,” Davis says. “There is a strong sense of community—banks, doctors, attorneys all treat musicians with more respect in Austin. They recognize the value of a vibrant music economy, so they support bands with funding and services that are almost unheard of in Louisiana.”
Perhaps it’s time for New Orleans to take a cue from its neighbor to the west.Visit sxsw.com for more information and a complete schedule of showcases and panel sessions.