Grumpy Cat Steals Show At SXSW

Music, film, expos, tech. Yadda, yadda. The real star of this year’s SXSW is Grumpy Cat (actual name: Tardar Sauce), says CNN.

For the uninitiated – all 10 of you – Grumpy Cat became a viral obsession last fall, after her owner’s brother posted her photo to Reddit. The 11-month-old, Arizona-based feline is of curious ancestry (she’s believed to be part Ragdoll breed, and her permanently frowny face and small size are genetic quirks). In reality, says her owner, Tabatha Bundesen (who also runs the Grumpy Cat™ website), “Tard” is sweet and playful … when she’s not sleeping. There are Grumpy Cat memes, merch and thousands of fans, of which I’m unapologetically one.

I follow Grumpy Cat on Twitter and live for The Daily Grump on her site, which posts new photos of Tard and her brother Pokey doing their thing. What can I say? Grumpy Cat just makes me happy. If you happen to be at SXSW, come visit her at the Mashable tech tent, where she’s holding court from her cat bed, and posing for photos (in between naps, of course). Celebrity apparently hasn’t changed her a bit.


USA Summer Music Festivals 2012

Summer feels like music festivals. Music festivals feel like summer. The two are interchangeable for me despite the fact that music festivals take place year-round. But while some festivals stake their claim on the cooler months, most of them schedule out consecutive days of music (and fun) during the summertime. Because of this, you’ll never make all of the summer music festivals in one summer, but you can make a few of the good ones. What follows is a list of some of the best-looking music festivals for summer 2012.Sasquatch
When: May 25-28
Where: The Gorge, George, Washington
Who: Jack White, Beck, Bon Iver, Tenacious D, The Shins, Beirut, Feist, The Roots, Pretty Lights, Girl Talk, Metric, Explosions In The Sky, The Joy Formidable, Santigold, St. Vincent, Mark Lanegan Band and more.

Bonnaroo
When: June 7-10
Where: Manchester, Tennessee
Who: Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Phish, The Beach Boys, Bon Iver, The Avett Brothers, Skrillex, Feist, Ludacris, The Temper Trap, Alice Cooper, Tune-Yards, St. Vincent, The Black Lips, Battles, Santigold, The Antlers, Bad Brains and more.

Outside Lands
When: August 10-12
Where: San Francisco, California
Who: Metallica, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Jack White, Foo Fighters, Beck, Skrillex, Sigur Ros, Norah Jones, Regina Spektor, Passion Pit, Andrew Bird, Franz Ferdinand, Zola Jesus, Die Antwoord and more.

Governors Ball
When: June 23-24
Where: Randall’s Island, New York City
Who: Fiona Apple, Beck, Passion Pit, Kid Cudi, Modest Mouse, Atmosphere, Explosions In The Sky, Built To Spill, Major Lazer, Cage The Elephant and more.

Pitchfork
When: July 13-15
Where: Chicago, Illinois
Who: Feist, Vampire Weekend, Hot Chip, Dirty Projectors, Purity Ring, Grimes, Sleigh Bells, Youth Lagoon, Beach House and more.

Capitol Hill Block Party
When: July 20-22
Where: Seattle, Washington
Who: Neko Case, Major Lazer, Grimes, Youth Lagoon, Cloud Nothings, Thee Oh Sees and more.

Lollapalooza
When: August 3-5
Where: Chicago, Illinois
Who: Jack White, The Black Keys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, At The Drive-In, Black Sabbath, The Shins, Passion Pit, Sigur Ros, The Shins, Bloc Party, Florence + The Machine, Metric, Franz Ferdinand, The Temper Trap, Band of Skulls, Chairlift, White Rabbits and more.

Bumbershoot
When: September 1-3
Where: Seattle, Washington
Who: Jane’s Addiction, Skrillex, Gotye, M83, Awolnation, Keane, Passion Pit, City and Colour, Mudhoney, Low, Heartless Bastards, Lights and more.

Summer Music Festival Style

A record exec’s guide to South by Southwest (SXSW)

photo paul mccartney neil youngTens of thousands of hipsters and wannabe hipsters from around the world will be converging on Austin this week for the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film and technology festival, now in its 26th year. What started as a music showcase for some 172, mostly regional, bands in 1987 has gradually expanded into the global colossus that SXSW has become. Last year the festival featured more than 2,000 bands from 58 countries, nearly 20,000 interactive conference participants, and more than 13,000 film conference participants from 38 countries.

SXSW also introduced two new components last year: a fashion expo and an education conference called SXSWedu. But SXSW is still best known as the world’s largest music industry gathering and each year, unknown bands are discovered there while established stars come out of the woodwork to play unadvertised, pop-up shows in small venues. Visiting Austin during SXSW, which begins on March 9 for the film and interactive component and March 13 for the music festival, can be a tribulation, but it’s also an incredible opportunity to hear a staggering variety of emerging and established artists, often in intimate venues.

We talked to Michael Howe, vice president of A&R for the Capitol/Virgin Label Group in Los Angeles, in order to help readers understand what SXSW is all about. (He’s the guy who isn’t Neil Young or Paul McCartney in the photo above.) Howe is responsible for discovering new talent and helping to advance the careers of established groups. He has been attending SXSW every year for more than a decade.

You’ve been going to SXSW for 12 years. It’s no longer just about the music, right?

Right. Now they have a film portion and an interactive portion that precede the music event. I think the interactive element has become the most attended of the bunch.

The SXSW fact sheet from last year says that there were more than 49,000 people at the event. What’s it like to have that many creative types all in the same city at one time?

It’s overwhelming. They close 6th street down and allow only pedestrian traffic on it. The only thing I could compare it to is Mardi Gras. It’s a total, round-the-clock bacchanal, essentially. It’s music from dawn until the following dawn, a 24-hour orgy of music and drinking.

Are there beads and flashers like at Mardi Gras?

I’ve seen some of those hijinks. The whole thing can be obnoxious. I’m there for work, but for the average person who goes there to hear great music and party, it’s a great time. There are thousands of bands there every year. There are bands who play seven to eight times over a thee to four day period, there are shows in the morning, there are shows that begin at 2:30 a.m. The convention has keynote speakers too. Springsteen is giving it this year; Robert Plant did it last year.Can you recommend a few acts that will be performing at SXSW this year?

There’s a band called Wild Belle from Chicago who I think will be among the buzzier bands down there. They’re very good but not yet signed. There’s also a kid called Allen Stone who is very good and attracting a lot of attention. He’s 23 or 24. He’s like a soulful kind of a white Marvin Gaye, with a guitar. I like him a lot. I’d say the other buzz bands to see are Hospitality, FIDLAR, Chasing Kings, Policia, and Lucius to name just a few.

fleet foxes playing guitar photoWhat do you see a lot of during SXSW? Beards, tattoos, what else?

The beard has certainly made a comeback. The authentic, corduroy Laurel Canyon kind of rock vibe with Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, and a bunch of other artists in that world are very popular. There’s been a fashion movement that has followed them. And of course, there’s still a contingent of tattooed rockers, but there’s also world music, instrumental bands, pretty much anything you want for the taking.

No one wears a suit, do they?

Very few people show up in a suit at SXSW. If you wore one, you’d be part of a very small minority. I wouldn’t want to try it.

And aside from all the musicians and filmmakers, and what not, there are plenty of corporate cool-hunters at this as well, right?

Sure. There are definitely trend spotters there, to be sure. It’s viewed as a place where the coolest of the cool emerges.

Jessica Marati recently wrote about how to score a hotel room in Austin during SXSW. It isn’t easy, is it?

The whole town is usually sold out. The locus of the festival is along the 6th Street corridor downtown and all the hotels within striking distance of that will be sold out months and months in advance, probably by July of the previous year. The festival blocks out a lot of rooms for registered participants of SXSW, so it’s hard for anyone who isn’t registered to get a prime hotel.

driskill hotelWhere have you stayed over the years?

I like to stay at the Driskill, which is at 6th and Brazos. There’s a place called the Stephen Austin Intercontinental, which is a block away and is also nice. I’ve stayed at the Omni. I’ve stayed at the Four Seasons. This year, I have to split my stay. I’m staying at the Hyatt, on the other side of the river, for one night and at the Radisson Town Lake because I couldn’t get one room for my whole stay. I booked my airfare in October and all the hotels were already sold out.

Are the hotels gouging people?

They completely gouge you. The W, for instance, is $709 per night.

The walk up rate for a music pass is $750. That’s pretty steep too, isn’t it?

It is. It entitles you to go to the panels and get into all the official SXSW shows. Theoretically, with that badge you can get into anything you want at any time. But there are so many people that if the venue can’t hold more people, they won’t let you in. Sometimes spending the money on the badge, unless you are really strategic about it, doesn’t really make a lot of sense. If every gig has a $10 cover, even if you see 70 gigs, that’s still cheaper.

Will the bouncers deny you entrance even if you’re with a major record label?

Definitely. They don’t care who you are. It’s first come, first served.

There are dozens of venues, any that you like in particular?

La Zona Rosa is decent but off-the-beaten track. Emo’s is pretty good. I also like Antone’s. Generally, Stubb’s has worthwhile stuff. Stubb’s is a large, outdoor venue, the capacity is probably a couple thousand people outside. Emo’s has several rooms, but they probably accommodate 800-1000. Maggie Mae’s is another good one.

Back when you first started attending SXSW, record execs were handing out contracts to pretty much anyone who could carry a tune, is that right?

That still happens, artists and bands go there to be discovered, but it’s turned into more of a network, showcasey-type environment for signed bands who emerge into the public sphere from down there. Up until around 2001 or 2002, the record labels were essentially printing money. There were many, many more deals getting done and the size of the deals were a lot bigger. Companies were taking things off the marketplace to prevent competitors from getting them. It was a completely different climate than it is now.

So what chance does the average band that turns up at SXSW now have to get signed?

If they’re a run-of-the-mill band, their chances aren’t very good. Major labels are signing stuff they can turn into a hit very quickly. If you’re a competent, but unremarkable band it’s very, very unlikely you’ll get a deal at SXSW or anywhere else for that matter.

How many of the bands performing at SXSW are signed versus unsigned acts?

Hard to say because it’s become much easier for bands to release their own records. Any band can have its own label now and have something up on iTunes. When I started, that wasn’t possible. Of the higher profile showcase shows there, almost all of those acts are signed already. But there are usually three or four, at best, buzz bands that come out of SXSW every year that all of the labels, indie or major, are talking about that end up getting signed.

Every night there are also surprise performances. Springsteen is going to play an intimate gig down there this year. I don’t know where, but he will since he’s the keynote speaker. Willy Nelson usually plays a surprise show. Prince shows up every once in a while. The Foo Fighters have played. McCartney, Robert Plant. I could see The Stones showing up. Anything is possible there.

How do people find out about the secret gigs?

Through Twitter, or the SXSW website, or through fan clubs or word of mouth. Catching those kinds of gigs is usually about being in the right place at the right time.

You’ll be there for five days. How many bands will you see?

I’ll probably see between 75-100 bands.

How long do you stay if you’re not into the band? If the first song sounds bad, will you wait to hear what the second song sounds like?

Not down there I won’t. Here in L.A., I would give them a few songs, but at SXSW, you don’t have the luxury of time.

What’s the quickest you’ve ever bailed out of a show for a band you were considering for the label?

Two minutes, probably less for sure. If something has no emotional or artistic resonance or there was no star in the band, nothing drawing me to the music or the band, then I don’t stay.

cold war kids playing guitarHave you discovered or signed bands at SXSW over the years?

I have. I signed Cold War Kids when I was with Downtown Records. I signed a guy called Brett Dennen.

It’s always fun to take a look at the SXSW band lineup and see all the great band names. This year, I like Bipolar Gentleman, Peanut Butter Wolf, More or Les, Teenburger, Pimps of Joytime, and Reptile Youth.

Those are good ones. There are some bands that have terrible names that are pretty beholden to them. There are times when I scroll down a list, though, and decide I don’t want to see something based upon their name.

How can people enjoy seeing this many bands in one week?

Bring earplugs. Try to pace yourself. Drink a lot of water. Go back to the hotel and sit in the air conditioning. Read a little bit. Just take some breaks from the music.

Would you recommend people attend the entire festival or just a day or two?

Probably not the whole thing. Go for a day or two. It’s ambitious to stick it out the whole time. By Saturday, you’re shredded. There’s no off-day, so the whole thing is a crush. Thursday and Friday are probably the busiest days though.

Is there an equivalent to this in Europe or other parts of the world?

There’s a festival in the U.K. in Brighton called the Great Escape, which isn’t nearly as well attended but is starting to gain some traction. There’s one in Iceland called Airwaves that tends to draw a good number of Europeans. But SXSW is the premier festival for the music industry. It’s a very international festival.

But most of the international bands sing in English, I assume?

Most but not all. There are Swedish bands who sing in Swedish. And look at Sigur Ros, they sing in their own language, Hopelandic, and they’re popular.

[Photo one supplied by Michael Howe. Photo two of Fleet Foxes via Martijin on Flickr. Photo three of Driskill Hotel via Rutlo on Flickr. Photo four of Cold War Kids by bahoolala on Flickr.]

Fun Fun Fun Fest 2011: recap

Fun Fun Fun Fest 2011 was dreamy. And I mean that. As one of Austin’s prized and annual music festivals, FFF has a lot riding on it. If I were to personify the festival, I might even find myself conjecturing about whether or not FFF feels like she’s living in the shadows of SXSW and ACL. And if she could talk, she might say ‘yes’, but after this year’s FFF, I reckon that ‘yes’ would be followed with quite a few reasons why she likes it that way. And so do I.

Which way do I like it? I like it, it being music festivals at large, precisely the way FFF 2011 happened. It happened like this.

%Gallery-139353%After having crowded Austin‘s downtown but Highway 35-hugging Waterloo Park since the festival’s inception, FFF needed a new home for 2011. I don’t know what sort of politics went on behind the scenes at the FFF headquarters. I don’t know if decision-making people at the FFF Town Hall meetings were enraged or not when Auditorium Shores was picked as the 2011 location spot. But I do know that it worked. It worked well.

As I walked over the pedestrian bridge at South 1st toward the festival’s entrance on the first night of FFF, I stopped mid-bridge and took in the sunset over the water for what felt like the first time since I’ve been spending my time in Austin. The colors, creamy and soft pastel as they nearly always tend to be, spilled over the horizon at the sun’s setting and bled into the white-blue sky like ink dropped in water. The gnats were hoovering over the water and in my face; their silhouettes darted in and out of my periphery as I stared at the calm waters of Lady Bird Lake beneath the perfect sky. And just to my left, there was the festival. All set up and fully in gear, its lights and white tent domes created a carnival-like cityscape at the place where the lapping water meets the packed Texan soil, Auditorium Shores.

Compared to Austin City Limits, FFF’s stature was much more approachable and intimate. Compared to SXSW, FFF’s personality was much less belligerent. And maybe it just means I’m getting old, but approachable, intimate, and less belligerent really works for me now and I think it really worked well for FFF 2011.

Entering FFF was easy–the lines that usually precede a good music festival weren’t there. Then again, we entered in the evening of the first day. The dust kicked up from Auditorium Shores, which is normally a waterfront dog-friendly park in Austin, let loose a haze all over the dimming festival. Festival-goers wore bandanas and other sorts of scarves over their noses and mouths; it was like a music festival shot on a wild west movie set. This may sound like a bad thing, and it certainly wasn’t a good thing, but the dust matched with the scarf-wearing presented a sort of mystique for the festival this year.

Relaxed and spacious, FFF’s crowd still warmly and eagerly embraced the main acts of the festival–Slayer, Public Enemy, Lykke Li, Passion Pit, and others. Public Enemy got into character before their set started and decided to sound check all the way through Four Tet’s set (it was kind of obnoxious). Lykke Li performed a stunning set, completely with billowing smoke, swaying black fabrics, and sporadic percussion, thanks to her affinity for carrying drumsticks in her hands while on stage, ready at any moment to pound away on the nearest drum.

I suspect Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Festival succeeded in teaching many Austinites and travelers alike that a music festival needn’t be overpopulated or over-hyped in order to be worth the ticket price, time, and energy to attend. In fact, I’d say, this one was better for the lack of those two things.

Introducing Austin Texas

Photo of the day: New Orleans after Katrina


People have been talking about New Orleans differently since Hurricane Katrina. No matter how the city’s name slips into conversation, the disaster named Katrina is typically addressed and typically, it must be. Anyone who knows NOLA will vouch for the tremendous damage caused by this storm and the circumstances surrounding it. But many people who know NOLA will also confess: the city still has life in it; New Orleans is still teeming with an energy exclusive to the city. And as an homage to the trip I’m taking to New Orleans tomorrow, I am posting this photo of New Orleans post-Katrina, taken by Arla Parker.

I’m visiting New Orleans through next week, generally speaking, for Voodoo Festival and Halloween. But a broader reason for my trip is my desire to keep up with the city. I have been visiting the Big Easy regularly since 2005, but my first visit to the city was exactly a month before Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans has gripped me since the first visit and I look forward to exploring the paths this upcoming trip leads me down. Have you been to New Orleans since Katrina? What are your thoughts?

And, as always, if you’d like to submit a photo for Photo of The Day, just upload a photo to the Gadling Flickr Pool.

Top 5 Travel Attractions in New Orleans