Flyin’ South: Iowa City Bands Prepare for SXSW

The mighty SXSW festival celebrates its 25th year in Austin, Texas, Mar. 13-18. A model for multi-venue festivals like Mission Creek, SXSW runs over 2,000 performers on more than 90 stages…and those are just the “official” ones.

Somewhere along the line SXSW went from an industry showcase to a spring break destination, and now, label honchos vie with college kids for limited space in front of buzz bands and BBQ feeds. Lodging has become so scarce that some have been driven to catching a few winks in town parks and cemeteries. And each year it only gets crazier.

This year Iowa City is represented by the swinging Diplomats of Solid Sound, marking their sixth appearance, and Wet Hair, heading down for their second.

Neither group expects much in terms of “being discovered” by the label reps and media that comb showcases for the next big thing.

“I feel like most labels aren’t looking for bands in a live setting anymore,” Wet Hair’s Shawn Reed said. “They are finding them on the Internet first.”

“If you have a huge label that’s willing to spend money and make you a star then the ride may have just started,” explained Doug Roberson of the Diplomats. “For the rest of us regular Joes, it’s something special to do once a year.” Doug added that it’s always good for a band’s label rep to show up and see its group getting a good response. In the Diplomats’ case, the label is Milan-based Record Kicks.

Wet Hair’s third full-length album, In Vogue Spirit, came out on De Stijl Records in May. Shawn runs a label himself called Night-People, which released the band’s previous efforts.

Doug will be bringing down the whole clan, including a horn section and singers Sarah Cram and Kathy Ruestow. They’ll throw in a few numbers from a new record Doug hopes to release later this year.

Wet Hair will be Shawn joined by Justin Thye and Ryan Garbes. Their shows will focus exclusively on stuff from their upcoming May release on De Stijl Records, Spill into Atmosphere.

“It’s sort of a mess playing at SXSW actually,” explained Shawn. “There are so many shows going on and so many bands in town; it can really just be chaos. It can feel pointless because people’s attention spans can only handle so much and there is so much going on. I felt like I didn’t even care about music by the end of it last time we went.”

At the same time, Reed says he and his band “know a lot of people and bands from years of touring,” so the gig is “fun because you see a lot of friends and bands from all over the world.” He is especially looking forward to meeting up with friends in bands from the Beijing underground scene and Australia. The Twerps are a Melbourne group that Shawn met while on tour with Wet Hair this past September. “We had such a great time hanging out with them and crashing with them in Melbourne,” he said.


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Doug looks forward to meeting up with old friends and seeing some great music. The memory of a 2010 show at the Austin City Music Hall is especially close to his heart. “What a killer show,” he recalls, “Smokey Robinson, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Raphael Saadiq, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, Mayer Hawthorne. Really one of the best shows I have ever seen during SXSW.”

According to Shawn, other Iowa City bands heading down for “unofficial” appearances at record label events are Super Sonic Piss and Brendan O’Keefe’s project, Cuticle.

Other Iowans, and former Iowans, heading down include William Elliott Whitmore and The Pines. Whitmore will be playing an Americana Music Association showcase with Memphis band Lucero at the SXSW staple Cedar Street Courtyard. The Pines, who just put out a new LP, Dark So Gold, will be playing a Red House Records showcase at the tony Driscoll Hotel. The group is hot off a sold-out CD-release show at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis.

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