SXSW 2011: Blues for Hipsters & Hip-hop Galore

Studio 360

Tomorrow I’m heading out to Austin’s annual SXSW Music Festival to check out 1/100th of the nearly 2000 bands that will be there. It’s a daunting task for any journalist: you don’t want to miss the most blogged about show (What surprise appearance by Kanye West?!), and you want to discover an amazing under-the-radar artist who’s destined for a Moment (Janelle Mone, my 2009 find, got nominated for Grammy — score!).

This year, I’m putting my money on 27-year-old Gary Clark, Jr. — the first potentially-legendary blues guitarist to come out of Austin since Stevie Ray Vaughn. And man, can he sing, too.

Gary Clark, Jr. at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2010:

Unlike Vaughn, though, I’m betting Clark has just enough of an edge to impress young indie rock snobs as well as older blues fans. I’ll talk to him about the whole blues-isn’t-cool-for-kids conundrum, and where he hopes to take his career now that he’s just signed to Warner Bros.

When I’m not chasing Clark, I’ll be lining up to see a number of hip-hop acts — SXSW has made a significant shift away from strictly rock in recent years, and it’s infused the festival with a new kind of energy. On my must list: Wu Tang Clan, Talib Kweli, BoB, Das Racist, and the gender-bending sissy bounce rappers who’ve recently gotten some mainstream attention outside of New Orleans — Big Freedia and Katey Red.

I also hope to catch Cee-Lo Green, which should be fabulous if I can beat the crowds. And, if I’m feeling nostalgic, 80’s new wave legends OMD will be performing, as will The Bangles (reunion? who knew?). But I’m most curious to see the perpetually hip (or bewildering, your call) Yoko Ono, who’s been rocking the dance club charts with her electro-pop.

Toss all of that in with enough Texas sunshine, beer, and tacos and I just might lose that journalist’s anxiety. Buzz, shmuzz! Pass the Shiner!

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