Barry Taylor, Nate Risdon, and a group of Fuller students recently returned from the 2015 South by Southwest Music Festival. Below, Nate Risdon shares ten highlights from 2015's Immersion class. A few of the students in the class wrote reviews of the concerts they attended as well, and we'll be sharing those reviews in the coming weeks.
Additionally, we're excited to announce an expansion of our Brehm Practicing Critic program. Since last summer, we've been piloting the program under the Reel Spirituality Initiative, providing a way for students and alumni to practice regularly the kind of theological criticism of movies they learn in class, but with editorial guidance and as part of a larger community of people also interested in this kind of public theology. We're now expanding the program to include music criticism as well. More details about this program including how to apply can be found here. - Editor
10. The Festival Itself
This festival is massive and messy. Thousands and thousands of people descend upon the city of Austin for SXSW. The swarms of people always on the move left me facilitating between feeling a great sense of connectedness and feeling alone. I watch these bands, especially those that are relatively unknown, scratching for some notoriety in the controlled "chaos" that is SXSW and I feel a great deal of love and empathy for them.
9. The City of Austin and its People
Despite us visitors causing horrible traffic, noise, and testing the limits of Austin's infrastructure and patience, the people of Austin are always so hospitable and lovely. It really can't be beat.
8. Concert: Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires at the Clive Bar
Charles Bradley is a singer who came to the fame relatively late in life, releasing his first album at the age of 63. Bradley seems plucked out the funk and soul era of the '60s and '70s channelling James Brown. He surprised everyone in the audience who were there mostly to see the act that followed him. His set was energetic and magnetic. There wasn't a person in the venue who wasn't moving to the music.
7. Concert: Milky Chance at the KCRW stage in the Convention Center
Milky Chance is this Reggae/Calypso-influenced trio from Kassel, Germany. They were a pleasant discovery for me. Granted they did have some buzz around them, but they really impressed most of the crowd with the infectious grooves and a singer with a pleasant albeit gravely delivery. The lyrics were incomprehsible and the venue was a bit sedate for their style and sound, but they made the most of it, jokingly comparing the hush of the crowd between songs to the atmosphere of quiet library.
6. Hope Outdoor Gallery
This was a somewhat unplanned excursion we took as a class. The Hope Outdoor Gallery (HOG), founded by LA-based street artist Shepard Fairey, is a collection of concrete walls along a slopped hill in Austin re-purposed as a "paint park." HOG in partnership with SXSW had commissioned dozens of street artists from around the country to paint original works with positive messages during the festival. One of those commissioned artist is Seraphim, aka Sarah Ackerley. Sarah also happens to be currently studying at Fuller in the School of Theology. We visited her in the middle of her applying her work to her wall and had a lovely conversation with her about her work and street art in general. Some of the students even had the chance to create work on a "public" wall while we were there.
5. Concert: Hiatus Kaiyote at Blackheart
Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Hiatus Kaiyote are a female-led quartet of delicious, polyrhythmic funk. We had the opportunity to see them two years ago in a small club, and they were very impressive then. Their ensemble then was slightly larger and had layer upon layer of complex rhythms and harmonies which at times worked against them as it sounded polyphonically messy. Hiatus has now paired down in size and tightened up their infectious grooves. Lead singer and co-songwriter Nai Palm was effervescent and engaging leading the crowd through multiple groove-infested dances with her melissmic vocal lines.
4. The Food
What can I say other than yum. Eating breakfast tacos, BBQ, unique food truck offerings, and Tex-Mex ain't a bad way to go through life, in moderation of course.
3. Concert: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes at Central Presybterian Church
I've been listening to this band for a few years now and have always wanted to see them live. They did not disappoint. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes are one-third musical genius, one-third hippie-commune influenced pageantry, and one-third hypnotically charismatic. The group lives, eats, and works together at a commune in the LA area. The character Edward Sharpe is the alter-ego of Alex Ebert and was created from a series of stories Ebert wrote about a pseudo-messianic figure while he was in rehab. They know how to work a crowd and have complex arrangements of their songs that illustrate the musicianship of each member of the group. It is really easy to imagine them jamming all night around a firepit some where in the hills surrounding LA, singing about love, love lost, and the constant yearning for some sort of transcendent experience. It might have been the fact that this show was at a church, but everyone walked away feeling as if they had been to a tent revival plucked out of the late '60s, early '70s.
2. Concert: Ibeyi at Central Presbyterian Church
This showcase was, by far, the musical highlight of my time at SXSW. Ibeyi means "twins" in Yoruba, a Nigerian language spoken by slaves when they were first brought to the island now known as Cuba. Ibeyi, the band, consists of French-Cuban twin sisters Naomi and Lisa Diaz. Their sound is the amazing blend of Afro-Cuban, French, Yoruban, and jazz influences. Playing traditional Cuban instruments such as the cajon and Bata drums with piano, the two sisters create a rich sound that seems nearly impossible. Perhaps it is because their shared DNA, but Naomi and Lisa's vocal harmonies are some of the tightest and flawless I have ever heard, and they sound effortless. To wrap up their set (far too quickly, in my opinion), they went completely off-mic and put down their instruments, singing accapella as they walked down the center aisle of the church into the audience.
1. Interaction with Students
Ultimately, this is what makes SXSW unique and worth it to me. Don't get me wrong, I love music, but our conversations during class, over meals, in line and walking the streets are what makes this course worth it all. I always learn so much more from the students over the course of this class. It reminds me why I love what I do and that I work for an institution that believes this type of immersive course is important.