If you're one of the 1,000 acts playing SXSW - the South by Southwest Music Festival, which despite its name and its Austin, Texas, location is the nation's biggest live-music shebang - how do you get noticed? I didn't notice Braxton Hicks two years ago. Since then, SXSW hasn't noticed the band either, failing to give it a slot at one of the 50 official clubs hosting the five-night fest.
Has that stopped singer Carrie Baith and her five bandmates? No! Last year, they trekked to Austin from their home in Dover, Delaware, just to busk in the middle of the night - when I did notice them. This year, they tried to avoid the police by applying for a street permit - until they learned it would cost $1,500. In the end, Braxton Hicks played for a roomful of people at one of the unofficial clubs catering to the overflow of hopeful artists during SXSW week. But it was enough to get the word out that the band has a new self-released CD, Modesty (braxtonhicks.com), an apt name for an album that reveals cofounders Baith, Billy Bush, and Roger Hillis and the others to be a more tuneful 10,000 Maniacs in training.
You might think it'd be easier to get noticed if you're based in Austin and you land gigs at SXSW nearly every year. Not necessarily. Take the band I thought was called Peggle-gay-suss. I never noticed its gigs, but last year I noticed its free T-shirts as I walked to a daytime panel discussion. This year, at a talk on "Attracting Media Attention," someone in the audience stood up and said, basically, my band has been together for ten years and we're still paying those damn dues; how do you attract attention? A panelist replied, well, first tell everyone here the name of your band. The guy said, Peg-leg-uh-suss.
"Ring!" went the bell in my head. I pulled the guy, drummer Peter Voskamp, aside and said, you've already done it: the shirts worked, because I remembered the name, even if I misread it. (One time, he told me, someone thought it was Hispanic and pronounced it Pay-luh-hah-soose.) On the band's new self-released CD, Learning Curve (geocities.com/sunsetstrip/venue/7433), the music is memorable, too, like a tougher Talking Heads. And when I caught Peglegasus at its gig the next night, I heard a sonic adventure - and my attention was riveted.