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AUSTIN, Texas — The first thing you should do when preparing for South by Southwest is make a schedule of all of the bands you want to see.
The first thing you should do upon arriving is remember that it's OK to forget the schedule.
After getting my badge and picking up a slice of Hoek's Death Metal Pizza (some of the best in town), I ventured out to see a band at noon. As it turns out, my schedule had it wrong: They played at midnight, not at noon.
So, the first band I saw on Wednesday was not one I expected to see. In fact, they weren't on my schedule at all. I just wandered into a venue I was familiar with and there they were.
The band is River City Extension, a folk-rock group from New Jersey. After watching River City Extension play the first set of any group I'd seen at the festival, I already knew they'd be one of the best bands I'd watch during the whole week.
My initial impression was of a down-home bluegrass band backing a singer-songwriter. That's something I'm inclined to like, but it got better. Much better.
As they went on, I liked them more and more. They were like folkers the Head and the Heart, but louder. And the singer had a Conor Oberst-like quality to his voice, but more passionate. And for every ounce of passion the singer had, the rest of the band had pounds of it.
As the band members played along, they also sang like they'd just heard their favorite song on the radio. A more enthusiastic bunch I don't think I've ever seen.
It was a great set, but the group pounded it home with the finale. "We have one more," announced the singer as all eight members of the band marched into the center of the crowd and began playing a new tune.
They only had two drums, a guitar, tambourine and a banjo, but their eight harmonious voices filled the outdoor area with the song "Bone Marrow Twist & Shout."
I've never seen anything like it.
But I couldn't call it quits, so onward I went. Later in the afternoon, I caught a tired performance from dance-punk band The Chain Gang of 1974. I really like the band, but you could tell they were tired from having performed earlier in the day. They just didn't have it in them.
I also watched Alabama Shakes, a soulful blues group led by Brittany Howard that's one of the most buzzed-about bands here in Austin.
To finish off the day, I decided to catch a trio of groups with ties to Nebraska. Midwest Dilemma hails from Omaha and played a showcase for Paper Garden Records, which is operated by a former Saddle Creek Records intern. Midwest Dilemma, fronted by Justin Lamoureux, delivered a strong set, but I wish more people would have been there to see what great stuff we have coming from Nebraska.
Another surprise came in the form of Foy Vance. The Irish singer-songwriter has been featured on "Grey's Anatomy," but I didn't know much more about him. He ended up delivering a memorable, moving solo performance at the Central Presbyterian Church that blew me away.
At one point, Vance led the crowd in a singalong of one of his songs. The audience sang the refrain several times while Vance sang other lyrics over the top. All those voices coming together in the church sounded downright spiritual.
More bands with Omaha connections were up next. Singer/guitarist M. Ward is half of She & Him with Zooey Deschanel. For his upcoming solo album, he recorded parts in Omaha. And on the road as a guitar tech for Ward right now is Omahan Phil Schaffart, who fronts the band Con Dios.
After that is Neon Trees, a rock band that performed on "Saturday Night Live" last year. Their resident sound engineer is Omahan Neal Duffy.
In just one day, I've already heard enough amazing music — and been surprised several times — to gush to you readers about for months.
With three days to go, I'm not sure it can get much better. But I know it will.