If you're unfamiliar with the South By Southwest festival (SXSW) in Austin, Tex., know first and foremost that it's absolutely enormous.
On the heels of a massive five-day interactive forum and overlapping with a nine-day film festival, the SXSW music portion showcases over 1,000 bands in five days - and that's just the official showcase, with likely the same number of bands playing unofficial showcases during the same time.
It's telling, then, that the handful of Birmingham bands in attendance stood out amongst the madness.
There were some Alabama artists in Austin on unofficial business during the festival, like Drew Price and Yelawolf. But whereas SXSW 2014's Birmingham presence belonged solely to St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Birmingham was well-represented by three bands in the form of official showcases.
With only one seven-song EP under their belts, the young indie/alternative rock trio made their SXSW debut with a pair of showcases, the latter being an official showcase.
"It's really hard to get a slot here, officially," said guitarist David Swatzell. "Our label [Communicating Vessels] just stayed on them about it. It was real last-minute. We thought we weren't going to get it for a while, then a couple weeks ago they said, 'Alright, you're on.'"
Wray had been on tour for about three weeks at this point, a west coast trek that started in Colorado. And their official gig led them to the Red Eyed Fly, a two-stage bar whose indoor area (where Wray played) is comparable to The Nick or The Bottletree Café in size.
And Wray drew a crowd. They barely spoke during their 40-minute set, but the music did the talking as festival-goers witnessed their churning, atmospheric sound.
The low number of gigs didn't bother the band, though.
"It can get a little chaotic," Swatzell said. "Especially if you're playing a lot. Only doing two shows was nice."
Next Birmingham Show: March 28 at The Bottletree Café
Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires
With two albums to their name, a record deal with Sub Pop and countless praise heaped upon them in 2014, it's no wonder Lee Bains III and company were on the SXSW radar for many people.
Paste Magazine included them in their "25 Bands to Catch in Austin" list, heralding the band's "unrestrained live show" and the frontman's "boundless appreciation for the region that built him" as two key factors.
So, yes, a pretty nice crowd showed up.
"My experience with SXSW is, I'll do it, and I'll be excited about it, and then I'll get super stressed out," said Bains, whose band played unofficially in 2011 and officially in 2013. "It's the most stressed I am ever about anything. By the end, I'm like, 'I'm never doing that again,' and a year later it happens and I think, 'Man, I wish I were there.' So the next year you go back."
Sharing a bill with the likes of Diarrhea Planet and Water Liars, the Southern punk rock quartet packed the second floor of Trinity Hall on 6th Street in their own right.
And they did not disappoint. The boys from Birmingham brought their usual live-show antics, complete with off-the-charts energy and crowd participation. Most of the set list came from last year's "Dereconstructed," but they did throw a new song in the mix (one that'll be available this summer as a 7" record).
Not bad for a band that was once deemed "too loud for Texas." In fact, as Bains pointed out, that incident has actually helped their reputation in the Lone Star State.
"We had never had a good show in Dallas/Ft. Worth, and that show there were only 15 or 20 people there," Bains said. "The next time we came back, there were [tons] of people there. Since then, that has actually really helped us in Dallas and Austin, and Houston too. We love coming here."
Next Birmingham Show: July 18 & 19 at the Sloss Music & Arts Festival
The SXSW handbill may have said Philadelphia, PA next to Waxahatchee's name, but those in the know will attribute singer/guitarist Katie Crutchfield and her sister Allison (also of Swearin') to the Magic City where they were born and raised (and started their first band).
Their second of two official showcases saw the band co-headlining the "Bands and a Bonfire Under the Big Sky" slate with Real Estate at the outdoor stage of Cheer Up Charlie's.
The first Waxahatchee record, 2012's "American Weekend," was just Crutchfield and a guitar, but since then she's expanded to a full band, which was the version of Waxahatchee on display in Austin.
And they packed the house, especially for a starting time of just after midnight. The large outdoor space filled up quickly, and a line of folks without official credentials (you can get into most things at SXSW if you're willing to wait) stretched down the block.
The full-band version of Waxahatchee was louder, faster and heavier than the first two records, but the crowd was on board. Which is good, because Crutchfield and company were testing out a handful of new songs from their forthcoming record, "Ivy Tripp."
Sure, the Crutchfields moved to Philadelphia, but we'll still claim them as long as they keep making us proud.
Next Birmingham Show: April 15 at the Spring Street Fire House