Monday, March 18, 2013


ZZ Ward
ZZ Ward performs at The Empire Control Room during SXSW.
photos by picksysticks

In a week that saw surprise performances by Prince, Justin Timberlake, Willie Nelson and The Smashing Pumpkins snatch up all the headlines at this years’ South By Southwest, it was the ever presence of girl power that stole the spotlight at this years’ annual music festival.  From fan favorites like Paramore and Tegan and Sara to up-and-coming bands like Chvrches, Bleached and Charlie XCX, women-fronted bands were in no short supply.

Elle King
Elle King
Elle King performs during Day 1 of SXSW.
photo by picksysticks
But of course, SXSW is unlike any other music festival in the world.  Bands can play as much as 13 times in a week; sometime 4 times in a day jumping from venue to venue, lugging their equipment across town and back.  It can be grueling for musicians as well as fans. 

Ashley Monroe

Already in its 27th year, SXSW is a haven for unsigned bands looking to gain exposure and with over 300,000 music lovers in a given day flocking to Austin to enjoy music’s version of Comic-Con, musicians see this opportunity to reach more fans.   And with bands playing, literally 24-7, all around downtown Austin, seeing a band, or bands for that matter, requires careful planning.  Whether it be having fun and drinking with friends or catching your favorite bands,  experiencing SXSW demands military precision in mapping out your day’s schedule.

Flying into Austin Tuesday afternoon; day one of the music festival, we decided to take it slow, take in the sights and atmosphere.  It was  certainly a culture shock as downtown 6th Street appeared to be the heart of South By, swelling with crowds by late afternoon. 

In the city that gave us Outlaw Country music, it was only fitting that we start off our SXSW experience listening to some good ol’ country and blues music by way of Ashley Monroe and ZZ Ward; the place?  The Empire Control Room which was hosting a night of country music presented and filmed by MTV/Vh1/CMT and hosted by MTV deejay Matt Pinfield.  

Striking Matches
One of the great things about SXSW is not knowing who you may come across.  By getting to a venue early, you may find surprisingly really good acts.  This was the case for Striking Matches, a country duo made up of Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis who trade off vocals singing of heartbreak lined with hearty and vulnerable melodies.  Sarah later came back on stage to perform with Ashley Monroe who at a young age of 26, is already a country veteran, having signed to a record label at age 19 and then releasing her album. 

In 2011, she released another album Hell on Heels as part of The Pistol Annies alongside longtime friends Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley which garnered her wider recognition, and on top of that,  a Number 1 album on Billboard's Country Chart.  

Ashley Monroe
Ashley Monroe
MTV/CMT/Vh1 Presents: Ashley Monroe @ The Empire Control Room during SXSW.
photos by picksysticks
But this night, Ashley was celebrating the release of her second studio album, Like a Rose, which was released earlier this month.  Blending both a soft and fresh sounds in songs like her title track Like A Rose and Morning After, Ashley also delivered the toe-tapping crowd to a the party they've been waiting for with songs like "Weed Instead of Roses" and "Monroe Suede."  

ZZ Ward
Next up was Ohio native Elle King who sings in a voice that sounds like she's lived every note she has written; often times graveled and weathered showing hard-earned mileage and other times silky smooth and powerful.  That's why it's so it's hard to grasp that she's only in her mid-20s yet she sounds like an old soul.  Add in a banjo that she fiddles with like it's second nature and Elle King has to be one of my favorite singers I've seen at SXSW – and this is only my first day! 

Bluesy R&B singer ZZ Ward hails from the West Coast where she's a regular performer in Los Angeles. I'm from there and it took SXSW for me to fly all the way to Austin to finally watch her perform.  And afterwards, I was wondering myself what took me so long.  With bluesy funk thrusted out into the forefront with hip-hop beats it's not surprising why Ward's debut album "Til The Casket Drops" was one of the most buzzed about releases last year, making her one of Fuse TV's 30 must-see acts at this years music festival. 

And with that, day one was finished. Exhausted yet fullfilled with a great first day of amazing performances as we look forward to four more days of SXSW. 

Also check out:
Girls Rock SXSW - Day 2
Girls Rock SXSW - Day 3
Girls Rock SXSW - Day 4

Girls Rock SXSW - Day 5