A youthful gathering of music enthusiasts

Forty-eight bands of all sorts of genres and styles played at The Blackheart bar over four days

I was strolling down the Rainey Street Historic District, a street known for great music venues and parties during Austin’s SXSW festival. I noticed many young people with festival badges and music equipment gathering in front of The Blackheart patio—I was intrigued. As I entered the venue, I was soon greeted by Christopher Moon, the general manager of NoiseTrade, a PledgeMusic company. NoiseTrade is a website that shares albums of up-and-coming artists for free. Moon is also the music curator for the Clif Bar Bash, an event which took place at The Blackheart bar from March 14 to 17. Moon and his team were in the middle of preparing to showcase their much anticipated lineup.

McNally Smith College of Music students helping with the stage set-up for the first performance by Charly Bliss. Photo by Sandra Hercegova

This was Moon’s 18th year at SXSW and his third year curating music for the Clif Bar Bash music showcases. Moon is responsible for booking bands for this event alongside his team. “It’s a big team, but a resourceful team. We started organizing this event last fall in September,” Moon said. Being a music curator involves a long process of music selection. “I must have listened to 400 to 500 different artists—I want to listen to their music and I want to know that it fits with the ethos of what we do at NoiseTrade, PledgeMusic and also our sponsors for Clif,” he said. “You want to make sure it’s high-energy, interesting, fun and that it’s going to be a good experience for everyone who comes out,” he said. According to Moon, curating music is the best gig. “I get to choose 48 of my favourite bands to come and play at a venue over the next four days, and at least at some point during each set, I can soak in a song or two from everyone—that’s pretty perfect,” he said. Twelve different bands played each day at The Blackheart bar. Each band had their own distinct sound from either grungy pop-rock to alternative folk ballads. Some of the bands included Charly Bliss, Swimming with Bears, Communist Daughter and Temples, who all performed on March 14.

The Blackheart’s backyard

Hanging out at The Blackheart’s backyard, I met up with McNally Smith College of Music students who came to SXSW as part of a music business class. Each student helped to set up the outdoor stage area. Millie Gibson is a vocalist and performer with a vocal major and a minor in business. “I came out here to venture opportunities and meet people and network,” she said. “I have never been to Austin or SXSW, so I thought it would be a really cool opportunity to go with my class and fellow peers and see what was out here.” According to Gibson, the attending SXSW is part of their class mandate. “When we come back from the trip, we are going to talk about our experience, what we learned, who we met and which shows we saw,” Gibson said.

Millie Gibson and Alex Sandberg, students from the McNally Smith College of Music, experiencing SXSW for the first time. Photo by Sandra Hercegova

Alyssia Kangas, is majoring in music business and, like most of her peers, this was her first time at SXSW. Kangas has been classically trained in music for the past nine years, she also enjoys jazz music. “I’m really excited to see Communist Daughter perform, I work at First Avenue bar in Minneapolis and I’ve seen them play there and they’re really good—I’m also excited to see Agnes Sobel, Delta Rae and Lincoln Durham which is an americana style band,” said Kangas. Alex Sandberg is an aspiring music promoter and photographer who is also majoring in music business. “I came here for networking. Communication is key—you’ve got to meet these people face to face and make a name for yourself,” said Sandberg.

The Concordian music editor Sandra Hercegova and singer-songwriter Mary Elizabeth Wachs hanging out at The Blackheart music bar.

I also spent some time with Mary Elizabeth Wachs, a passionate singer-songwriter. “I have a big heart, I have big dreams. Part of what drives me as a musician is that I want to be able to share my personal life story with as many people that I can,” Wachs said. Another student from the SXSW class was music business major and emcee, Alex Hall. He has been making hip-hop music for nine years. “Me and my old rap crew, we didn’t have a good business sense,” he said. “I decided that that’s the one thing that we were missing, so I’m going to learn more about it so that we can do music full-time,” Hall said. Each student had their own inspiring story, and they each expressed their delight at being at SXSW and how willing they are to make their musical goals come to life.


Charly Bliss at The Blackheart

First to perform on The Blackheart outdoor stage was pop-rock band Charly Bliss. They were hanging out by the stage before the show, so I passed by for a quick chat. The band had driven all the way from New York City to perform for the first time at SXSW. This four-piece pop punk-rockish band consists of lead singer and guitarist Eva Hendricks, Spencer Fox on guitar, Sam Hendricks on drums and Dan Shure on bass. “I think our music is very fun, it’s very poppy—we are influenced by pop and indie rock music,” Eva said.

From left to right, members of Charly Bliss: Eva Hendricks, Spencer Fox, Sam Hendricks and Dan Shure. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

The band agreed that performing in Austin for SXSW is a right of passage. “You’ve got to do it once,” Fox said. The band will also be releasing their new album, Guppy, on April 21. All the band members pointed out that the album name was Fox’s idea. As they did, Fox put his hands on his cheeks, feigning innocence and gazing off into the distance “There’s an underdog-y feel to our band and our trajectory, and I feel like the title sums it up really nicely,” Eva said. Charly Bliss has been touring a lot lately—in fact, they played at Montreal’s Bar Le Ritz PDB back in January. “We are coming back in a couple of weeks,” Eva said. “We are playing with Operators in Montreal on April 1.” Charly Bliss then took centre stage and performed their first SXSW show with enthusiasm and high-energy. Few venues truly stand out and capture the vibrancy and energy of Austin during SXSW—The Blackheart is one of them.

Charly Bliss rocking out on stage as the opening act at The Blackheart bar. Photo by Sandra Hercegova
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