SXSW: Who’s Gonna Hog The Spotlight?

The Alabama Shakes is one band we'll be watching at SXSW.

Pretend you are the guitarist or lead singer for an upcoming band, and you’ve saved money from your miserable gigs all year to make the trip this week to Austin for South by Southwest (SXSW). You dream that a record label exec or an A&R rep will see one of your short sets, and this time next year you will on the road opening for U2.

Then you look at who else is playing Austin this week.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Lionel Richie, Jay-Z, Santigold, The Roots, Jimmy Cliff, Norah Jones, Counting Crows, of Montreal, The Shins, Mumford and Sons, Blitzen Trapper,  Skrillex, Ingrid Michaelson, Best Coast, Fiona Apple, Dan Deacon, Andrew WK, various members of R.E.M., Titus Andronicus, Built To Spill, Alejandro Escovedo, Jesse Malin, Garland Jeffreys, Billy Joe Shaver, Thomas Dolby, Gary Clark Jr., the Jesus and Mary Chain, Chuck Prophet, Lil’ Wayne, Nas, Big K.R.I.T., Jack White and Tom Morello.

Gulp. How are they going to see you if everyone is hanging out to see these big names? You gotta have faith, and you gotta keep on playing. There are some lesser-known acts coming into Austin this week, they have earned a bit of pre-festival buzz for one reason or another.

Among the newer acts with “buzz” this year are the Alabama Shakes, a rock and soul unit that just a few years ago was playing covers to pay the rent. Led by guitarist/singer Brittany Howard, the Shakes socked away some original tunes and finally got their big break when the Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood saw them and invited the band to open for the Truckers. The Shakes have since appeared on “Conan” and hope that multiple appearances at SXSW will create some heat for their debut album Boys and Girls, out April 9.

Class Actress frontwoman Elizabeth Harper - haven't heard the music but we like the photo.

Austin’s own Gary Clark Jr., an electrifying blues guitarist, is ready to leap from hometown hero to household name with three or four sets a day at SXSW. Cheap Girls, from Lansing, Mich., and Diarrhea Planet, from Nashville, plan to keep the punk rock in the garage where it belongs, while L.A.’s Class Actress offers a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. On the rap front,we have hip-hop collective Black Hippy featuring Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul and comes with a rumored Dr. Dre-approved pedigree.

And let’s toss a shoutout here to H-Town homies Buxton, an Americana/rock unit that has already earned some ink in Paste and Esquire; also to the Wild Moccasins, who we’ve seen play on the stage at Cactus Music.

And let’s not forget the headline: Bruce Springsteen will be the event’s keynote speaker on Thursday, and later that evening he fronts the E Street Band for a performance at an “intimate” still-secret Austin venue. Norah Jones will showcase her new music (made with Danger Mouse), and revitalized rockers the Jesus and Mary Chain, the dBs and the Cult all hope to grab some of the spotlight this time around.

There are more than 3,000 music acts playing over the next five days in Austin – with any luck, we’ll be able to catch about 10 or 12. Of course, we are hoping to catch Springsteen, Jack White, Jimmy Cliff and some of the other biggies – but we’ll be prowling for some of these new acts listed above.

And in the interest of further disclosure, we’re going to do double duty this year and cover SXSW for our friends at Popdose, a national entertainment blog. We’re already posting some stories over there (click on the big SXSW button at right), and until we actually get sneakers on the ground in Austin on Wednesday you may notice some similarity in our early pieces but we’re going to be a little tasteful in front of the big audience. Here, we’ll post our all of our long, self-indulgent rants in their full glory. Lucky you.

Bonus: if you go to many of the links posted here you can get a free download of a song from each artist.

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