Although the SXSW festival is known for attracting bands from across the city and across the nation, the audience at Maggie Mae’s Wednesday night was treated to a showcase from across the pond.
The Gibson Room in Maggie Mae’s was the venue showcasing six bands from Ireland who flew into Austin to gain exposure and new fans at the music festival. The set was presented by Music From Ireland, a project to build a brand around Irish bands at international music festivals, according to their website. When guests entered the venue, they were handed a free CD sampling songs from the artists featured in the showcase.
SXSW Music badge holders were the first to be let in, followed by wristband holders and then the standby public. The show began at 8 p.m. with Dott, a band from Galway, Ireland, taking the stage.
I attended the showcase with the University Star news editor, Taylor, and we were both excited to take in some Irish music. Though we were (somewhat stereotypically) expecting to hear traditional Irish music that one might find at a Celtic festival or Irish pub, what we saw was some exceptional bands playing “normal” music like that played on any American radio – no bagpipes or traditional fiddles.
Dott, a four-person band, consisted of two women on vocals and guitar and bass, and two men on guitar and drums. With a pop-rocky feel and energetic performance, the lovely-two part harmonies were reminiscent of the Cranberries (coincidently also Irish) or even The Go-Go’s (if you’re into The Go-Go’s, which I am). The singers had lovely Irish accents and sweet temperaments that undoubtedly won over the men in the crowd.
The showcase drew an older crowd, with Taylor and I being about the only people 30 thirty in attendance, save for the band members. The posh, darkly-lit Gibson Room was upstairs and around the corner in Maggie Mae’s, and the room started to get very crowded around 9 p.m.
Heathers performed next, an Irish pop duo of twin sisters from Dublin. The sisters shared lead vocals. Their voices were almost undistinguishable at times, blending flawlessly.
The sisters, Ellie and Lousie Macamara, said it was their first time in Austin and liked the cooler weather after coming from Malaysia, were it was extremely hot. The group featured strong female vocals – a theme that began with Dott and continued with this duo – and heavy drum beats paired with powerful song arrangements and harmonies. They finished with a song dance beat song that brought the room’s energy level up.
The next and last artist I was able to catch was Hozier, a soulful singer/songwriter type with a deep, dark and comforting voice with guitar skills reminiscent of B.B. King. Andrew Hozier-Byrne was accompanied by his band and began his set with a slow acoustic song.
Complemented by a cello, keyboard, bass, drums and two talented female backup vocalists, Hozier enchanted the audience with his soul and blues – something I didn’t quite expect from an Irishman. There is no doubt in my mind that Hozier could become the next big thing in soulful rhythm and blues with relevant lyrics of love and loss.
Although I had to leave before the showcase ended, the bands I was able to see surprised me with their talent and gained one more fan from Austin, Texas.