The British are coming! Strawberry Guy, more U.K. artists are a hit on Monday at SXSW
If you've been to South by Southwest in the past, there's a fair chance you've dropped by the event's British Music Embassy. The pop-up headquarters that showcases artists from the U.K. had for many years been at Latitude 30 just off of Sixth Street, but this year it has moved to Cedar Street Courtyard.
That's mostly a good thing, as Cedar Street has more space; Latitude 30 often was full-to-overflowing for the Embassy's showcases. Cedar Street, at 208 W. Fourth St., is an indoor-outdoor venue that has traditionally been one of SXSW's prime venues for evening music showcases and special events.
It's not perfect, as we discovered Monday night when popping in to catch Strawberry Guy, a.k.a. Alex Stephens, a Welshman now based in Liverpool. When we first entered the venue, we could see Stephens' four-piece backing band and hear his vocals, but we couldn't see him at all: The Cedar Street stage is just low enough that a musician seated at a piano becomes invisible for those not at the front of the long, narrow courtyard.
Pro tip: Cedar Street has indoor bar corridors on both sides of the courtyard, accessible from both the front and the back of the courtyard. We used one of those corridors to sneak up to the front, and voila! There was Stephens, easy to spot if you're in the first few rows. He and his bandmates cast mesmerizing psych-pop spells in a well-received 40-minute set.
They'll play the Embassy again on at 4:40 p.m. Wednesday, followed by a 9:30 p.m. set later that evening at St. David's Historic Sanctuary. They also have several unofficial, open-to-the-public appearances booked, including 4 p.m. Tuesday at End of an Ear record store, 1 p.m. Wednesday at South by San Jose in the Jo's Coffee parking lot, and 2:30 p.m. Thursday at Pearl Street Co-Op.
Jade Bird rocks the Rolling Stone party
Back in 2018, we caught the British Music Embassy showcase of another English rising star, singer-songwriter Jade Bird. That was a big year for her, as she won SXSW's coveted Grulke Prize for non-U.S. developing act. She's since released two albums for influential label Glassnote Records.
And she liked Austin so much during previous SXSW visits that in late 2020, she moved here. So when she took the stage at 800 Congress on Monday night for a Rolling Stone-sponsored event, Bird was representing the host city.
Backed by guitarist Luke Prosser (who moved to Austin with Bird) and Los Angeles bassist Julia Lage, Bird recalled those previous SXSW appearances, the first of which happened when she was still in her teens. "I look like a baby in all of the photos," she said with a laugh.
Bird also performed a 15-minute solo set on Friday at the Austin Convention Center as a lead-in to Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis McGill Johnson's keynote speech. The song "Candidate" from last year's album "Different Kinds of Light" was a good fit for that occasion, in light of Planned Parenthood's fight against the Texas government's restrictive abortion laws. "If you want somebody to judge, if you want somebody to blame, if you want somebody to hate, I'm a great candidate," Bird sings.
She played the song in Monday's set as well, along with newer material and highlights from her first two albums. SXSW's music festival is just getting started, but this was Bird's last appearance, as she's now off to England for a big show in London on Saturday.
A sweet Dolly Parton song in a hotel bar
We began our Monday-evening ramble in the pleasant atrium bar of the Hyatt Regency, which traditionally hosts several SXSW "Second Play" sets that offer select performers additional opportunities to perform while they're in town. Second Play shows are free and open to the public — a list is available here: SXSW Free Events.
At 6 p.m., England-via-Ireland singer-songwriter Holly Macve took the stage solo with an electric guitar, impressing a small but appreciative audience.
A highlight was when Macve paid tribute to Dolly Parton, who'll perform at SXSW later this week, with a beautiful rendition of "I Will Always Love You," Parton's most famous song:
Macve plays another Second Play show at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the downtown Hilton's Cannon & Belle restaurant. She'll also perform at 12:30 p.m. at the Convention Center's Flatstock Stage (also free to the public). Her official SXSW showcase is at 10 p.m. Thursday at the Driskill Hotel's Victorian Room.