By Thomas Avery
When you move to Austin, TX, you quickly learn to prepare yourself for the SXSW circus when it rolls into town. You won’t see any dancing bears or human cannonballs (well, you might).. mostly just hordes of lanyard-strapped culture pilgrims buying out your favorite taco trucks before 9am. That being said, I was thoroughly stoked for my first SXSW experience, even if I couldn’t afford the ungodly price tag for one of those coveted badges. In a city that desperately tries to “keep it weird,” a party with that kind of gravitational pull sucks everyone here into it, whether you want to go or not.
The most striking thing about this event is that there is truly no singular description. It is a crunchy music festival, sprinkled on top of an eye-watering film festival, all wrapped up into a technology-baked tortilla. (Yes, I just made SXSW into a taco analogy, couldn’t help it.) And while the planners and coordinators of this madness try to make a distinct separation, you can’t help but feel like it’s all intermingled and truly part of one overarching effort. What is its grand theme? Human connection.
I think it’s safe to say that the SXSW festival-conference, more than anything I’ve experienced on such a large scale, exhibits purely and without irony the noble purpose of bringing people together through art and creativity. Anyone who puts in the energy to make something is celebrated and encouraged to share it, and welcomed into the larger community. I went into the week with two scheduled shows playing keys for BR Lively, but after our first show, three more got added to the schedule. Ultimately these shows led to an invitation to Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion, by far the best day for local musicians and fans who need a break from all their city’s guests. At the secluded ranch an hour out of town, we bounced from Son Little to Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Nathaniel Rateliff to the Band of Heathens with Margo Price, who played in a tiny church for about 40 people. Finally, after Willie Nelson and Family closed out the night and we were getting ready to leave, we were suddenly whisked away to Willie’s favorite dive bar down the road to attend the artist afterparty. My head was spinning when I finally made it home early that morning, trying to work out how this all could have happened in one day.
Throughout the week-and-a-half that the show was in town, the overwhelming sentiment was that the people putting on these shows sincerely wanted me to be there, to share in the experience they had created and the message they hoped to spread through their work. And this attitude got me thinking more broadly about the cultural atmosphere we are all trying to navigate these days. It’s easy and common to say that the maturing population - the Millenials and the younger generations that follow - lacks a sense of true connection with other people. I get it … from the outside it looks like we worship our phones and trade the limited world around us for the apparently infinite world of the internet. I will be the first to agree that we’ve developed somewhat of a social impairment due to the communication barrier we’ve constructed out of our devices and gadgets that inhibit physical, face-to-face human interaction. But if the size, scope, and general frenzy caused by SXSW illustrates anything, it’s our desperate need and desire to connect.
If SXSW is a fireworks show of the human connection experiment, Tunewelders is a daily dose. Years ago, when I began working with Ben and Jeremy back at 800 East Studios in Atlanta, I noticed something special in the water. The more projects we worked on, the more conversations we had about the why, not just the how. We discovered that we were all seeking human connection through our music. This passion, to make something with a purpose, is the why behind Tunewelders. The proven production team is the how. I am bringing this model to Austin, and I’m eager not only to make more great music, but to grow the human experience through Tunewelders.