Singer Songwriters at SXSW 2011

SXSW is an indigestible feast of music. Every possible music genre is reprepsresented and new genres are invited each year during the festival. Even we limit ourselves to Christian music, the breadth of music genres and styles is mind boggling.  If you have read our articles on SXSW 2011, you will have learned of our experiences with everything from old-time western to rock to metal to gospel.  On Friday and Saturday I saw some wonderful sets by some of the best Christian singer/songwriters on the scene.

Denison Witmer at SXSW 2011

We launched into the singer songwriter phase of SXSW 2011 when we climbed the stairs to Maggie Mays’ Gibson Room to see Denison Witmer.  It was an unusually gool vibe for a SXSW show on 6th Street.  These clubs are usually overcrowded, noisy and uncomfortable.  Yes, there was noise bleed from the club below and Maggie May’s rooftop next door.  I think the beats were a challenge for Denison as he played his quiet intimate set.  However, the setting inside the club was perfect.  Several dozen fans were reclined on a huge oriental rug on the huge wooden dance floor of this beautiful room.

Denison took advantage of the intimacy to put together a completely mesmerizing set.  First, Denison Witmer sits down at the mike with a bag Frito’s which he ate from throughout the set.  He explained that he had developed some sort of respiratory condition in Austin.  In addition to a cocktail of allergy products he was ingesting, the Denison Witmer at SXSW 2011pharmacist advised Denison to eat chips to help his voice.  It seems the oil might coat his throat.

I do not know Denison Witmer’s music very well but I was completely enthralled with his quiet spacious music.  He played old songs, covers and new songs form his new album Mono vs Stereo, due out April 26th.  The noise from the crowd at the bar surged between his songs, but once he started singing the crowd quietened and listened to him.  Unusual for a SXSW crowd.  However, it was Dension Witmer’s kind, warm stage personality that won me over.  He told a hilarious story about roller skating with his wife at a skating rink with a mob of skating, texting 13 year-olds.  We were not allowed to take pictures of the show so I thought this picture was appropriate for the uproarious story he told of his flight mate dropping a tomato from her Whopper on his shoulder as she ate while talking on her cell phone.  If you get a chance to see Denison Witmer, do it.  You will have a good time.

Damian Juardo

In a music extravaganza like SXSW small gifts, like being able to comfortably stay in one place to see two acts that you want to see, are greatly appreciated. That happened on Friday night at the Gibson Room. I would have walked across town to see Damien Juardo. I have been pushing to add Christian musician Damian Juardo to one21music, but the folk-boom legend is very private about his faith.

Damian Juardo at SXSW 2011Damian has an presence that makes him seem much larger than he probably is. He came onto stage with his full Seattle vibe (flannel shirt and beard), tuned his guitar and launched into a captivating set of intense, dark folk. With dense lyrics and somewhat symphonic song structures, Damien Juardo’s brand of folk is harder, yet more ambient and ethereal than most of the folk you see. His voice defies his physical presence and the mood of his music. His voice is loud, a little high and, at times, grows into a piercing wail.

Unfortunately the intimacy of Damien Juardo‘s set was impaled when the SXSW crew asked everyone to get up off the oriental rug to allow more people into the club. Unfortunately the new members of the audience were there to talk among themselves rather than listen to Damien Juardo. That turned something that was growing into a spiritual happening into battle for the sound control in the room. We all cheered when Damien went through a series of insults to try shut-up the new audience, but it was to no avail. It did not seem the new ones even knew someone was on stage. This was my first time to see Damian Juardo. I will jump at the next chance. Side note: my camera battery died before I could get a good shot. Thank you to Doug and HM Magazine this photo.  It really says all you need to know about Damien Juardo‘s music.

Approximately 24 hours later, at the end of a wonderful of day of Gospel, I closed my SXSW 2011 with Brooke Fraser‘s highly anticipated set at the St. David’s Historical Sacntuary.  St David’s is a beautiful Presbyterian sanctuary built in the 19th century.  The acoustics make it a wonderful room for music.  Brooke blasted through a five song set that included “Coachella”, “Betty” and “Something In The Water” from her latest Flags (one of our 25 best recordings of 2010 ). Brooke Fraser has beautiful clear voice that is powerful and engaging.  Her band was tight.  Brooke’s set was quick and professional.  I did love her between song banter.  When reminding everyone that she would be back in Austin soon at the new ACL Moody Theater, she referred to the theater (located in the brand new W hotel) as a “bit fancy pants.”  When she reached the end of the announcement she said “well, any who”, which is definitely not a Texas phrase.  I look forward to seeing a full set from Brooke Fraser in June.  Check in to see our review on June 6th.

SXSW 2011 confirmed my appreciation of Damian Juardo‘s music, turned me into a fan of Denison Witmer and made me anticipate Brooke Fraser‘s June show in Austin even more.

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