South By Southwest can be a time of great opportunity or great paralysis in the face of so many options. Which events need passes? Which shows require RSVPs? Has anyone even heard of this band?Rest easy, intrepid reveler, as — thankfully — there is one SXSW sanctioned series that anyone can attend without any complicated planning.
The SXSW Outdoor Stage, the largest maintained by the festival, is popping up again at Auditorium Shores, the large green space at the heart of downtown Austin (which is visible from rooftops along the river, including the butterfly garden at the Central Library). Over three days — from Thursday, March 17 to Saturday, March 19 — 13 groups hand-picked by the festival will offer a break from the madness and great free shows to build weekend planning around.
Each day’s performances are sponsored by a different nonprofit, bringing musicians to one of the highest-profile venues of the entire festival while raising awareness for good causes. (SXSW calls these “benefit concerts,” but in this case, considering funds will not be raised with free entry, the benefit seems to be awareness, though a 2017 sponsorship sales kit prices an Outdoor Stage sponsorship at $55,000.)
Thursday, March 17
It’s Austin artists all day on Thursday. The first day on the Outdoor Stage event kicks off with a traditional country group, Croy and the Boys. Following them is Kalu & the Electric Joint, with lots of bluesy guitar riffs but more of a psych-soul than country sensibility. Prog rock group And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead will bring Austin back to itself in the ’90s with a much heavier set. Another beloved group from way back when (one year away from a potential vintage classification), Heartless Bastards, are continuing their triumphant return to the indie spotlight. Finally, Golden Dawn Arkestra snags the headlining spot and makes things a little weird again with funky, experimental beats.
Spaceflight Records, the nonprofit label sponsoring Thursday’s show, provides distribution, recording, promotional and other services to “developing musicians” who the music industry has “marginalized.” Croy and the Boys, Heartless Bastards, and Golden Dawn Arkestra are all on Spaceflight’s roster.
Friday, March 18
The middle set at the Outdoor Stage is all about rock and not at all about Austin. Featuring overall smaller bands than Thursday’s event, this is the day to see something relatively new. Hopefully by the time the afternoon rolls around, listeners will be warmed up and ready for a roaring rock set by Jane N’ The Jungle. Another high-energy set from The Dunes follows, lending pop-punk vibes. The Warning, a group of three Mexican sisters usually in leather, brings it back to heavier, harder rock. Although the members of Sammy Hagar and the Circle have been famous since before SXSW existed (Hagar started fronting Van Halen in ’85), the supergroup was only formed in 2014, and plays lots of crowd-favorite classic rock covers.
Friday’s sponsorship is split between two organizations: Give a Note Foundation and Artist for Artist. The former supports music education through innovative technology (providing $1.4 million directly to schools so far), and the latter agency ensures artists are managed by artists instead of outside business folk (with a roster including Jane N’ The Jungle and The Dunes).
Saturday, March 19
The final day on the Outdoor Stage will be full of surprises, as only two of the four time slots have been announced. From 5-7 pm, the schedule is a mystery. Then, Houndmouth, a gentle indie band out of Indiana with an improbably large hit in “Sedona,” takes the stage. Following them and closing out the series is the folksy, soulful, and floating Mt. Joy, who made a strong impression at SXSW in 2018 and will be hard not to sing along with in 2022.
The final sponsor, matching Mt. Joy in name and sunny attitude, is JoyRX Music by Children’s Cancer Association. JoyRX delivers musical experiences to young patients who are in the hospital for extended periods of time. Volunteer musicians can visit in person or virtually with their instruments.