This week, the best evidence yet that the Philadelphia independent music scene is deeper and stronger than ever will be found in Austin, Texas.
During the South by Southwest Music Festival, which will open Tuesday in the Lone Star State's capital and carry on until the wee hours of Saturday night, more than 30 acts from in and around the 215 area code will be showcasing their wares in the 512.ep
The music portion of this year's SXSW (the Interactive and Film aspects of the cultural confab started on Friday) may well turn out to be a less superstar-dominated, out-of-control experience than last year's.
That was when Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Jay Z were among the more than 2,000 acts to perform. And festival organizers learned a tragic lesson about the risks of unfettered growth when a drunken driver plowed into a crowd and killed four people.
So conference-goers headed to Austin can keep fingers crossed for a more sedate experience, anchored by a wake-and-bake keynote speech by Snoop Dogg on Friday morning and featuring more midsize acts. And they can also count on a festival with a more pronounced Philadelphia presence.
The hip-hop-heavy first-ever all-Philadelphia official SXSW nighttime showcase will happen Friday at the Old School Bar on Austin's Sixth Street strip. It's sponsored by RecPhilly, the Old City "entertainment incubator" headed by hustling honcho Dave Silver.
The 15-act bill is topped by Philadelphia School-schooled rap duo OCD: Moosh & Twist, and it includes major Philly players Chill Moody and Ground Up, as well as enduring bearded emcee Freeway.
Silver, a 2013 Temple grad who runs the RecCollective record label, spearheaded the event after attending SXSW last year. "When I left I realized that there was not a strong Philadelphia presence in one place," he says. "I went to a Chicago showcase, and one for another city, and I was, like, 'Where is Philadelphia? We could do something great.' "
In addition to the concentration at the Old School Bar, there is a plethora of buzzed-about acts playing venues around Austin at the festival, the largest annual music industry gathering of its kind.
Among the acts on discerning conference-goers' short lists are Son Little, the hybrid-soul singer born Aaron Livingston, who has previously sung with the Roots and RJD2. The Districts, the rip-roaring quartet from Lititz, Pa., will be playing Rachael Ray's high-profile party at Stubb's on Saturday.
Girlpool, the harmonizing duo of Los Angeles transplants Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, will be playing multiple gigs. Their charming single "Chinatown" has stoked the buzz for their upcoming album Before the World, due in June. Waxahatchee, the band fronted by Alabama-born Katie Crutchfield, whose stunner Ivy Tripp comes out April 7 (and who happens to be Tucker's West Philly roommate), will also be playing several shows.
The Philly bands include Havertown-native wunderkind Alex G, West Philly powerhouse instrumental trio Stinking Lizaveta, wildcat rock-and-roll outfit Low Cut Connie, former Dogg Pound rapper Kurupt, electro-pop duo Marian Hill, and sunny power-pop quintet Cheerleader.
The War on Drugs will play a prestige show on Thursday, closing out a three-day series sponsored by ticket reseller StubHub, who hype the band as "one of the biggest acts in rock today."
Son Little, 38, is making his first trip to SXSW, with momentum gathering since the release of his EP Things I Forgot in April. Livingston got his start in the Philly music scene when he played bass at the Black Lily jam sessions at Old City's Five Spot in the early '00s.
When the late Roots manager Richard Nichols became a fan, "that was what first gave me the inclination that I might be able to do something with my own stuff," Livingston said last week. "He called himself the 'Cool Hunter,' and I said, 'Well I must be a little bit cool.' "
Livingston sang on the Roots' The Tipping Point and Undun, and he teamed with RJD2 on the Icebird project in 2011. "He has such eclectic taste and allows himself free rein musically, and that's kind of how I roll, too. I don't really restrict myself," says the emotive singer, who names Howlin' Wolf, Etta James, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, and Ozzy Osbourne as his favorite raw-throated vocalists.
"O Mother," Son Little's stirring new song, was written while touring in Europe after news broke of racial unrest in Ferguson, Mo. "That song has a lot of different points of genesis," he says. "I was 3,000 miles away from home, and I was reminded of the way I feel when I'm driving in my car and I haven't done anything wrong . . . but I still feel afraid when I see police lights flashing."
Livingston, who lives in Princeton, has an album due on the label Anti- this year. He's doing SXSW gigs during the Interactive and Music festival. His goal is to "play some tunes in the sun. I don't have any specific expectations. I'm just excited to share what we've been doing, repeatedly."
Rappers Oliver "Twist" Feighan and DeQuincy "Moosh" Coleman-McRae were on the road last week on a club-headlining tour ending up in Texas. The duo, both 22, have been best friends since first grade. They had a packed side-stage gig at the Made in America festival last summer, and put out their Living Out Loud EP in April.
"We've never been to SXSW," said Feighan, sharing a mobile phone with Coleman-McRae as their van headed from Atlanta to Lexington, Ky., this week. "It's our first time performing and just being there as a fan of music and networking, so we're pretty pumped."
The duo see SXSW as an opportunity to get their band name - and brand name - out to as many people as they can. "There's no better time for us to go," Coleman-McRae says. "In the past, I don't think we were ready, music-wise, fanbase-wise, and brand-wise as well. We're going there to showcase ourselves, our whole sound, everything we're doing."
Silver said RecPhilly means to fill a void in a city loaded with musical talent, but short on music industry presence, by functioning as a network of "all of the small businesses that a musician needs so they can have a successful career in Philadelphia without leaving Philadelphia."
The goal of the RecPhilly showcase, put on in conjunction with promo group What Scene?, "is to shine light on Philadelphia talent and impress SXSW with what Philadelphia can bring as an independent brand," Silver says. "If the place is filled, it won't be a question when I reach out next year. This could be the start of a Philadelphia showcase tradition."