SXSW in Austin, Texas is the mother of all music festivals for new, independent bands. According to festival organizers, “The South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conferences & Festivals offer the unique convergence of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies. Fostering creative and professional growth alike, SXSW® is the premier destination for discovery. Year after year, the event is a launching pad for new creative content. New media presentations, music showcases and film screenings provide buzz-generating exposure for creators and compelling entertainment for audiences. Conference panel discussions present a forum for learning, business activity thrives at the Trade Shows and global networking opportunities abound. Austin serves as the perfect backdrop for SXSW®, where career development flourishes amid the relaxed atmosphere. Intellectual and creative intermingling among industry leaders continues to spark new ideas and carve the path for the future of each ever-evolving field, long after the events’ conclusion.”
Many Milwaukeeans — musicians and non-musicians, alike — are trekking down to Austin to play, listen and absorb music, music, music. SXSW began on Friday and continues until Sunday, March 21st. One former Milwaukeean, who currently lives in Austin, decided to use the festival as an opportunity to create a meeting place for Milwaukee bands traveling down to SXSW to play and also throw a show. Jeremy Rogers — formerly of Milwaukee’s band At Latl – spoke to WMSE about loaning out his backyard and about adding to the musical melee by throwing a Milwaukee-by-Austin event that is set to take place at SXSW this Tuesday.
You began Tugboat Hustle when you were still living in Milwaukee, right? What gave you the inspiration to continue promoting shows in a new city?
Actually I did not begin Tugboat Hustle in Milwaukee. My partner Reuven Cocos started Tugboat after he left Stonefly Brewery and shortly after I left for Austin. Since I first arrived in Austin, I have been focused on understanding the music scene here and why it is such a music city. I arrived just in time to see the coming of ACL and the exceptionally awesome FUN FUN FUN Fest. Two completely different kinds of festivals put on by two completely different kinds of entertainment companies, Transmission (FFFF) and C3 (ACL).
These companies own and operate their own venues in Austin where they can book/promote multiple shows. What makes these companies different is that they also promote in other venues with no affiliation to their own. So on any given night, one of these companies may have ten shows going on at once, and all around the city. This is what inspired me to get into this kind of business. I love that if on a Saturday night I want to see hip-hop, metal, or alternative rock, I can! In fact, I have multiple options I can take advantage of – a music buffet, so to speak. These companies are what make that possible.
When I came to this realization, I immediately wanted to start a promo business based out of Milwaukee. Austin and Milwaukee are not so different! Both are roughly the same size in population, both are large festival cities, and both have multiple and diverse music markets. I knew I couldn’t do it alone. The idea is to create a collective of promoters with vested interest in promoting multiple shows at multiple venues together.
So, the first person I called was Reuven. After excitedly explaining him my ideas and that I wanted him to hop on board, he said, “Dude, welcome to the Tugboat Hustle family.” Reuven had already begun living the dream. So I hopped on with Tugboat and sort of brought the method to the madness. We plotted out what venues in Milwaukee we will be working with and we developed the foundation of our new business. Currently Reuven, with a small staff, is promoting all of the Tugboat shows in Milwaukee. I am focusing on the financial and legal end of things until my return to Milwaukee this summer (i.e. starting the LLC, bookkeeping, starting the website, licenses, etc…). I am also focused on planning and producing our first major event, Freaks Meet Folks, an evening party/showcase during this year’s SXSW. That is how it started! Things are going well. We just signed on Nick Tovarek from Slap Hands Promotions. The future looks bright.
Did you know any bands or musicians in Austin before you started calling it home?
No, I didn’t. I still haven’t seen Spoon live, either. Hmm.
Have you been involved in SXSW prior to this year’s?
No, I have not. SXSW has always been a mystery to me — I never really understood what it was until this year. But now I have a grip on it I think and it is a wonderfully wild thing that nobody has any control over in any way. It’s like Mardi Gras for music.
Tell me about ‘Freaks meet Folks’.
Freaks meet Folks is a Tugboat Hustle production held at Club De Ville during this year’s SXSW on Tuesday, March 16th (7 p.m. – 2 a.m.). When I first thought about having some kind of day party for SXSW, I wanted to book bands that I love and bands that I know. I had recently met a lot of local bands and made new friends as well. Before I even had a venue or a date I confirmed all of the bands because they were personal friends of mine.
Black Cock: freaky noise/punk from Austin
Cartright: grime folk rock from Austin
DD/MM/YYYY: noise/math punk from Toronto
The Daredevil Christopher Wright: folk rock from my home town Eau Claire
Brazos: Folk rock from Austin
and DJ Lindsay Luv from NYC
The artists were in such a great contrast to each other that the name of the event sort of made itself known, Freaks Meet Folks. So I had this great lineup and no venue; originally I was going to do it in someone’s back yard…I’ve been interning with The Onion for about two and a half years now, and they wanted in on this. They gave me the resources to book at a downtown venue in the heart of SXSW craziness on a Tuesday night during the evening. I confirmed at Club De Ville and locked down Dulce Vida Tequila, a new tequila company in Texas, as our sponsor. Then shortly after that Do512 (a famous Austin online calendar/blog) signed on. We didn’t just have a show anymore. We had a freak fest! Suddenly I went from backyard shindig to fully sponsored, free entry, free margaritas, bad-ass jams by bad-ass bands in the blink of an eye. It has been great putting it together as the sole planner. I have learned a lot. We have over 2000 RSVP’s on Do512, 350 RSVP’s on Facebook, and a half page ad in The Onion…it’s gonna be NUTS!
How are you making the Milwaukee connection at this year’s festival?
Well, this year I wanted to book bands that I was close with and that I knew would already be down here for SXSW regardless. That way if I promoted a show that nobody came to, they wouldn’t hate me for it because they would be playing multiple other shows throughout the festival. Now the show is completely out of control and it hasn’t even started yet. I wanted to plant the seed this year so that next year I can book a show with confidence knowing that my Milwaukee bands will have an amazing SXSW experience and an honest chance to expose themselves.
This year there is some special stuff going on though! Group of the Altos and my good friends in Juniper Tar are coming to SXSW. Guess whose back yard they are staying in? I am thoroughly excited for camping out every night this week with my buddies.
I have also taken it upon myself to sponsor Juniper Tar and book them at some SXSW day parties. They will be playing a showcase on the East Side of Austin at a fantastic venue called Space 12 this Friday as well as a private, acoustic backyard party this Thursday. Good times! More than anything I want Milwaukeeans to know that they have a home here in Austin and a place here in SXSW 2010. I look forward to seeing everyone — it will be a great festival this year!