“Did you ever think we’d all be here, drinking in a hat shop? I sure didn’t,” marveled Irish pop singer Orla Gartland early Saturday afternoon as she sang and played a few songs on her acoustic guitar without amplification to South Congress patrons looking for indoor duck-ins from the steady light rain.
Goorin Bros., a couple doors down from the Continental Club, doesn’t usually host music, but this is South by Southwest, of course. Gartland, a just-turned-20 rising pop star in her home country looking for a U.S. breakthrough, played an official showcase Wednesday night at a downtown venue. This informal add-on proved an ideal place to appreciate her charm, as she donned a different hat from the store shelves on each song and tried out a new tune called “Flatline” for the crowd:
Lost in the endless party that collectively constitutes SXSW is that it also involves quite a bit of work for the masses who gather in Austin every March. That’s as true for artists shuffling to multiple showcases as it is for the bar and restaurant employees serving the massive throngs. It’s true of your humble American-Statesman and Austin360.com team, too: This is the busiest week of the year for many of us, and sometimes that means taking time out from the madness to write, edit and push all of our coverage out there via print, digital and social media avenues.
Thus sometimes we aren’t able to get to music event we want to catch because we’re, well, writing about music events. Saturday afternoon’s efforts produced our SXSW wrap-up in Sunday’s Statesman, but meant missing Kansas City band the HillBenders playing their bluegrass version of “Tommy” at Threadgill’s for a Folk Alliance International throwdown, among other great day parties galore at Maria’s Tacos, Yard Dog, Gingerman and more. (I did manage to squeeze in one last look at red-hot Richmond, Va., band Avers at the Tiniest Bar in Texas.)
The beginning and the end of Saturday provided ideal bookends, though, courtesy of local alternative-country band Harvest Thieves. Just past noon among picnic tables and scattered hay in the back of Lucy’s Fried Chicken off South Congress, the group eased into SXSW’s final stretch with a laid-back set of tunes that drew revelers of all ages:
At 11 p.m., just after the marathon Doug Sahm tribute had let out at the Paramount Theatre (see our Austin360 review by John T. Davis here), the band took the stage again at West Fifth Street hangout Lucky Lounge for their official SXSW showcase. They turned up the intensity with an impressive 40-minute set that highlighted original songs from their 2013 debut EP and an upcoming full-length album.
They also slipped in a couple of perfectly fitting covers: “Hard Luck Story” by Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams’ 1990s alt-country forerunners, and a set-closing stomp through Sahm’s “Give Back the Key to My Heart” that would have gone over like gangbusters at the Paramount an hour earlier had Harvest Thieves been part of that massive celebration.
One of the night’s most rewarding moments involved ducking out of the Sahm tribute and scooting over to the Victorian Room of the Driskill Hotel, where Paraguayan ensemble the Recycled Instrument Orchestra of Cateura performed on stringed creations made from discarded parts. They became one of the big success stories of this year’s SXSW when “Landfill Harmonic,” a documentary about the group, won the audience award for the SXSW Film Festival’s “24 Beats Per Second” music series.
Leader Favio Chavez talked about how the instruments were fashioned out of items such as roof gutters, food canisters and, in the case of one drumhead, an X-ray slide. He led the youth group through a set highlighted by a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” a perfect song to represent the band’s vision of using creativity to rise above urban poverty and decay.