Fort Worth soul singer Leon Bridges, Australian indie sensation Courtney Barnett and veteran Austin rock band Spoon are the winners of this year’s Grulke Prizes, South by Southwest announced Tuesday.
Bridges, who skyrocketed from relative obscurity late last year when two songs posted to SoundCloud helped get him a deal with Atlantic Records, was the winner for Developing U.S. Act. He drew a beyond-capacity crowd for his SXSW showcase at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary and also played shows at Hype Hotel, Spotify House and other venues. His debut album is expected to be released later this year.
Barnett, who had a breakout local performance at last fall’s Fun Fun Fun Fest, just released her debut album “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit” this week after three momentum-building EPs. She had official showcases at Stubb’s and Cedar Street Courtyard and also played several daytime events.
Spoon, the first Austin band to receive a Grulke Prize, was the Career Act winner. They headlined Thursday’s free outdoor concert that reopened Auditorium Shores, in addition to playing official showcases at Hype Hotel and Cedar Street Courtyard as well as Alejandro Escovedo’s unofficial Sunday-night closing event at the Continental Club.
The Career Act prize is presented to “an established artist who appeared at SXSW to reinvent themselves or launch an important new project,” according to SXSW’s website. Spoon’s 2014 album “They Want My Soul” was the band’s first in four years and featured new members as well as a move from their longtime label Merge Records to major-affiliated Loma Vista.
Previous winners were Future Islands, the Strypes and Damon Albarn in 2014, and Haim, Chvrches and the Flaming Lips in 2013. The Grulke Prize was instituted after the August 2012 death of longtime SXSW creative director Brent Grulke. The Developing Act awards include $10,000, while the Career Act receives $10,000 to give to a charity of their choice. All winners also receive a two-day studio and hotel package at NightBird Recording Studios and the Sunset Marquis Hotel in Los Angeles.
Last week, SXSW organizers dedicated the city’s new Brent Grulke Plaza just below the First Street Bridge as part of the reopening of Auditorium Shores. The reopening also included a christening of the park’s East Lawn music performance space as Vic Mathias Shores in honor of the longtime civic leader, who died in 2013 and first gave the name Auditorium Shores to the parkland along the section of the Colorado River now known as Lady Bird Lake.