If you’ve never raced to every moontower in Austin in search of secret clues, then you’re not a serious Shakey Graves fan. You almost certainly weren’t at the Austin musician’s private performance and listening party Thursday during South by Southwest.
William Abete and Sarah Barnes, however, are serious Shakey Graves fans. The pair can prove it.
Leading up to SXSW, Alejandro Rose-Garcia, the man behind the Shakey Graves stage name, put together an “immensely weird and complicated” scavenger hunt around Austin, with challenges gradually dripped out over social media. The quest’s objectives ranged from bowling a score of 200 or higher, to winning first place at Blazer Lazer Tag using the codename “Shakey,” to the aforementioned moontower hunt. Those who successfully completed one of Rose-Garcia’s challenges would locate a box containing, among other things, a tape of a track from Rose-Garcia’s upcoming album, “Can’t Wake Up,” as well access for five people to Thursday’s party. At the party, Rose-Garcia gave guests an exclusive listen of his new music.
“I was with my girlfriend and we were looking at the clue list,” Abete, a student at Texas State University, said at the party, held at Geraldine’s in Hotel Van Zandt. Abete wanted to attempt a challenge at Pinballz arcade but saw someone else had already won. Then, another scavenger hunt challenge appeared: Go to 13 moontowers in Austin, across which one would find 14 clues. Assemble the clues to order a secret beverage at an East Seventh Street bar. Get your prize.
Abete shifted gears and started mapping out moontowers. He said went to most of the historic Austin light structures in search of the clues, which turned out to be letters affixed to the bases of the towers.
At the same time, Barnes embarked on her own moontower journey in search of Shakey Graves’ gold. When the University of Texas graduate student found letters at the landmarks, she would contact a friend — her “man in the chair” at home base — to try to figure out what word the found letters spelled. When Barnes arrived at the moontower at Eleventh and Trinity streets, she found that the letter that should have been there was gone.
That’s because Abete started ripping letters off of the moontowers he visited, to throw competitors off the scent.
Abete said he figured out the letters spelled “transcendental” and, following the rules of the challenge, drove to Hard Luck Lounge and ordered a “transcendental margarita.” The bar owner was “flabbergasted,” Abete said, and mentioned that Rose-Garcia had been at Hard Luck just an hour before Abete arrived.
Meanwhile, Barnes would not accept defeat in the form of a missing letter. She thought the word might be “transcendental,” so she drove to the bar to try her luck. Thanks to parking troubles, Abete had just barely beaten Barnes.
None of Abete’s friends, as it turned out, could make it to the private Shakey Graves party. So he asked Barnes to go.
“Shakey made us friends,” Abete said.
And that Pinballz challenge? Rose-Garcia said that the man who won that prize, a teacher, deduced that task before it was even announced. The winner of that challenge spent all day racking up a boatload of tickets at the arcade after seeing the singer test the challenge on his Instagram account, Rose-Garcia said.
It sounds like a lot of work. For some fans, though, Shakey Graves is worth channeling Sherlock Holmes.
“Shakey fans ’til death,” Abete said.