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What began as a little indie music festival 23 years ago is now a humongous indie music festival that has somehow, perhaps by sheer volume, maintained its indie cred. The event now has a film festival and a technology geekfest rolled into it and lasts 10 days, but live music still anchors the experience. Here’s how it works: Mostly unsigned bands converge on Austin’s 6th Street bar area and play one after another for about an hour at a time in front of dedicated fans, random music lovers, label execs and the press. Some venues host showcases of promising acts organized by genre, home country or parent labels. There are also festival stages where bigger names play for bigger crowds. The cool thing about SXSW is that some of the biggest bands in the world still participate, happy to play a hole-in-the-wall bar for honest cheers and the same $250 that upstart acts get, as Metallica did at Stubb’s Barbecue.
There’s also a trade show, seminars, panel discussions, a concert poster show and more. Some bands were throwing CD release parties while others were shooting their next video. Some were playing their first official gigs while others were reuniting. There were acoustic singer songwriters. There were zydeco bands. There were Norwegian metal fans in full leather-n-spike regalia, and there were girls wearing skirts with cowboy boots. In fact, there were a lot of girls wearing skirts with cowboy boots.
So imagine being charged with the task of covering this festival and crystallizing it into four pages. Where to begin? Which acts would be worthy of inclusion? We sweated the task over a Shiner Bock or three before realizing that the beauty of SXSW is in its diversity. There’s great music everywhere—familiar and new. So, we went searching for a wide range of guitar-driven music. If there’s one festival where you can hear what our favorite instrument is truly capable of, it’s SXSW.
So here it is—our list of 18 guitar-centric acts that made our SXSW experience a memorable one.