While this year didn't seem to have the same cache of recognizable bands that SXSW has seen in years past (perhaps getting back to the 'indie' label the festival touts) some late surprise shows brought in a few huge acts that somewhat made up for the fact that you were mostly just flipping coins to decide which bands to check out of the almost 2,000 that were in town.
Jane's Addiction and Kanye West surprised audiences over the weekend with unannounced shows, but the biggest and most buzzed about "surprise" band of SXSW 2009 was the Bay Area's own Metallica, playing under the guise as "a young struggling band from Norway."
Metallica was in town promoting their new Guitar Hero: Metallica game with a Friday night gig at Stubb's, on of the bigger venues in Austin holding over 2,000 people (which is nothing compared to the 20,000-40,000 Metallica usually plays for).
I was across town Friday night seeing Devo, Tricky, and Datarock at the Austin Music Hall, but earlier in the day I walked by Stubb's and saw a bunch of fans standing outside in Metallica t-shirts so I had a good idea they were in town.
Saturday night I went to Stubb's to see PJ Harvey and John Parish and I stuck around to see SF's second night of back-to-back headliners Third Eye Blind, debuting some new songs off of their as-yet-unreleased album Ursa Major in one of 5 live performances the band played in 24 hours.
I bumped into SF rock photographer Jay Blakesberg at the show who was directing a live multi-camera video shoot of the show he had streaming on the web for those not able to see the show in person.
So, SF was covered Friday and Saturday night at one of the biggest venues in town, but what about the lesser-known bands from the Bay Area?
For a third year in a row, "SF x SXSW" showcased a 14-hour marathon of Bay Area music with 16 bands playing from noon to 2 a.m on Friday, March 20, 2009.
The list of bands scheduled to appear included: The Morning Benders, The Matches, Vetiver, The Lovemakers, Scissors For Lefty, Loquat, The Botticellis, Or, The Whale, The Federalists, Dizzy Balloon, When Girls Collide, LoveLikeFire, Sleepy Sun, The Stone Foxes, Maus Haus and HOTTUB.
I didn't make it to that show because I was at the SXSW Film Festival watching former SF resident Bradley Beesley's new film Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo, an awesome documentary about an annual rodeo held inside prison walls in Oklahoma, focusing on female inmates being allowed to join in and compete against the male inmates from around the state.
Beesley said they now want to take the film "Johnny Cash style" into prisons around the area for inmate screenings. Hopefully that doesn’t mean you will have to go to jail to see it…
Another film premiere with Bay Area connections was "New Brow" a film about the largely California art movement centered on galleries like SF's Shooting Gallery in the Tenderloin and LA's La Luz de Jesus.
Justin Giarla, Shooting Gallery owner and Producer of the film, was on hand in Austin bringing not only the film, but an art show as well with the opening on Thursday night complete with a break dancing competition.
Getting back to the music, I saw a number of bands I didn't care for, and a few that were okay, but aside from the big name acts, two really rose to the top.
The first was SF's own Triple Cobra, a six-person band complete with two beautiful dancing sister singers with a ready for super-stardom lead singer carrying the band through a bunch of shows in Austin.
The other standout was Christchurch, New Zealand's Bang! Bang! Eche!, a bunch of kids that look like they would need fake ID's to play in the bar I saw them at.
I was walking down 6th Street, the epicenter of all that is SXSW, and I heard them sound checking their instruments and I stopped, turned around and walked into the bar they were in because I guess I could tell from the sound check that there was something different and special about them.
You've got to try to imagine walking down a street closed off to traffic filled with thousands of people and dozens of bands playing all around you at every moment.
It is pretty tough to dial into just one thing in this sea of sights and sound, but luckily for me I was one of less than 20 people who stumbled into this bar and happened upon one of the most fun, original and engaging musical performances I've seen in months.
A few songs into their set, a crowd triple the size of those of us in the bar swelled outside as the singer pleaded for them to come inside "it is free after all," as most of the afternoon shows were.
No one came in, so during the last song the singer hopped up on the window sill and jumped into the audience standing outside jumping around and giving them a taste of what those of us inside had bought hook-line-and-sinker.
Josh Keppel can't wait to get home and get some sleep after waking up at 3:30am this morning for no good reason at all.