Madison’s Anna Vogelzang Wraps Up SXSW On Strong Note
By the time Madison’s Anna Vogelzang played her fifth show in as many days at the South By Southwest music festival, she admitted that the whirlwind week was starting to take its toll.
But no one at her show Saturday evening at the Embassy Suites would have known it from her moving and assured performance. Playing solo for a small but attentive audience, Vogelzang switched between a banjo, ukulele and acoustic guitar, performing mostly songs from her latest album, “Canary in a Coal Mine.”
“I got home at 7 in the morning — a new personal best,” Vogelzang said at the beginning of her set, describing her experience at the festival. “I also smashed my phone on the ground and it’s broken. It’s been that kind of day.”
Not that she was complaining about being at the massive music festival, often referred to as SXSW in print.
“It’s the best kind of circus you can go to,” she said, noting that it’s her first time at SXSW. “It’s been really sweet, though. I’m very happy to be here.”
She started her set off by playing “Heart Beat Faster” on the banjo. The song began at a gentle, folksy pace but soon kicked into high gear with a loud blast of Vogelzang’s forceful vocals.
“Now I will become lionhearted / And stand up brave with arms outstretched / And wave my keys in these electric storms / ‘Til I have out-tempted this test,” Vogelzang belted out in the song.
Those lyrics in the song, which is a plea for a stronger heart to help the narrator deal with heartbreak, don’t happen to be too far off in also describing many musicians’ experience at SXSW.
For many bands, getting discovered by the music industry or scoring a label deal due to their showing at SXSW has become about as likely as getting struck by lightening.
The weeklong SXSW music festival is a veritable “who’s who” of the music industry, showcasing about 2,000 musical acts from around the globe on more than 90 stages in downtown Austin. Bruce Springsteen was the keynote speaker at this year’s music conference.
Each March, thousands of bands, music industry representatives and music journalists descend on Austin in an annual rite of passage that’s a test of stamina and will. The tastemakers try to discover the next band poised to break it big, while the musicians attempt to get their music heard make a lasting positive impression among the din.
More often than not, bands would be happy to simply get noticed as they struggle to stand out in the midst of a live music smorgasbord that lends itself to audiences flitting from venue to venue if they aren’t immediately captivated by an artist; after all, there are multitudes of other bands available to see at that very moment, often playing at the venue next door or even at a second stage in the same bar.
As if the “official” SXSW music showcases didn’t already feature more bands than anybody could keep track of, the festival has grown with hundreds of musicians coming to Austin to play “unofficial” side gigs, piggybacking off the huge draw of the official SXSW showcases. Playing at coffee shops, parking lots, hotel suites, private house parties, street corners — basically anywhere and everywhere that live music can be performed — these bands face an uphill battle to stand out.
Vogelzang’s show wasn’t part of the official SXSW showcase, but she was fortunate enough to get invited by Veronica’s House Concerts to play a series of shows at the Embassy Suites as part of the group’s concert lineup.
Vogelzang’s show was set in a small hotel meeting room, allowing her to banter with the audience and for her sometimes hushed vocals to carry and sink in amid the intimate setting.
The space was especially well suited for when Vogelzang performed “Undertow,” a standout track on her latest album, on a kalimba. Basically a thumb piano, a kalimba looks like a small box that the musician holds and plucks out the notes with their thumbs. It emits a quiet tone, reminiscent of a music box; the performance was the kind of captivating moment that would have likely been drowned out in many of the noisy bars that serve as official SXSW showcase venues, and where, sadly, it’s not uncommon for people in the crowd to carry out loud drunken conversations just feet away from where a band is playing.
She closed her six-song set with “Die Trying,” another excellent, and piercing, track from “Canary in a Coal Mine.” She said it was inspired by “being on tour, and not wanting to be.” Vogelzang quickly assured the audience that the sentiment didn’t apply to her time at SXSW.
“This has been really great,” she said.
Soon after she packed up her instruments and chatted briefly with some lingering audience members, she was already off and running again, in true SXSW fashion, to the next event.
Vogelzang is continuing her tour with several other stops in Texas cities. For more information, visit her website at www.theanna.com.