Among the dozens of choices for your attention at any moment at SXSW, you constantly have to choose between seeing acts you already know and like, or giving your time to an artist or band you don’t know, with the hope of finding something special. Lucy Dacus was completely new to us, an indie rock artist from Richmond, with an understated alto voice that nestled uneasily at times over the austere sounds of her band. As the set grew into more textured and louder songs, Dacus seemed to find her place, at times reminding us of Sharon Van Etten, singing with a mix of vulnerability and confidence over swirls of guitar as the set came to a satisfying end.
Dacus’ set was nestled between performances from known quantities like Polica and Yacht. All of those shows were great, but another newcomer caught our eye in particular.
As we walked toward the stage at The Parish, the chatter near the bar quickly gave way to attentive listening as 20 year old Julien Baker performed. Her music - taken from her solo debut, Sprained Ankle - is sparse, and the melodies are crisp and clear. She played a solo electric set of gorgeously arranged songs, using a looping pedal and her voice to command the dynamics. This easily could have been a set that the crowd talked through, but her charisma, stage presence, and songwriting drew everyone’s attention. She was not only one of the quietest acts we saw all night, but also the most captivating.
Our last stop of the night was at Clive Bar where Austin’s White Denim played to a capacity crowd on the venue’s cramped wooden deck. After the many twists and turns on this packed St. Patrick’s Day, White Denim’s oddball mash-up of soul and prog-influenced rock seemed like the perfect nightcap. They didn’t disappoint. Those lucky enough to get inside the venue were treated to an energetic performance that showcased why they might just be the tightest band at SXSW. And on this night, they were also the most fun.