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Austin's 6th Street was closed off to cars so that the thousands of SXSW "pilgrims" could mill about. Photo: Zach Hirsch
Austin's 6th Street was closed off to cars so that the thousands of SXSW "pilgrims" could mill about. Photo: Zach Hirsch

The North Country, represented at SXSW!

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Each year, thousands of people flock to Austin, Texas, for SXSW (South by Southwest), a set of music, film, and interactive festivals.

Zach Hirsch was our person on the ground for the music part. All last week, he was snapping photos, recording sounds, sampling the scene, and keeping an eye out for musicians from our region.

Zach is now safely back in the North Country, and he joined Martha Foley in the studio for a little debrief.

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Chicago-based singer-songwriter Angel Olsen gave the crowd chills when she crooned, "Are you lonely too? High five." Photo: Zach Hirsch

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Zach Hirsch
Reporter and Producer

Martha Foley: That's a long way. I understand you ended up driving?

Zach Hirsch: I drove because I'm insane. But really, my partner and I didn't get it together in time to get plane tickets, so we drove. We had a good car, we got to borrow my parents' hybrid. So that saved a little bit on gas.

MF: Sounds like it was worth it?

Victor Ituarte has been giving free hugs at the festival for 6 years. "Happy South-By!" Photo: Zach Hirsch
Victor Ituarte has been giving free hugs at the festival for 6 years. "Happy South-By!" Photo: Zach Hirsch
ZH: Yeah! It was worth it. There were so many new artists. And music takes over the entire city, it was really incredible. Bars, concert halls, coffee houses, street corners, even hotels - they all become places where music happens. (Check out Winchester Holiday, a band Zach recorded on an Austin street corner.)

For that reason, walking down the street is sublime. You can hear bands playing in every direction. The sound totally envelops you.

MF: So tell me, Zach. Is this really a 20s thing? There are other parts of SXSW. There's the high-tech part, and film part.

ZH: Right. I think for those parts, even the music part, there are people who are older. People who have exclusive, VIP badges coming from the tech industry, the film industry. But, for the most part, it is a young person kind of thing.

MF: It is timed for spring break.

ZH: Right. I think for some schools, it actually misses their spring break. Which made me wonder if that's on purpose to get away from that young person crowd. But I think for St. Lawrence, here in Canton, it was right on time for spring break.

Mikaela Davis (center) is a student at the Crane School of Music in Potsdam. She's pictured here in Austin with her bandmates Alex Cote (left) and Cian McCarthy. Photo: Zach Hirsch
Mikaela Davis (center) is a student at the Crane School of Music in Potsdam. She's pictured here in Austin with her bandmates Alex Cote (left) and Cian McCarthy. Photo: Zach Hirsch
MF: Well, there's a lot of schools between here and there. I know that you were looking for Mikaela Davis, who's an up-and-comer from up here. Did you find her?

ZH: I found her!

MF: In that whole mess of venues and hotel rooms? Some of the venues were a tiny little tarp on a street corner, or the backyard of a not-for-profit library, or something. Or a hotel room.

ZH: I was impressed because Mikaela wasn't on the street corner with her band. She played two official showcases. And the one that I caught, she was in this hotel lounge. She came here in our studio for a solo performance, but I caught her down there with her bandmates, Cian McCarthy and Alex Cote. And they're really pushing their way into the indie scene.

After they played an intimate gig in an 18th floor hotel lounge, I spoke with the band. Mikaela said it seemed like people liked the show, and her bandmate, Alex, said they received "really positive feedback from everyone. And even people that didn't hear us play, when we just go to meet them, they're always really nice." He said everyone was really supportive – so "we give them a CD or something."

MF: You know, I've seen her car in the parking lot of the grocery store in Potsdam. And it's the Subaru wagon covered in stickers, and among them is this "harp transport vehicle." Did she drive her harp down to Austin?

ZH: They didn't drive, they actually took a plane, which is what gave them difficulties. They had to rent a different harp, and they had to rent other equipment and borrow from other bands. So as they were saying in there, they were a little uncomfortable, but I think they had a good time. And I think they were successful overall.

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