If you are an average music fan heading to Austin for SXSW these days, it’s extremely hard to make a game plan. There are hundreds of bands, scores of showcases, and a good chance you won’t stumble upon something new and magical that you love without a little outside help.
Look no further. We have listened through this year’s performers and picked out ten shining stars you won’t want to miss. Ranging from new-wave rappers to full-on Nashville songwriters, there should be something new for everyone here. And we tried to focus more on the music and less on the fame — just like SXSW should be.
Here are our top 10 artists to check out at this year’s SXSW music festival, or to add to your up-and-comers playlist, if you can’t mess with the trek to Texas:
Anderson .Paak | Big Thief | Rayland Baxter | BJ The Chicago Kid | Snarky Puppy
03/18: Anderson .Paak
When: Friday, March 18, 11 – 11:35PM
Where: Hype Hotel, 1100 E 5th St
Anderson .Paak had one of the most exciting hip hop releases of the last year, and his SXSW performance will not be one to miss. Called Malibu, .Paak’s speech-song effort was the West Coast’s answer to Chance The Rapper’s breakout Acid Rap, a powerful musical journey which earned the young rapper a place on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath records. An extremely talented performer who made waves with his recent TV debut on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (which included a pretty rad drum solo by .Paak himself), .Paak’s live performances are spectacular and feature a band of talented musicians. An artist who will likely not be playing mid-size venues for long, .Paak’s is a concert you’ll want to tell all your hip-hop head friends you’re going to. They’ll probably all be jealous.
03/16: Big Thief
When: Wednesday, March 16, 12:00AM – 12:40AM
Where: The Sidewinder Inside, 715 Red River St
Brooklyn-based outfit, Big Thief, may be buzzed about in the big city, but they have yet to break into the commercial mainstream. A powerful group which centers on the everbearing ability of songwriters Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek, the quartet’s music swirls in odd meters and classic-sounding melodies, a rock group who is using modern musical ideas to develop their genre instead of bask in its past glory. With a debut record on the way, there is a lot to look forward to from the band this year — and a lot of new material to hear live before they blow up.
03/17: Rayland Baxter
When: Thursday, March 17, 10:00PM – 10:40PM
Where: Blackheart, 86 Rainey St
The son of famed country musician Bucky Baxter (Bob Dylan, Steve Earl, R.E.M.), Nashville’s Rayland Baxter carries on his father’s musical tradition, but with a more modern singer/songwriter vibe. Perfectly-pitched vocals meet clean, well written hooks, and Baxter’s poppy country songs sway like breezy mid-oughts Jack Johnson hits, sinking a little deeper under your skin in the long term.
03/20: BJ The Chicago Kid
When: Friday, March 20, 1:05AM – 1:25AM
Where: Highland, 404 Colorado St
One of the hottest up and comers in the R&B scene, BJ The Chicago Kid has inked collaborations with the whos-who of modern rappers in the past few years — everyone from Chance The Rapper to Kendrick Lamar. A musical disciple of the church of D’angelo, The Chicago Kid layers his vocals in sharply consonant harmony, creating a grooving musical tapestry that is impossible for your ears to avoid.
03/19: Snarky Puppy
When: Saturday, March 19
Where: Cedar Street Courtyard, 208 W 4th St
Grammy Award-winning instrumental ensemble Snarky Puppy play long-form compostions that mix jazz, soul, and classical music, using their unparalleled musicianship to impress all those who come in contact with them. An amalgamation of some of the world’s finest — and least known outside the industry — musicians, the group formed in Texas in 2004, when many of the members were attending the oddly-prestigious University of North Texas’ jazz conservatory. Those instrumentalists now ebb and flow in the group, fitting in time for live shows between tours with huge household names like Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg, and Erykah Badu.