Posted on April 12, 2010.
By Zac Taylor
At last month’s South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival, over 1,700 bands from all around the world came to Austin, Texas to partake in this renowned networking event. Throughout the week, there were a handful of Berklee showcases, both unofficial and official ones. On Tuesday, March 16, Tono Music Group sponsored a showcase at the Flamingo Cantina which featured predominantly Berklee musicians. Kris Roche opened the show, offering reggae-infused acoustic pop with feel-good hooks and monster grooves from Derek McWilliams on bass and Bruno Esrubilsky on drums. Next up was Zac Taylor & The Drugs, followed by Egypt-native Yasmin Tayeby, who played a lovely solo acoustic set. Heavy Rotation Records’ Nini+Ben, Ann Driscoll and Jordan Tarrant, came next, all of whom played scathing sets.
The hostesses of the evening, Evelyn Brown and Ashley Root (a.k.a. Merry Go Round), headlined the evening backed by their new amazing band. Since graduating Berklee this past December, Brown and Root have made Austin their home base, and just released their debut self-titled LP through Tono. The band performed cuts from the record, including pop-country gems “Be With Me,” “Ferris Wheel,” and “Better On My Feet.” Country Rock powerhouse Sam Riggs Band closed out the evening.
Jordan Tarrant performs at Lucky Lounge
The next Berklee function was an unofficial showcase at the Lucky Lounge the following Thursday afternoon. Alumna Amber Rubarth started the show with her unique brand of jazzy pop noir. Jordan Tarrant took the stage next, thumping out bluesy rock with Russell Lacy twanging on Telecaster, Derek McWilliams pumping on P-bass, Tommy Bohlen pounding on pedal steel, and Curran McDowell rocking the drums. Alumna Sara Houser, Grant Himmler, and Ali McGinley, a.k.a. A House A Home, all of whom moved to Austin last year, played a lovely set of pop rock tunes, followed by a powerful solo set by Melissa Ferrick.
The official Berklee Showcase took place Friday afternoon at Friends on 6th Street. The room was packed for this 5th annual event, which was hosted by alumna Sarah Sharp, and featured current students, alumni and also some students who have taken online courses at BerkleeMusic.com. Many Berklee faculty were in attendance, including President Brown and Music Business & Management Professors Jay Fialkov and Jeff Dorenfeld.
Shayna Zaid & The Catch
Love Like Fire
The Young Republic
Justin Hancock, Bruno Esrubilsky & Ann Driscoll.
Ann Driscoll, who is on the current Heavy Rotation Records roster, strutted her stuff onstage with her new orange Gretsch guitar, and her band sounded in top form on fan favorites like “I Wanna Be Your Zombie” and “Trophy F***.” “The Official Berklee Party was at Friends was the most fun,” Driscoll said. “At each showcase, we played only 5 songs, which is fun and exciting—to play your greatest hits. No filler, all killer, as they say.”
HRR Labelmate Jordan Tarrant had the most Texified sound of the lot, considering he’s an Austin native. A highlight of the show was an exceptional performance by Nini+Ben, who played tracks from their record The Reasons We Try, as well as some new songs that showed hints of a more dynamic, experimental direction a la Wilco.
On Saturday, President Brown hosted a BBQ, at which Nini+Ben performed, followed by another Tono Music Group Showcase at Waterloo Icehouse later in the evening. Many of the same acts from the Flamingo Cantina showcase performed stripped down acoustic sets, including Kris Roche, Zac Taylor, Jordan Tarrant featuring Russell Lacy, and Dave Scher. Sam Riggs Band and Nini+Ben played full band sets, and the showcase ended with a breathtaking set from Merry Go Round.
“The SXSW experience was one I’ll never forget,” said drummer Bruno Esrubilsky. “Spending a whole week with amazing friends and musicians in one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been before was just amazing.”