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SXSW 2011: Greetings from Austin, Texas

Well, a big Texas hello, Midnight Sun gang!

I'm Sam Sessa. Some of you may remember me as the guy who used to write stuff for Midnight Sun. These days, I edit stuff and boss people around.

If you haven't guessed already, I'm in Austin, Texas, covering the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival for 89.7 WTMD and The Baltimore Sun. A gracious grant from WTMD members helped make the trip possible.

While not the country's biggest music festival, SXSW is perhaps the most important. About a thousand up-and-coming bands descend on Austin every March to try and make an impression on the roughly 10,000 journalists, music industry folks and fans who come to see them play.

I'm here to write a piece about why Austin is such a great city for live music (they call it the "Live Music Capital of the World"), and how Baltimore can be more like it.

I'm also going to catch up with Baltimore musicians who made the trip, including J. Roddy Walston and the Business, Wye Oak, Junestar, Ami Dang, and hopefully a few others. SXSW even has a film side: Eric Hatch, director of programming for the Maryland Film Fest, is here, scouting for this year's festival. Oh, and I'll also be checking out some other on-the-cusp artists.

Yesterday, I talked to James Moody, who runs a club called the Mohawk, and is an advocate for musicians and fellow club owners. And I sat down with blues singer/pianist Marcia Ball, who moved to Austin in 1970 and watched the city's music scene take shape. More on that later.

Austin is saturated with live music this week. Walking down Sixth Street, which is lined with bars and clubs, one song would bleed into another, and guitar solos shrieked out onto the sidewalk.

Stopped by Waterloo Records, which is the Sound Garden of Austin, only cleaner (zing!). Picking through the huge selection of vinyl made me pine for the days when you actually held music in your hands. Remember those days?

Waterloo posted a list of the top selling vinyl LPs of 2010, and Baltimore's own Beach House was No. 6. Yeasayer, who grew up in and around Baltimore, were No. 14.

I'll be here until Sunday morning. My goal is to post once or twice a day on Midnight Sun. But you should also follow me on Facebook and Twitter (@samsessa) for more frequent updates.

(Photo: Sam Sessa)

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