SXSW 2017: Modern Composer Music Showcase

My Sixth Street days are LOOOOOONG gone. But having a Platinum badge this year and access to the Music portion of SXSW was enough for me to venture downtown in the evening. While some of the bigger names were certainly on my radar, I had a hard time trying to figure out teaching and family and trying to see Weezer play at midnight. Also, I don’t stay up until midnight out and about anymore!

Instead, I looked for a smaller, quieter venue. One where I could sit in air conditioning without being too crowded. I landed on the Modern Composer Showcase at St. David’s Episcopal Church for an evening of piano music. (Side note: I began playing piano when I was 4 and continued lessons through 15.) I previewed all the artists and liked what I was hearing. I even added them to some of my yoga class playlists. While other people were finishing their dinners downtown, I settled into the church with a 2nd row seat.

Most of the artists I saw were from Europe, where it seems that classical music with a modern twist is much more prominent. Keep coming to America, please!

Martin Kohlstedt
A mix of piano and electronic overlay, Martin was a joy to watch. He comes from Germany, and his music is both vibrant and passionate. The man can emote, which is impressive because he’s a pretty tall guy getting down into the keys! One of his pieces had him reaching over to manipulate the strings inside of the open piano, and I thought for sure he was going to knock the bench over at some point with how much emotion he brought to his performance.


Chad Lawson
Of all the artists that evening, Chad was the only American and purely a pianist. No extra set up. For that night’s performance, he added a piece of felt under the strings to soften the sound. He explained how he has two young kids (about my kids’ ages), and the only way for him to be able to play at night without waking up the house was to add the felt. He could still attack the instrument, while creating a subtle muted tone. This new “sound” he created by necessity became part of what caught the attention of producers, and he’s created music for The Walking Dead, Lore Podcast and other commercial work in addition to his solo albums.

Come to my restorative yoga classes, and he’s now prominently featured on my playlists.

He recently shared an unreleased piece for Piano Day, March 29, the 88th day of the year for the 88 keys on a piano.

Ryan Vail
I was surprised to learn that Ryan, from Northern Ireland, was a chemical engineer before pursuing music. He has a very chill electronic/piano combo sound with a head-bopping beat, which you’ll notice he bops along to while he performs. I’m really digging his sound for my vinyasa class playlists. There’s a lightness and brightness to his music.

He too shared new music for Piano Day.

This group of three come from Italy and closed out the night. Piano plus percussion plus electronic plus showmanship (and sometimes strings), Dardust was a blast to watch live. It was a strange juxtaposition for them to be performing in this lofty church hall, but it worked. I think I smiled the entire 40 minutes that they played; it was nonstop energy.

Check out their music videos, and you’ll see what I mean.

That was my one crazy night out for SXSW Music. I never made it to Weezer or The Roots or Hansen or Jimmy Eat World (90s coming back in style?). I did try desperately to see Japanese Wallpaper, an electronic artist from Australia, but one of his unofficial showcases closed down early after we had sat around listening to other DJs for 2 hours. I knew I should’ve made an effort to see one of his 11 pm performances!

I guess if I’m fortunate enough to get access to Music again next SXSW, I’ll know that finding a small venue with interesting artists is the way to go. I also have a renewed love for piano. It’s still sitting quietly at my parents’ house, but if/when we finally pull the trigger to knock down walls at our house, I’ll have my own little piano nook. Maybe I’ll need to add the felt in too so I won’t disturb the kids at night.

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