“Basically, the main event that we’re all striving for is in Austin, Texas on Saturday, March 19, ” Morgan says, speaking by phone. “It goes from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and we’re going to showcase eight Birmingham bands. They’re not all affiliated with Skybucket. They’re either on Skybucket or Communicating Vessels, which is another Birmingham label. Otherwise, they’re unassociated with a label but they’re still trying to market themselves and advance their careers.”
On Friday, March 11, the final show of this year’s Gas Money: Bham Goes To SXSW series will take place at Bottletree Café. Artists performing at the event include The Gum Creek Killers, 13ghosts, Great Book of John and Hrom. Showtime is 8 p.m. with doors opening at 7 p.m. Given that this year’s SXSW is drawing near, Morgan would like to see the community show its support by attending the event.
“This is the fourth benefit show,” Morgan says. “In years past, we’ve done two or three, but we decided to do four this year. The first two were very successful. For the last one, it rained constantly and we lost out on a good crowd. For this fourth one, we’re hoping to pack the place.”
In addition to featuring bands that will travel to this year’s SXSW event, Morgan notes that the Gas Money series also lays the foundation for future participation. The number of bands that wish to perform in the series, coupled with its limited number of shows, makes for a delicate process when choosing the lineups.
“It’s a little tricky,” Morgan admits. “The idea is that some bands that play at a benefit show this year will go (to SXSW) in a future year. That’s not always realistic, but we try to put in bands that we would consider for the next year. We try to balance the shows out as much as possible, but at least at every show we have one showcasing artist—one artist that’s actually playing in Austin, Texas.”
So given the idea of Gas Money is to help bands get to Austin, how has the Bham Goes To SXSW showcase fared in previous years?
“The first year I felt like it was pretty successful in terms of attendance,” Morgan recalls. “The venue was terrific as far as the sound and the vibe. More people came last year than they did the first year—I hope that’s a trend. We actually moved venues, so we’re in a different venue this year because the owners were selling our venue that we used last year. We’ve moved on the other side of town actually, away from all the craziness and more on the side of town where the locals hang out. It’s going to be interesting to see if that affects us in a good or bad way. We’re probably going to have a different type of crowd. The name of the venue is Annie’s West.”
Though the change of venue has brought some uncertainty, it hasn’t lessened Morgan’s enthusiasm for the talent that our city will take to Austin. This year’s Bham Goes To SXSW showcase offers a blend of repeat acts and first-timers that represent several musical genres.
“The only two bands that went last year, and are going again this year, are Skybucket bands—Through The Sparks and Vulture Whale,” Morgan offers. “Everybody else that’s going this year didn’t go last year. The Grenadines are playing this year and they played the first year we went, but they didn’t play last year. There are several new bands that haven’t played in Austin yet, including Delicate Cutters, our newest band on Skybucket, and The Gum Creek Killers, a new band with Duquette Johnston and Janet Simpson, who’s also in Delicate Cutters. They’re the principal songwriters and have a backing band that consists of people from various bands. The Green Seed is a hip-hop act—two MCs and a DJ. This is their first year to go and they’re real excited about it. The Magic Math is a fairly new band and Van Hollingsworth is the main songwriter. I can’t explain how good of a songwriter he is—he’s one of the best songwriters in Birmingham in my opinion. He’s pretty young—27 or 28—and it takes people a long time to become good songwriters. His sound is hard to place, like Ry Cooder, and he writes timeless songs and they’re catchy, pop gems. I think his band has a lot of potential.”
Just as the festival itself has evolved, Morgan’s role at SXSW has grown. Through the years, he has transitioned from casual observer to label owner. In addition, Morgan says the event allows to him to reunite with industry friends and contacts on an annual basis.
“When I first started going out there. I had friends that lived out there,” he says. “I visited during SXSW so I could hang out with them, but I could also check out all the bands I wanted to see. I had a label at that point, but I wasn’t really looking at it from a marketing standpoint. The first time I went, I really didn’t know what to expect. Over the course of the years, I started going for more business purposes. I’d buy a badge and go to the conference and try to meet people. I’ve made some connections that way, but the reality is that I use SXSW more for marketing the bands and seeing the people I’ve worked with over the years. A lot of those people live in New York or L.A., and I don’t ever see them.”
Brent Thompson writes about popular music for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.