CMJ vs. SXSW – A Comparison

Now that I’ve attended two of the nation’s (and maybe world’s?) premiere music conventions, I have seen the pitfalls and high-points, and know what works at these events for me, and what doesn’t. Below, you’ll find my comparison of CMJ and SXSW; there are critiques and kudos where appropriate, with my overall insight at the end.

Guest edited by Zack Teibloom

Venues, Pt. 1

SXSW: Austin venues tend to work in unison with the convention to host SXSW-official showcases all week. So at SXSW, if you’ve got a badge, you get priority entrance into shows, you don’t have to pay any kind of cover, and it allows you to easily venue-hop and catch as much music as possible. Wristband holders are next in line, and also (theoretically) can jump around and avoid paying cover. Finally, people who decide to wing it can buy tickets to specific shows at the door. (Or, if you’re Festival Crashers, you find other ways.)

CMJ: Some of the venues worked with the festival, but others branched off and followed their own rules. Badges stand in line with regular ticket holders, and some venues don’t allow you in at all without a ticket. While city locals probably love this because it allows them to get in to see their favorite act, it’s difficult if you’re a member of the press trying to cover specific shows for a publication. There’s nothing wrong with a fan-focused festival, but since it seems like CMJ is trying to be somewhat press-focused a la South By, I can envision a lot of aggravated folks who bought their badges (which are $495 at full price) and then got turned away from shows they really wanted to see or were supposed to cover. Luckily, I only ran into this problem once – I wasn’t able to get in to the Two Door Cinema Club show, because it was tickets-only. Still, I think people just need to be aware of these policies before they drop mad money for a badge.

Edge: SXSW

Venues, Pt. 2

CMJ: Way more spread out in New York than Austin. There are a handful of places squished together in and around Ludlow, but if you’ve got a must-see act at the Mercury Lounge at 8pm and another can’t-miss at 10pm somewhere in Brooklyn, good luck. I felt like a good portion of my time at CMJ was acclimating myself to my surroundings, getting lost trying to find that one little bar in Chinatown, or on a subway headed to a different area.

SXSW: One of the great things about Austin being a little smaller is that every venue is pretty much within walking distance from every other venue. There isn’t much to be done about this, of course; it’s just a perk of having SXSW in a big-little city. I’m able to catch quite a few more shows, because everything is close by. Of course, it might help if I were a native New Yorker and didn’t spend so much time getting lost and finding my way again.

Edge: SXSW


SXSW: I love Austin. It’s my beautiful home, the weather is almost always gorgeous, and it’s a hot spot for awesome music, awesome people and general all-around awesomeness. SXSW occurs at the perfect time of year, when things are beginning to bloom but it remains cool because of lovely afternoon showers. On a personal note, I also love SxSW week because it always lands on my birthday – what better way can a music fan celebrate than with tons and tons of live music??

CMJ: That being said, there’s no place like New York City. Between run-ins with all kinds of musicians, actors and directors to a constant barrage of cool, creative and fun stuff to do, see, eat and drink, it’s just a magical place with a stunning skyline that tugs at your heart strings every time you cross one of the myriad bridges from Brooklyn to Manhattan. To host CMJ at the perfect fall moment, when it’s cold but not too cold (and actually looks like autumn), and to have participating venues in both Brooklyn and Manhattan – it’s an out-of-towner’s NYC dream.

Edge: CMJ


CMJ: All of the people I met at CMJ were friendly, excited and interested in what was going on around them. However, most of the people I met at CMJ were not native New Yorkers. I’m not going to uphold the stereotype that the people of New York are unfriendly; I honestly don’t believe that’s true. However, the population of perfectly-coiffed hipsters that lined Ludlow every evening to literally stand around fashionably, stare at you as you walked by and judge you was something I’d not experienced to that level of intensity in Austin.

SXSW: Between that and the self-conscious arms crossing that occurred at 90% of the shows I attended, I’ve gotta say that Austin crowds win. Music fans in Austin can be a little hipstery at times, but for the most part, if a band gets people going, they’ll hoot, holler, dance, whistle and applaud with reckless abandon. The two exceptions to this NYC generalization came at the Phoenix show (because, I mean, really, you’d have to have been dead to be still) and at Dan Mangan’s performance, when he managed to get the whole room singing with him on a song.

Edge: SXSW

Underprepared for Underage?

Another issue I have with both festivals is the lack of under-21 showcases. Although I am well past the point of having to worry about that, my friend Pooneh (who’ll be 21 in January, woo!) ran into problems at every corner. I don’t run a venue, so I don’t really understand much about liquor licenses and how difficult it is to be the kind of venue to just put a giant “x” on someone’s hand vs. not allow them in at all. But I also feel like CMJ, being the College Music Journal, after all, should have a few more under-21 gigs. People generally don’t reach the golden age of 21 until their junior year of college, so to have a festival focused on college music that only has a smattering of shows for the underaged seems a little off balance.

Edge: Neither

Overall, I absolutely adored CMJ. The fabulousness of so many more bands I’d never heard of coupled with the excitement of being in New York made it a total win, and press bonuses like the PureVolume House, getting into most of the shows I wanted for free, and even getting the chance to get Phoenix tickets, had I not already bought mine, was awesome. The check-in process was easy, and even though the judginess of the hipsters could be intimidating at times, that crowd made for some of the best people watching ever. I would totally recommend CMJ to any music lover; you get to discover new music, meet great people, make important connections and lasting memories, and all in one of the greatest cities on the planet.

The Big One – Phoenix at Madison Square Garden

Photo by Melissa Montes

I am one lucky sonofagun. To quote the great James Murphy, I was there. I was at the Madison Square Garden show when Daft Punk joined Phoenix onstage. What’s more, I want you to go there with me. So let’s do this – let’s relive that night, put you right up against the gate with me, and party down.


CMJ 2010 – Top Picks

At some point in my day Monday, I finally crashed. I crashed, because I had spent the last five days on a music junkie’s high, doing nothing but exploring new bands in one of the craziest, coolest cities in the world. New York engulfed me and spat me back out with sore legs, sleep deprivation and a boatload of new bands to devote myself to. The CMJ festival had tons to offer, and felt overwhelming at times, but I have only happy memories and fond reflections for this particular post. Below, you’ll find AWM’s picks for best of the fest; there’s a lotta folk, a little bit of rock, some exciting new finds and some old favorites. The first few reflections are my top picks for new-to-us finds, and below that, you’ll discover honorable mentions in the form of artists this blog has loved in the past, and loved at the fest. Enjoy, and feel free to share your own favorites in the comments!


CMJ Preview Post #5

Ah, we’ve made it this far! (Will we make it this far? Remains to be seen.) On Saturday, you may just be tailing the incredible bands you have discovered on previous days, but don’t forget to see a few more new groups (or established faves). Let’s see what we’ve got.

Rooftop Vigilantes

Rooftop Vigilantes are a group of poppy, obnoxious-in-the-right-way punks that stole our hearts, in part, because they’re from Lawrence, Kansas (we’ve got relatives in Leavenworth, whatwhat!) Anyway, they’re fun and they’re playing Bruar Falls at 7:50 p.m.

The Jezabels

The Jezabels have smooth, cool female vocals, and electronic and piano-driven nighttime-appropriate pop rock to back them up. Think calmed-down Metric. They perform at Fat Baby at 8:45 p.m.


Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack? Check. Everything Is Illuminated soundtrack? Double check. Yeah, DeVotchKa scores films, but don’t let that fool you – they are energetic rockers when they take the stage live. You can (and should!) see them play at 10:15 p.m. at Big Top.

Dinosaur Feathers

In the event that Avey Tare and Deakin don’t totally satisfy your Animal Collective needs, Dinosaur Feathers will fill the void. They’re fun and playful, and, according to their MySpace page, “Pro-America.” They’ll play Fat Baby at 10:15 p.m.

Asobi Seksu

I was introduced to Asobi Seksu in my cooler, younger days as a college DJ (long live KVRX!) If you like soaring, alternative indie pop, check her out at the Santos Party House at 11:00 p.m.


Another ACL band I wanted to see, but couldn’t wake up early enough for. Ponderosa are from Atlanta, and they craft bluesy rock tunes that are believable and toe tap-worthy. Check ’em out at Arlene’s Grocery at 11:00 p.m.

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes

A punked-up version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer”? Sign me up! I’m a total sucker for pop-punk, ska and all the other kinds of upbeat stuff that’ll let me get my skank on. These guys seem to promise a ball, and they’re playing at the Music Hall of Williamsburg at 11:30 p.m.

Neon Indian

Not that Alan Palomo is new to many of you, but I gotta represent him ’cause he’s a Texan, after all. The best way I feel I can describe Neon Indian to someone who hasn’t heard his/their music before is to ask, “Did you see the Saturday Night Live sketch with Jimmy Fallon, Tracy Morgan, Horatio Sanz and Chris Kattan where they sing about how awesome Christmas is with a synth, and it’s really minimalist and hilarious? Yeah, well Neon Indian is like that, only serious.” That’s not to knock what the band has accomplished, and it’s really not surprising they’ve accomplished it when you see them live – Palomo is super engaging, the kind of singer you can’t stop watching. You can see Neon Indian at the Bowery Ballroom at midnight.

CMJ Preview Post #4

I made my favorite discovery on this day, so I’m crazy stoked to share them with you. Friday is teeming with talent, and some of that talent is kick-ass female talent from Texas, y’all!

Cotton Jones

Cotton Jones is folk-rock with heart and soul, and a touch of twang. They’re from Cumberland, Maryland, and will be performing at the Knitting Factory at 5:00 p.m.

Grand Hallway

Grand Hallway makes soundtrack-like, full, orchestra music a la the Morning Benders or (locally) Mother Falcon; the songs can sneak up on you and overwhelm you in a very good way. These kids from Washington will play the Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1 at 6:00 p.m.

Sarah Jaffe

Sarah Jaffe is my IDOL. This young Denton, Texas-native sings with a rare passion, and her voice will immediately fill a room. Her debut full-length record, Suburban Nature, is full of heart-wrenching soul baring and the kind of love songs that can simultaneously comfort and break you. She’s NOT to be missed. Jaffe will play at Fat Baby at 7:00 p.m.

The Black Atlantic

This is the group I was alluding to in the opening graph; the Black Atlantic come from the Netherlands, and are my favorite formerly-unknown-to-me find. They employ a choir of voices that act as a cushion to the lead singer’s voice, which gives you that snuggly, wintry feeling. Hit up their MySpace page and check out “Fragile Meadow” RIGHT NOW, and you’ll understand my fanaticism. The Black Atlantic play the Living Room at 7:45 p.m.


I had the immense pleasure of interviewing Blair (so, so awkwardly – on a moving van with mics falling all over the place) at South by Southwest this past year, and not only is she a total sweetheart, but she makes excellent music. Hers is minimalistic pop music that’s dancey at times, more subdued at others. She performs at the Mercury Lounge at 8:00 p.m.


lissie is a vocal beast. Though small in stature, she sings almost as if possessed, and her voice seems to burst from every pour. Musically, she makes country-tinged folk, and it’s wonderful. You can see her at the Hiro Ballroom at 8:00 p.m.

Royal Bangs

Royal Bangs are a three-piece from Knoxville who will make you dance to the kind of jaded lyrics you expect from a group like LCD Soundsystem. They are intensely energetic live performers, and I have seen fans mosh around a little at times. Jump around at the Cameo Gallery at 8:30 p.m.


JBM is a blog favorite, and for good reason. The man can play guitar like he was born to play guitar, and his voice is some kind of ethereal that makes him sound related to Jim James. Live, he is the kind of performer that will make a room go silent. Catch him at the Mercury Lounge at 9:00 p.m.

CMJ Preview Post #3

Thursday! More amazing bands, more good times to be had. Let’s jump right in.

Muy Cansado

Muy Cansado hail from Boston, and create the sort of raw, garage-y stuff that seems inevitably Pixies influenced (a good thing). They perform at 3:00 p.m. at Spike Hill.

Savoir Adore

This band from Brooklyn crafts vibrant, dynamic pop music with sugary vocals that perks up your ears and your mood. They’re playing at the Public Assembly at 3:00 p.m, and again at the Bowery Electric at 7:15 p.m.

Coby Grant

Coby Grant is all the way from Perth, Australia. She’s got a sparkly, pretty voice backed by shiny, sweet pop music with just the right emotional punch. She’ll perform at the Delancey (upstairs) at 7:00 p.m.

Avey Tare (DJ set)/Deakin

If you’re an Animal Collective nut, you can catch some of the founding members around town, spinning records and doin’ other stuff too, I’m sure. Both guys are set to play the Cake Shop at 8:00 p.m. Draw your own conclusions.

John Vanderslice

Couldn’t resist using this photo of John Vanderslice being eaten by Britt Daniel. Vanderslice has a voice somewhere between Sondre Lerche and Paul Simon; it’s weightless, but full of honesty. Check it out at 8:00 p.m. at the Mercury Lounge.


S. Carey opened for the Tallest Man on Earth recently in Austin, and they were lovely – it was atmospheric pop music a la MUTEMATH or As Tall As Lions. They play Pianos at 8:45 p.m.

Two Door Cinema Club

This is one of the bands I’m most excited to see again. You may recall a video of theirs posted in our ACL preview; these Welsh dudes make the kind of electronic-based dancey pop that gets you groovin’ so head to Webster Hall at 9:00 p.m. if you wanna sweat it out.

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit are a Swedish sister set who make delicate, folksy music. They’re on the cusp of blowing up in a big way, so catch ’em while you can at the Delancey at 10:15 p.m.

Das Racist

Pizza Hut Taco Bell. Need I say more? Catch these guys at the Santos Party House at 11:30 p.m.

Matt Pond PA

Matt Pond PA are from New York, and they’re for lovers of Sufjan Stevens and Belle & Sebastian. Their pop is mellow and gorgeous, great for the colder months. They’ll be playing the Mercury Lounge at 12:30 a.m.

CMJ Preview Post #2

Wednesday is going to be somewhat pre-planned for AWM, because we’re heading to see Wavves, the Dirty Projectors and Phoenix at Madison Square Garden. Still, there should be opportunities to catch some new finds earlier on in the day. Read on for blog picks for Wednesday, Oct. 20!


Kitten creates emotive, guitar-driven pop rock, and vocalist Chloe Chaidez has one of those sweet voices that surprises you with its power; it soars. You can see this L.A. band at 1:30 p.m. at the Delancey.

Communist Daughter

Prescott, Wisconsin birthed this Matt Pond PA-esque troupe. They’ve got elements of quiet folk, and of wind in the trees; all comforting things. See them at 1:40 p.m. at Spike Hill.


I know you are probably looking at the above photo and thinking, “Finally! Caitlin has suggested something that isn’t folksy indie-pop.” Well … you’re wrong. FENCES crafts interesting, pretty and poppy tunes, and they’re great. Start with his duet with Tegan & Sara’s Sara Quin, called “My Girl the Horse,” and then see FENCES at the Rockwood Music Hall at 5:00 p.m.

Pearl the Band

Probably because I just saw the latter perform tonight, but Pearl the Band reminds me of Austin’s own up-and-comers Little Lo. There’s a lovely chorus of voices, big instrumentation and catchy choruses. (Admittedly, I love our local Little Lo better than this Brooklyn band, but at least it’s a little taste of the familiar!) Plus, they’ve got a song about Johnny Cash’s house burning down. See ’em at 5:00 p.m. at Spike Hill.

The Eastern Sea

Speaking of Austin bands, the Eastern Sea! These guys are wonderful; they’re sort of an American version of Fanfarlo. You can see them (and support Texas!) at 7:00 p.m. at Kenny’s Castaways.


And ANOTHER Texas band! This time, from San Antonio. Hacienda play Southern rock with enough soul to get Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach to produce their debut album. See these guys at the Canal Room at 12:15 a.m.


Madison Square Garden – first opener.

Dirty Projectors

Madison Square Garden – second opener.


AAAAAAAAAAHHHHH! (Expect a tear-streamed keyboard as I am reviewing this show.)

Still need your suggestions for bands to catch at CMJ! Post in the comments here, or on our brand new Facebook fan page.

CMJ Preview Post #1

The 2010 CMJ Festival in New York City is fast approaching, and Austin Writes Music will be on the scene this year to report our findings and listen to as much music as possible. If you, too, are heading to NYC, or you’d just like the skinny on some up-and-coming bands, you’ve found the right post. For the next few days up until we head outta town, we’ll be posting previews of the bands we wanna see at CMJ. Admittedly, CMJ is totally overwhelming; after spending 3 hours listening to bands last night, I managed to only get through one hour of ONE day of the festival. So, if your favorite band is playing the festival, let us know! If you’ve heard interesting buzz about somebody, clue us in. This blog is here to serve, after all, so help us cover the bands you’re interested in. Below is a preview of the bands we’re most excited for and/or curious about playing on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

Lawrence Arabia

Lawrence Arabia is a folksy-rock fellow from New Zealand. I’ve heard nothing but good things from friends who’ve seen him and his band live, so this is a group I’m going to try very hard to catch at least once during the festival. They play at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Le Poisson Rouge.

Alfonso Velez

Alfonso Velez was one of my discoveries last night as I scoured the schedule. He’s a New York native that plays delicate, emotional folk-pop; think Travis as a one-man band. He plays at 7 p.m. on Stage 1 at the Rockwood Music Hall.


Another late-night discovery. Luluc is a Brooklyn-by-way-of-Melbourne duo that creates lullabies for adults; their soft, breezy love songs will make you feel small and vulnerable. These two are at the Living Room at 7 p.m.


Quilty are a Brooklyn band that create catchy, punky and raw music; check out “Supernova” on their MySpace page. The trio plays the Knitting Factory at 7 p.m.

sleepy vikings

sleepy vikings hail from Tampa, Fla., and their Americana-tinged pop does have that rubbing-the-sleep-from-your-eyes, morning-dew aura about it. They’ll be at Kenny’s Castaways at 7 p.m.

Baby Alpaca

Baby Alpaca, apart from being an ADORABLE fuzzy animal, is a band from Brooklyn with a sound that’s a little shoegaze-y, a little moody, and totally gorgeous. They play at 7:30 p.m. upstairs at the Delancey.

Ma Mentor

One of my favorite pre-CMJ discoveries, Ma Mentor are from across the pond, and they sound like the Strokes if the Strokes suddenly decided to go electronic. They’re playing Pianos at 7:30 p.m.

The Barr Brothers

The Barr Brothers are a four piece from Montreal that come off like a less bombastic Avett Brothers (which is a good thing). They’re playing at the Cameo Gallery at 7:30 p.m.

Miniature Tigers

I’m incredibly excited to finally catch this band live. The Miniature Tigers played Lollapalooza this year, and have been touring all over the place. They come home to New York for CMJ, and they play the Music Hall of Williamsburg at 9:45 p.m. Try “Cannibal Queen” to see for yourself how crazy-catchy their pop rock tunes can be.

Jenny & Johnny

Jenny Lewis, people. Siren. Musiker. Queen of indie rock. She’s one bad mother shut-your-mouth, so basically I will follow her through whatever incarnation she deems fit to play in, whether it be solo, with her band Rilo Kiley, or with her beau Johnathan Rice. The pair will perform at the Irving Plaza at midnight.

Don’t forget to drop your suggestions for bands we should cover in the comments below! We could particularly use your help if you can point us in the direction of bands that can’t be described as “folksy.” (I was raised on Nanci Griffith! I’m predisposed to love folk!! I’M SORREEEE!!!)

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