“THAT’S SOUTH BY. SOMETHING BREAKS, OR SOMETHING DOESN’T WORK.”
With the band’s first full-length on the way and some positive wind behind their sails, the group made their way to Austin for the 2013 South By Southwest Music Festival. Over the course of five days, the five full-time members of Youngblood Hawke —joined by bass player Omar Ahmed— would play a total of ten shows, shows that ran the gamut from high profile showcases (Rachael Ray‘s party, the MTV/VH1/CMT Live In Austin gig, a Spotify House gig alongside Kendrick Lamar) and private parties (like VH1’s “HELLO AUSTIN!” party). The band, despite being signed to a major label, was responsible for breaking down and setting up their own gear for each of these shows, which is a gargantuan amount of work.
In the 12 hours that I spent shadowing them, the band moved all of their equipment —we’re talking 30-40 cases filled with musical instruments and amps— 10 different times for what amounted to be just two official gigs. South By Southwest is, however, not just a test of your physical stamina. It’s an emotional gut check, particularly for a group like YBH that needs this week to go very well to gain precious momentum heading into their album release.
“We try not to think about stuff like that, you know?” Tasso told me when I asked him if the group was feeling the weight of expectations. “All of us take this very seriously. It’s something we love to do, and it’s something that we’re able to do for a living, we realize how fortunate we are. We try to keep our heads straight and really kill it every time. We’re playing for bigger audiences this year, we have a lot more eyes on us, and as a musician, that’s what you want. You want the good parties at South By, and we got some of them.”
There were definitely a lot of eyes on them at the MTV/VH1/CMT Live In Austin party, one which did not go exactly as planned for the group. Three songs into their set, one of the amps on stage blew out, leaving Simon with no way for the audience to hear his electric guitar. “They brought a broken amp in,” he lamented. “It worked for a second, and then first chord of the song, it just died. So I just transposed everything to the keyboards, but it’s super frustrating to us. But you know, you just kind of have to laugh. That’s South By. Something breaks, or something doesn’t work.”
An unfortunate incident like this at a high-profile gig might be enough to send a lot of acts over the deep edge, but the familial spirit of Youngblood Hawke allowed the group to triumph. After about a 10 minute break while the venue replaced their fried amp, the band immediately reconnected with the teeming audience as soon as the opening chords of the band’s biggest hit to date, “We Come Running,” came blaring out of the speakers. “As soon as Nik started counting off, we were right back in it,” Tasso said proudly, and from the video evidence you can see below, the crowd was, too.