AUSTIN, Texas — There used to be only a few Nebraskans at each South by Southwest festival, but now there are dozens.
At a hastily arranged meet-up for Nebraska fans, journalists and musicians attending SXSW, several dozen showed up to talk about the great music they had heard, share some beverages and meet all the other Nebraskans who were here.
And still we made up only about half of the people from the state were here for the festival.
Nebraska music represents itself well at a festival full of bands from all over the world. More than 10 bands and one record label took center stage at the festival.
Friday night, Omaha's Saddle Creek Records had its own showcase at Lambert's, a restaurant and venue in downtown Austin.
On the lineup were Icky Blossoms, Big Harp and the Mynabirds, three of the five Saddle Creek bands in town.
Icky Blossoms is virtually unknown. The band has been honing its sound in several performances over the past year or so and recently went into the studio to record its debut album.
Despite not having a published record, the band drew a huge crowd. More than 100 people packed the upper floor of the venue and grooved to the hard dance beat of drummer Clark Baechle and the funky beat of bassist Saber Blazek.
"I wasn't really expecting this many people to be here," said guitarist Nik Fackler. "It's really sweet."
"So sweet," added singer Sarah Bohling.
Some tunes were definitely dance pop tunes perfect for a club; others were rock 'n' roll with a stark beat.
It was a blast to watch, and I wondered how the songs will translate to a record.
Even more entertaining to witness than the fans in the front row dancing their hearts out was the band. Blazek and Fackler throw themselves into the songs and shout out the lyrics even when they're not providing backup to Bohling or singer Derek Presnall. And no one in the crowd danced harder than the band.
Amazing. If Icky Blossoms keeps playing like this, they'll have lots of fans.
Next up was Big Harp, the husband-and-wife duo whose folk debut, "White Hat," was fantastic. They abandoned the folk for a set full of new songs in which they turned up the volume and were closer to garage rock and blues.
The Mynabirds followed with a ton of new material, which will be released on the band's upcoming album, "Generals."
The new songs were soulful, which has a lot to do with the lyrics as well as frontwoman Laura Burhenn's versatile voice. The best tune was the new album's title track, which featured a call-and-response segment that had most of the gathered crowd joining in.
Another pair representing Nebraska aren't a band, but they still have a few official gigs at SXSW.
Eric Nyffeler and Michael Nielsen brought their company, Doe Eyed Design, to the festival to showcase at Flatstock, a gallery of gig posters.
The pair had a booth at the event, which is a big part of SXSW, and they said they'd sold a good amount of their artwork to fans in Austin.
Also in Austin this week was Nebraska guy Jake Bellows, who played lead guitar for Los Angeles outfit Whispertown.
Bellows is best known for his work in Saddle Creek band Neva Dinova, but in recent years he's been working on some solo stuff. He recently recorded a new album in Omaha with Ben Brodin, which he told me after Whispertown's show Thursday should be out sometime in 2012.
Bellows said he's looking forward to getting out on tour again.
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