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Rusty Maples returns from the fest with musical memories and heavy hearts

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A week to remember: Rusty Maples, pictured during the band’s first official SXSW Music showcase.
Denise Truscello, Wire Images
Max Plenke

Contributing writer Max Plenke plays drums in Las Vegas band Rusty Maples and blogged about this year’s South by Southwest festival for the Weekly.

We left Austin in a fog. In the rearview mirror, Austin, Texas, was just waking up to its monster Sunday morning hangover after the last night of South by Southwest. We spent a week in the festival’s welcoming embrace, playing Rusty Maples’ first official SXSW Music showcase, our second official Interactive showcase and the Life Is Beautiful/Caesars Entertainment Vegas showcase.

It was both our best festival experience and one that struck us with sadness. The same night we played our official showcase for a boisterous crowd, three of us stood 10 feet away from Rashad Owens as he plowed his car through two blocks of festivalgoers, killing two and injuring 23 (a third victim has since died), leaving a trail of twisted figures sprawled on the pavement, stretching into the darkness like something out of a disaster flick.

Rusty Maples performs during their first official showcase at the South by Southwest festival.

Rusty Maples performs during their first official showcase at the South by Southwest festival.

The festival itself is, as it has been in the years I’ve attended, a sh*t show. After 10 p.m., 6th Street turns into a lawless, themeless Mardi Gras, drunks crashing into one another and crumbling down like waves on the beach as ever-present pot smoke swallows the harsh stink of pulpy garbage. There were also downsides, the lines for free food and beer and music you’d recognize took over city blocks. But that ends up being the point: The crazy stuff, performances by Soundgarden and P. Diddy and Wiz Khalifa and whomever else, are nearly impossible to see unless you have two or three ins. What you’re supposed to do is wander aimlessly, buzzed, from bar to backyard, discovering new things from all over the world. I saw Sinbad flash his piano-key smile while doing an hour of crowd-work stand-up. I heard bands whose names I will never remember while eating foods I’ll never forget (Tamale House East, every day until I die from satisfaction).

To be honest, excluding the incredible Brooklyn outfit Lucius, I saw very little music that resonated powerfully with me this year. I spent more time resting up for my own shows than witnessing the cavalcades of indie musicians leaking from every window and café corner. My one real “find” band was Paus, a Portuguese quartet with two drummers who made me want to practice more and feel things deep in my core. But again, that was the one. Out of, roughly, a trillion. Maybe I missed the point.

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