AUSTIN, Texas -- Just after 11 p.m. Wednesday, Omaha’s Dilla Kids cranked up their live hip-hop, exhorting those at the back of the Cheers Shot Bar rooftop to come closer to the stage.
Within a couple minutes, one of Nebraska’s best bands had at least 100 people bobbing along with their music, connecting to dozens who made their way up the steps for Nebraska Exposed.
It was the third South By Southwest showcase featuring Nebraska bands, staged at the two-level bar on Sixth Street, in the heart of the South By Southwest music fest, where official showcases run side by side with unofficial events, like the Nebraska gathering.
In years one and two, Nebraska Exposed was held in the afternoon. Wednesday, it moved to 7 p.m., in part because the space opened up and, largely, because it was likely to have much greater visibility and attendance.
“The night time was a no-brainer for us,” said organizer Kyle Gibson. “We thought about doing it all day, the entire day. But that would have been twice the number of bands and twice the money. We weren’t ready for that yet. But we were sure going to come back here. Cheers likes us, and we like Cheers.”
With Nebraska Exposed and KZUM Radio banners in place, KHARI The Duo kicked off the showcase on the upper stage.
It marked the first time that rapper/singer Ishma Valenti and singer/instrumentalist Zach Watkins have played Austin as KHARI The Duo, but it was their fourth SXSW appearance.
“People are ready for us now when we come down,” Valenti said. “That’s with AZP, The Fey. With KHARI the Duo, the hip-hop soul side, tonight’s the first down here. You come down enough and people know to find you. Your name gets out. Every year, we get more and more.”
Valenti, Watkins and the rest of The Fey made the most of the 14-hour trip to Austin. A show set for Oklahoma City on the way down canceled, but the group was to travel 90 miles to play San Antonio on Thursday and return to Austin for a Friday SXSW show at Kansas City’s Midwest Takeover, a showcase run by the band’s new label.
Others, like Lloyd McCarter & the Honky Tonk Revival, did the reverse, stopping at Kansas City’s Knuckleheads Saloon and Tulsa’s Mercury Lounge before bringing their traditional country to SXSW for the first time.
“This is our big hit song,” McCarter said midway through the band’s set, introducing “Mexico.” “We’ve made zero dollars on it.” The band then tore and twanged through “13 Gears,” a tale of a truck driver heading from Fort Worth to San Antonio.
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Wednesday’s showcase drew some Lincoln ex-pats in Austin for SXSW, such as Bernie McGinn, who had a platinum badge hanging around his neck -- “Amazon bought a truckload of them," said McGinn, who now lives in San Francisco -- and Sweet Basil McJagger, an Austin resident whose local knowledge led him to the rarest of all rarities, a free parking spot downtown.
Also on hand was Rachel Placzek of the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development, who was wrapping up a busy week at SXSW. LPED was, along with KZUM, the Nebraska Exposed sponsor.
Placzek spent the weekend at the SXSW Job Market, held in an old city auditorium across the Colorado River from the downtown conference center and hotels.
She was there, along with recruiters from Assurity, Hudl, Lincoln Electric System, Nelnet and NRC Health, hoping to find young people who wanted to move to Lincoln to work.
Placzek came to Austin as well last year and said while the new location for the Job Market cut down on the number of visitors, those who came through were serious about finding a job.
“There are lots of big companies there, like Apple and Amazon,” Placzek said. “A lot of people come to talk to them. They also end up talking to us. They’re looking for a job.”
And in Austin, selling Lincoln as a place to live is easier than most would think.
“What I’ve found is Lincoln isn’t a hard sell,” Placzek said. “Living in Austin, there’s a saying ‘This is Austin, the rest of it is Texas.’
"It’s the same thing for Lincoln -- ‘This is Lincoln, a capital city, with a university and colleges, lots of tech, young people, entertainment and arts. The rest is Nebraska.’ In Austin, people get it.”
Placzek spent the rest of her week attending a Cities Summit, following the interactive track of the conference and hit a panel on putting together music festivals. “I almost transcribed that,” she said, telling Spencer Munson she would pass along her notes.
Munson, who organizes Jazz in June and Lincoln Calling, was in Austin as well, scouting bands and making contacts, and dancing and throwing his hands in the air to Dilla Kids on Wednesday night.