Going to Austin No. 1: Felix Obelix says book yourself

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Felix Obelix' Wendy Spitzer (Photo by Lara Khalil)
  • Felix Obelix' Wendy Spitzer (Photo by Lara Khalil)

From Wendy Spitzer of Felix Obelix:

I was asked to write a little ditty about the ups and downs of finding shows at South by Southwest, the big music shindig I have no business attending but which I will be anyway, with my band Felix Obelix, March 19-22. I didn’t even bother applying to the festival proper. How is it then, that I’ve got shows in Knoxville, Nashville, Hot Springs, Dallas and am playing three times in Austin?

I went to SXSW in March 2008 as bassist/ oboist with The Physics of Meaning, Daniel Hart’s chamber-rock group. At the time, Felix Obelix had exactly two members and one of them was me. My drummer had just quit. I had two songs recorded and finding players was proving difficult. And still, in the stifling parking lot of Homeslice Pizza’s outdoor show, I made the decision that Felix Obelix would go to SXSW the following year. By then, I resolved, I would have this tight, weird, melodic band and a recording to sell.

Perhaps the most important and overlooked part of doing anything ambitious is just to decide you’re going to do it. So I did: I assembled the gears, built the machine, cranked it up and set it into motion. And I hope all my beloveds will celebrate with us at our big SXSW tour kick-off show at The Pinhook, on the inauspicious second Friday, this year on the 13th.

I say celebrate with “us” because Felix Obelix is touring with The Physics of Meaning. I’m grateful to Daniel for letting us tag along, and I like to think he would have invited us even if we weren’t sharing Dylan Thurston, the powerhouse percussionist who plays in both bands. Daniel is throwing a big N.C. showcase in a backyard in Austin on March 20. Hey, you know how you’ve got that company that makes food and drink here in North Carolina? You know how you wish you could donate said food and drink to a party at SXSW to promote your product? I already finagled Moravian sugar cookies from Dewey’s Bakery in Winston-Salem (thanks, guys!) and am prowling for more. This big day party is one of the three shows I’m playing in Austin.

The other two shows are trickier to explain. How did I get them, though? I sent e-mails. I e-mailed strangers and begged for shows. People returned those e-mails and offered me slots. I accepted. This doesn’t make for very fascinating storytelling, but that is exactly as it unfolded.

But how did I find the people to e-mail? At a Lost in the Trees show at the Nightlight in early February, I asked everyone there that I knew if they had met any SXSW-bound bands or if they knew anyone in Austin. I was frantic and desperate. I had spent all of November, December and January preparing for a time-capsule debut show (long story) and was behind in the SXSW booking. It was Tad Dreis who remembered someone named Bill of the band Sunset, whom I realized I had met briefly at SXSW in March 2008. I e-mailed Bill, who couldn’t help me but suggested his friend Robert, of the band La Snacks, whom he knew was booking a show. I e-mailed Robert, a complete stranger. He liked my music and voilà: Show No. 2.

Show No. 3 was even odder. I e-mailed a band I’ve never seen live but am nuts about, Make a Rising, from Philadelphia. I asked if they were going to SXSW because I wanted to see them, but they weren’t. I relayed my booking desperation and they suggested some folks they knew in Austin who might help. Of this list, one of the people, Daniel Francis Doyle (playing at the Nightlight on April 27), liked my music, responded to my e-mail and offered me a slot.

Incidentally, many tours get booked this way, and mine is no exception. I asked for shows from out-of-towners, and they obliged. Implicit in this bargain is the idea that now I owe them a favor: I will try to set up a show for them when they tour through the Triangle. They’re in good bands, and I’m happy to do this. Plus, I get a friend in Austin, another in Nashville, and touring people are almost always lovely.

The road is long and wearying, and I’ve traveled it before. I know what it’s like to be on week three, grumpy and unwashed in a city full of strangers. It’s nice to have friends in cities on tour. I’ll make pasta for them and offer them clean towels and floor space for their sleeping bags, as so many have done for me.

So, I don’t know what the moral of this story is, or how I would advise someone thinking of doing what I’ve done. There are, however, a few nuggets to extract from the rock here:

1. I’m a fan of music. I go to shows and play in bands because I love music. If I go to a show and like what I hear, I tell the musicians. I buy albums from tiny record labels. I’ve been going to shows or playing shows or playing in other people’s bands for six or seven years now. Despite a debilitating shyness and crippling social awkwardness, I’ve befriended people, and they’re willing to help me now. I like to think our shared love of music is the glue of these bonds. I am so grateful to them for the kindnesses I don’t feel I deserve.

2. It’s a numbers game. I sent lots of e-mails to people who didn’t respond. The people who did all liked my music. I’m not Britney Spears—not in looks, temperament nor musical aesthetics—so I had to e-mail lots of people. I didn’t give up.

3. I try to be the kind of person I would like to meet if I met myself as a stranger. I show up on time. I practice a lot. I don’t expect you to do the work for me. I don’t take you for granted. I’m not always successful at being this type of person, but I strive for it.

4. I made the decision to just go for it, even when the chips were down.

5. I got lucky.

Felix Obelix SXSW Tour 2009 from Basil Womack on Vimeo.

Felix Obelix plays with Lemming Malloy, The Physics of Meaning and Oyster Destroyster at The Pinhook Friday, March 13, at 10 p.m. If you’ve got a company wanting to donate food or drink to the SXSW N.C. Band Showcase Extravaganza, e-mail felixobelix {at} gmail.com.

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