Another Free Week is in the books and this year—with pretty much every local musician worth his or her salt (we’re talking hundreds) spread throughout Austin’s best live music venues from January 1-7—it was practically impossible to go even one night without witnessing a solid handful of impressive artists. Sure, the high quality among Austin’s live acts is one reason why the weeklong event felt more vital than ever (not to mention all those who braved freezing temperatures Monday-Wednesday) but, to cop an accurate cliché, it takes a village, and there were plenty of other reasons for Free Week's undeniable success. In that spirit, here are our top five takeaways from Free Week 2018.
All photos by David Brendan Hall
5. An on-the-fly freestyle can steal the show
The scene: a packed-out Empire Control Room crowd on Saturday calls for an encore after a sharp set from local rap duo 5-D (CAPYAC/SubKulture Patriots’ RuDi Devino + Sip Sip/SubKulture Patriots’ HBZ) backed tonight by members of hip-hop production crew Applied Pressure and other collaborators. The group momentarily debates playing “that one remix,” and then HBZ offers, “We can freestyle!” It’s settled: Several band members and fellow Sip Sip MC Captain Kirk join for a round table session of insane off-the-cuff rhyme schemes over a funkified beat that leaves the audience screaming for even more.
4. Everybody loves a good cover song. Here are the week’s best, in descending order of badassery:
- Cowboy Irie doing Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart”
- Mélat doing Britney Spears’ “… Baby One More Time”
- Otis the Destroyer doing Iggy Pop & the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy”
- Vapor Caves doing Rick James’ “Mary Jane”
- A. Sinclair doing Pixies’ “Rock Music”
- Wonderbitch doing Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”
- Jane Ellen Bryant doing Prince’s “Kiss”
3. Capacity crowds during Free Week are the golden goose:
By the time heavy-fuzz fanatics Otis the Destroyer hit Mohawk’s outdoor stage around 10pm on Friday, a one-in-one-out line began building outside the door, snaking almost all the way to next-door Cheer Up Charlies. Who knows if the draw was for blues garage goddess-shredder Emily Wolfe, the supremely soulful Los Coast or just a busy Friday fluke. Doesn’t matter: It was extremely cool that every band on that bill, indoors and outside, got to play to a full room, and when it comes down to it, any “sold-out” show during Free Week is a major victory for the Austin music community as a whole.
2. A parade of guests + a potent message = show of the week:
If you know ATX hip-hop, then you know Zeale, but you might not be as familiar with his most recent project, Blastfamous USA, which features powerhouse production duo NGHT HCKLRS. With those ominously masked figures hammering away mercilessly on their drums and MPCs behind him during a Tuesday night performance inside Cheer Up Charlies, Zeale hooked a solid handful of new fans with a style that’s far more militant than his norm (think Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine). Followed by a parade of top-tier Austin talents—guest vocalists Mobley and Chantell Moody (of Fort Never and the Digital Wild) on respective tracks, plus rapper Phranchyze on a few razor-sharp verses—the show aggressively delivered fuel for the Fuck-Trump fire and sealed the deal: Blastfamous USA threw the livest party of Free Week 2018, made even more special because it was exclusively attended by the ungodly-cold-defying Day 2 diehards.
1. Tipping your bartender can go a long, long way:
With countless talented artists filling out Free Week’s lineup, who’d have thought that the event’s most moving moment would manifest with a simple act of kindness during the final hour of festivities. After raucous sets from Darkbird and Wonderbitch at Empire Control Room, one patron tipped $100 at the bar. By this time, the bright lights were on and most people had already shuffled out, so witnessing the bartender’s shocked reaction and almost immediate humble refusal was easy enough. Of course, he eventually accepted, as he should. No single instance better epitomized the comforting sense of community support Free Week (thankfully still) proliferates. Here’s hoping this wasn’t the only triple-digit tip dished out during the week—may that spirit of generosity continue for generations to come!