The music portion of South by Southwest 2016 (also known as the part with fewer tech bros) takes place between Tuesday, March 15, and Sunday, March 20. Every day, we’ll name our favorite act we caught in Austin, Texas.
The Fader Fort is as much a SXSW tradition as paying too much for tacos, but the sponsored venue had never hosted a country singer until Kacey Musgraves’ headlining set on Thursday. It was an odd choice. The dense, sweaty crowd thinned out after Neon Indian’s mellow and Rae Sremmurd’s Sremmlife Crew’s rowdy sets. This worked to my advantage, because I found a spot right up front for Musgraves, who put on one hell of a show.
Let’s begin by stating the obvious: Kacey Musgraves is probably bigger than SXSW by now. Most bands that play the Austin festival are up-and-comers, or never-will-be’s, or, in the case of Willie Nelson, local legends. Musgraves, meanwhile, has been nominated for multiple Grammys (including winning Best Country Album for Same Trailer Different Park); reached the top five of the Billboard 200; and opened for Katy Perry on her Prismatic world tour. She’s one of a kind, a bracingly funny, sweet sh*tkicker who practices humble rebellion, openly talks about smoking weed, and sings about making “lots of noise/ Kiss lots of boys/ Or kiss lots of girls, if that’s something you’re into.”
The small-but-devoted crowd sang along to every word with Musgraves, who was joined by her impeccably-dressed backing band straight out of an episode of Breaking Bad. There was a loud ovation after set-opener “High Time” when Musgraves admitted that she was “kinda drunk,” and an even bigger cheer when she started playing the inspiring “Good Ol’ Boys Club,” one of many standout tracks from Pageant Material, Uproxx’s 20th favorite album of 2015.
Her country swagger was in fine form for a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” which momentarily quieted the crowd getting blitzed on free Jack Daniels in the back. When performed by Musgraves, the 2006 soul-pop classic gets back to its Spaghetti Western roots, with a rollicking, honky tonk-tempo.
Unfortunately, the set was only about 35 minutes long; fortunately, it ended with another good-time cover, this time of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.” Musgraves embraces her outsider status — she’s a welcome antidote to contemporary country’s excess of Luke Bryan — but she also knows how to please a crowd. She exists between worlds, Loretta Lynn for a Pitchfork crowd, liberal lyrics in a traditionally conservative genre. It’s a fine line to walk, but Musgraves is pulling it off. That’s not easy wearing these:
Some more snaps from the show.