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Rick @ SXSW: Southwork Grooving Across The Country.

April 2, 2014

Southwork_SXSW-002Text and images by Rick Kauffman.

Where in the world is Southwork?

As of last week, the boys — six deep on a month-long trek to SXSW and back — were just finishing up a gig in Cincinnati on a whirlwind tour that saw them play more than 11 shows in Austin, TX alone.

On the first night of festivities at SXSW, the techno-color, jumpsuited dreamsquad, Southwork, were all in a line marching down 6th street carrying a snare drum, a psychedelic Steven Tyler-esque mic stand and other odds and ends.

They were hard to miss, even a thousand miles from Philadelphia.

Joe Reno, looking wild with the headband, gnarly curls and a handlebar mustache, proudly proclaimed to the world where the party was that night: Cheer’s Shot Bar.

Entering the establishment, which was a maze of mixed level bars and patios, it was the aroma of marijuana and the faint sounds of funk wafting down through the corridors that invited listeners up to the rooftop getaway.

There, crammed into a state fit for three, Southwork managed to squeeze six members on stage — Mike Vivas, Mike Vogel, Nick Anastasi, Tony Trov, Erich Miller and Reno — and played for a quaint crowd with downtown Austin playing the backdrop.

Southwork is a ska-influenced rock and roll band — ska in that they have a full brass section — but at times the band is almost progressively influenced with blues, psychedelic and flamenco influences while Vivas belts out in a fine falsetto. The brass perfectly accompanied the Mardi Gras-atmosphere; between the horns and the tambourine, it was hard not to get into the groove.

By the end of the set, the boys had built a crowd filling the roofdeck with dancing and all that jazz. It was a calm little getaway up above the nonsense of the street below, but then the band went right down in it.

In less than two hours from the end of the set, Southwork had another gig up the street at Maggie Mae’s to close out the night. After drinks it was another march up the block, now wheeling gear up through the troves while Vivas did his best to wrangle the loose bandmates toward the destination.

Imagine now that this block was its own sort of Bourbon Street with the bars packed out as music venues and the streets running wild. It was easy to fall into the swirl of it all, but a stumble through the chaos at 2 a.m. found the crew intact and inside.

And then, the six bandmates and tour manager, Eric Kiss, waited sidestage while an EDM producer performed by himself on a laptop and mixer.

And waited.

He played, and played, and played while the band, and seemingly the crowd, waited and waited. But hey, more power to that guy. Kiss (the man, not the band) backed him up on stage with some exotic dance moves while the band drifted to sleep clutching their guitars and cases. It seemed like Southwork could set quickly and play, but then there were technical issues – every kind you could imagine. A half hour later Vivas told the crowd that Southwork wouldn’t at all sound like they normally do, now reduced from two drummers to just a snare, played a three song set and said goodnight.

Over the course of the next five days, Southwork played more than six more gigs all around Austin before hitting the road to Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. Gone is the fabled Southwork bus, but the band continues to make life on the road happen despite it.

On April 26th, the band makes their return performance at Ortlieb’s.

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