Zola Jesus 2011 SXSW Diary: Third Time, Not a Charm
Zola Jesus 2011 SXSW Diary: Third Time, Not a Charm

Not a Charm: Zola Jesus saw her third SXSW for what it really is: "anarchy" (Photo: Angel Ceballos)

Your first year of South by Southwest is always the most memorable. There is a bite of anticipation in the air: thousands of people eagerly wanting to discover something new, the music that surrounds you every corner you turn, and most of all, the ability to live in a small town in Wisconsin and play your music to people from all over the world is the most exciting feeling.

But by your third year, the smell of hot dogs and pizza mixed with stale beer emanates from the streets. Too many humans, too many bands, too much at all the same time. Sensory overload. Like waking up from a fever dream, you see it for what it really is: anarchy.

After two years of trying to play at 10 places at once, this year I made a decision to play only one show, to make it good, something I was proud of. Where I didn't have to rush and didn't have to compromise anything. Well, it's South by Southwest, isn't it?

Festivals seem to find a way to keep quality far, far, away… no matter how much you will it.

My show at Beerland made a full-circle and had sentimental value. It was, after all, the first venue I played at for my debut at SXSW four years ago. But that venue four years ago seemed a lot bigger then, a lot more equipped for my sound and my audience.

This year, I played the show based on how badly I wanted the venue to work, how badly I wanted that soundman to understand the brand new PA they dumped on him just a day earlier. I wanted it to be one of those solid, quality shows you never get to see at SXSW.

But instead, it was what it always was. A rushed mess of feedback and a sweaty, tired crowd wanting so badly just to see something special. Maybe it's the fault of the little girl on stage, wanting to give herself so completely to every last head in the crowd. Can't control the environment, can only control yourself. And then I lost control of that, too.

I don't remember much after that. Just writhing around sleepless in my hotel bed, fatigued and sore. Bruised from the battle. Sick from wanting to turn myself inside out, even if only just for 30 minutes.