SXSW 2012: 25 Can't-Miss Acts

Plan ahead to catch these artists while you're in Austin

Tennis, Miike Snow, Fanfarlo and Tom Morello are among the 'can't miss' performances of SXSW.
Timothy Hiatt/Andy Kropa/Gus Stewart/Taylor Hill/Getty Images
March 8, 2012 1:45 PM ET

SXSW can be overwhelming, to say the least. Bands set up camp in just about every building in downtown Austin. Bars and clubs are booked solid, but so are churches, pool halls, parking lots and everything in between. Choosing your SXSW schedule in this chaos can be challenging, but with most musicians playing multiple shows, you can catch what you want to see if you plan ahead. There are major artists you already love (see: Bruce Springsteen), bands you know and bands you've never heard of. The best SXSW schedule includes all of these, as well as the little surprises you just can't plan for. We've earmarked 25 acts that are worth the effort.

And, it goes without saying that all of the bands we've invited to our Rock Room day parties on March 16th and 17th are not to be missed. See the full schedule – including Keane, Gary Clark Jr., Hot Water Music and lots more – here.

Bruce Springsteen
This selection comes with an asterisk and a disclaimer. Springsteen’s SXSW showcase is not to be missed – but most SXSW attendees will have no option but to do just that. He’s scheduled to perform at an intimate secret location on Thursday, March 15th and tickets are only available to SXSW badge holders by raffle. One sure bet, raffle or not: Springsteen's SXSW keynote address, beginning at noon on March 15th at the Austin Convention Center. You can tune in from anywhere, as NPR is both broadcasting his address and streaming it online.

Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman
After winning accolades as the fiery guitar slinger for Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, Tom Morello surprised audiences when he unveiled his folksinger alter-ego the Nightwatchman. That his songs were protest songs was no surprise. Morello has performed in support of the Occupy movement in encampments both on Wall Street and in Los Angeles. He plays Rolling Stone's Rock Room day party at La Zona Rosa on March 17th.

The Barr Brothers
Brothers Brad and Andrew Barr – guitar and drums, respectively – have played together their entire career, dating back to the Nineties with New England jazz-rock trio the Slip. That band morphed into an indie five-piece called Surprise Me Mr. Davis. When the brothers relocated to Montreal in 2005, they formed a side project with their neighbor, harpist Sarah Page. What was a band of happenstance turned into a serious pursuit under the name the Barr Brothers. Don't miss their sacred-sounding and emotionally moving songs when they perform in St. David's Historic Sanctuary on March 15th.

We Were Promised Jetpacks
Part of the same Glasglow scene that produced the Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit, We Were Promised Jetpacks offer an anthemic take on the marriage between post-punk and indie pop. The band is set to appear at a multitude of SXSW showcases before embarking on an extensive U.S. tour, including a stop at Coachella. Catch them at Rolling Stone's Rock Room day party on March 16th at La Zona Rosa.

New Zealand's Kimbra was already on the rise before the runaway success of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know," featuring her vocals, propelled her into the spotlight. The video, in which she appears, has racked up over 100 million views. Following SXSW, the 21-year-old will head out on tour with Gotye and later Foster the People, so catch her in bars around Austin while you still can.

Although he may not quite be a rags-to-riches story just yet, Devin wrote all of the songs from his 2011 EP, You're Mine, while working at a shipping warehouse and living with a roommate in a windowless apartment in Brooklyn. Now signed to Frenchkiss Records – with his first full-length, Romancing, set to drop in April – Devin was able to quit his day job and work on the music thing full-time. His amped-up garage rock nods as much towards Jack White as it does the New York Dolls. See him at Rolling Stone's Rock Room day party on March 17th.

Delta Spirit
San Diego's Delta Spirit aren't new at this, having first created a buzz around their 2006 tours with Cold War Kids and Dr. Dog. Delta Spirit will surely use their SXSW showcases to present songs from their brand new album, Delta Spirit, released the week of the conference. Think of SXSW as their week-long album release party.

The Sheepdogs
Canadian boogie rock band the Sheepdogs earned the distinction of being the first unsigned band to grace the cover of Rolling Stone last August when they battled 15 bands in the our “Choose the Cover” contest. The band signed to Atlantic Records following their win and a victorious performance at Bonnaroo. Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney is producing the band's full-length, due in late spring.

Killer Mike
Atlanta's Killer Mike recently told Rolling Stone that he just fully discovered himself as an artist through his work with producer El-P. The resulting album, entitled R.A.P. Music, will be released in May. With it, Mike says, he "set a new bar for rap." He'll aim to back up that claim when he unveils new material at SXSW. "I’m not trying to redo Public Enemy. I’m not trying to reinvent Ice Cube," he says. "I'm trying to progress what that music made me."

Jonny Corndawg
Jonny Corndawg's official bio states that he is a "country singer, not a singer-songwriter" and the distinction punctuates his anti-hero tendencies. Corndawg does write and sing his own songs, and while they may be a little bit country, they're not exactly the stuff they're playing down in Nashville. During his SXSW showcases, check out his merch – it just might include his own leatherwork and other homemade souvenirs.

Alabama Shakes
Taking a week off from their international tour to strut their stuff at SXSW, roots-rockers Alabama Shakes hail from, yeah, you guessed it. The Alabama-centric band doesn't even have a full-length album under their Bible belt, but their four-song EP and raw early appearances were enough to land them an opening slot with the Drive-By Truckers. SXSW will be their chance to show off material from their upcoming debut, Boys & Girls. Catch them now before everyone "discovers" them on the festival circuit this summer.

Dry the River
Coming to SXSW from London by way of Norway, Dry the River's Peter Liddle brings a post-punk background and emo sensibility to music that is neither: the band performs indie folk that's been compared to Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes. Truth be told, they don't really sound like either. Last year at SXSW, visa issues prevented Dry the River from performing with their drummer. This time, the five-piece will all be present and accounted for. Look for them to drop the beat in their folky freak-outs.

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