On Friday night in Austin, Tone Stith delivered a simmering set of R&B and pop that steadily increased in energy, drawing in a crowd that was progressively more enthralled throughout the night.
Stith’s intimate, slow burner of a set capped the first day of the Creator House, a series of panel conversations and performances presented by Rolling Stone and Meta as part of SXSW’s programming. A perfect billing for a young crowd of early adopters, Stith still faced the challenge of hyping a room that had been engaged in reflective business conversations all day. But his charisma, stage presence, and immaculate grooves had everyone ready to hit the club and feeling the Friday night mood by the end of his performance.
Accompanied by two backup dancers and a four-piece backing band, Stith set the hook with slick choreography to his song “Like the First Time” from his 2021 album FWM. Audiences rolled hips and swayed along to Stith’s smooth and breezy brand of R&B-pop. Special, intimate performances with rising stars like Stith access the magic that has defined SXSW for 35 years.
A few songs into the set, Stith took a seat on a stool center stage for a heartfelt rendition of “When You Love Someone” from FWM. “We’ve been runnin’ away from communicatin’/ Baby, let’s face it/It’s just conversation now/ No more temptation/ No more misbehavin’,” Stith crooned, in a confessional moment that felt like an intimate conversation with the crowd. With an upbeat mood, killer dance moves, and a penchant for vulnerability, Stith showcased a style that points to big things in the future for the young star.
Later in the set, the New Jersey native explained that he lived in Houston for a time, during which he fell in love with the muse that inspired his song “Still Dancin’.” With Stith embracing one of his backup dancers, the choreography took on a narrative dimension that concluded with Stith down on a knee and the dancer’s leg wrapped around his head. “Still Dancin’” appears on Stith’s most recent project, Still FWM, which features guest appearances by Chris Brown, Kenneth Paige, and Maeta and helped Stith land a stint of tour dates opening for H.E.R.
Stith has cited Michael Jackson as an inspiration, and the King of Pop’s influence can be felt in Stith’s crisp production and onstage choreo. But it was impossible to miss a subtle nod to Prince, especially when Stith slung an electric guitar around his neck for a shirtless rendition of his 2020 single “Devotion.” The song culminated in Stith’s melodic falsetto bending higher and higher, the final build-up before the set’s climactic conclusion.
Stith finally delivered the high-energy ending he made the crowd wait for, as he let down his braids and performed his viral hit “FWM.” “Got the club goin’ up, they all f*** with me,” Stith boasts in the song’s lyrics, and he’s not wrong. By the end of the night, with the main floor and both balconies at Clive Bar popping, he’d made damn sure everyone at the Creator House would walk away as a fan that evening.