As night deepens on a rainy Thursday, not even conference fatigue could tamp the energy on Stubbs’ back patio.

Photo courtesy of SXSW

By Cy White, Photos by Cy White

Rule #1 of SXSW: Pace Yourself

Anyone who attends SXSW will tell you it can be a draining prospect. Pushing yourself every day to attend the conference, oftentimes starting earlier in the day with morning sessions, then ending early the next (music showcases, in particular, often wrap up at 2 a.m.). It’s not for the weak, or certainly not for those who don’t have a battle plan from the moment they buy a badge or wristband.

It’s always important to both pace yourself and really think about what it is you’re passionate about seeing. The panels and keynotes you want to arrive early for during the day. The late-night showcase that feature at least five different artists staring right around dinnertime and ending when most are fast asleep. After all, the conference runs every day for a soldi eight days straight.

I was stricken with the same quandary when I made my way to the “Just…Just…Just F*cking Vote!” showcase on the Stubbs back patio. The showcase hosted a lineup of veritable Austin legends: Gina Chavez, Mama Duke and Sir Woman, to name a few. With representatives from different nonprofits and elected representatives in local government roles between acts, the purpose was clear and truly noble. A concert to encourage people to vote in what most would say is arguably the most crucial election year in the 21st century thus far. The politics of it are irrelevant int his post. What matters is that every person who ascended the stage was there with a purpose, with an intention and a deep love for the people who make this city what it is.

Let the Show Begin!

It’s not hard to understand why each performer seemed so particularly invested in the showcase. Make no mistake, these performers, most of who are women-identified, take passion to levels that one can only commend. The three acts I was able to see this night are known for their incredible love of the craft, love of their fans and complete obsession with creating. Add to that a mission every person in attendance supports, it can only enhance the drive of the performance to heights even they appear surprised with.

As I walk passed the line and further back behind Stubbs, the atmosphere already feels elevated. There’s a buzz, a word I’m sure you’ve heard over and over again about such occasions. It’s hard to imagine a word that’s more fitting. The air itself is rippling with electricity. Maybe from the threat of thunderstorms, but I believe it’s because everyone milling about, and especially those in front of the stage, has a certain heightened sense of responsibility. We all know why we’re here. Beyond the incredible music promised (and delivered), we’re all given one directive: Just fucking vote!

Gina Chavez Ignites

Gina Chavez has just stated her set. As one might expect, she’s a powerhouse. With her bodacious T-shirt (proclaiming “Don’t Snitch on My Snatch” and multicolored and -patterned pants straight from 1993, she seems like your high school homie performing in front of friends. When Chavez opens her mouth, however, the entire atmosphere shifts. There are whoops, hoots and hollers before she can even begin to sing sometimes. Her reputation for putting on an impeccable show precedes her.

She tackles each song like she’s performing it for the last time. So much so, when she goes into her own rendition of the iconic Gloria Gaynor classic “I Will Survive,” she has the audience feasting out of the palm of her hand. When she picks up her guitar? Forget about. The audience is absolutely and irrevocably in love with the petite dynamo. If this is how the showcase starts, the audience will be no more good by the time the next act takes the stage.

Mama Duke Detonates

When Mama Duke takes the stage for her final soundcheck, it becomes very clear the energy Chavez left sizzling on the sage when she left is only going to get hotter. Mama Duke enters stage right, much like the royalty of her namesake. She’s smooth, cool, has a smile that could light this Austin spring night all on its own. She prompts the audience to free themselves, give her all the energy she gives them in droves, to open her set. Electricity doesn’t even being to describe her set. She is alive with positivity, a veritable conductor of energy, ramping up her performance with each song she performs. It’s as if each song is a new adventure for her. “I just released this song,” she begins. “Would you mind if I did just a little bit of it.” As you can imagine, the crowd is beside themselves.

Mama Duke, like Chavez, is a legend in Austin’s local scene. Both artists have made themselves known as forces of nature on a national level as well. It’s understandable the emotional outpouring of support for Mama Duke’s latest musical endeavors. Beyond the excitement of being one of the few lucky ones to hear her new work before it even hits full rotation, Mama Duke gives the audience a performance to remember. She’s all megawatt smile and power on the mic. When she sings, there’s a sweetness that belies the very real edge of her lyrical content and her less pop-heavy hits.

By the time she brings out her guest, singer Jolie Davenport, for their recent duet, the crowd is vibrating with energy. The screams come unprompted, the hoots and hollers without provocation. Mama Duke has that kind of charisma that at once makes you swoon in awed delight and make the ugliest stank face with some of her delivery.

Gina Chavez lights up the stage. Mama Duke obliterates it. The energy I have left from an entire day of attending SXSW recharges in the wake of two of Austin’s most exhilarating performers.

Then Sir Woman hits the stage.

Sir Woman Obliterates

It’s unsurprising that the reaction when they hit the stage for their soundcheck is almost as loud as when Chavez and Duke left it. The trio of soul mavens, accompanied by a band that could give any a run for their money, have an unwaveringly passionate following. So when they open their set, the reaction is almost instantaneous. Chavez laid down the dynamite. Mama Duke attached the fuse. Sir Woman ignites the sucker and BOOM! Before any of us know what’s happening, it’s happened. Those of us in the photo put are audience to something truly spectacular. It’s as if once on this particular stage, the band is activated, unable to restrain themselves from the expression of full, unbridled passion.

Lead singer Kelsey Wilson is a smooth as ever, voice booming from her microphone as she softly roams the stage barefoot and with a smile. Spice is as saucy as ever, a personality only outmatched by the lovely power in her voice. Roy Jr. has the energy of James Brown and the range of Jackie Wilson. A timeless voice that sits in a register many current vocalists are more hesitant to explore. The whole outfit is like a Choose Your Own Adventure. On one side of the stage, you have the quiet brilliance of Wilson.

A little further down, you have the band lighting up the evening sky like fireworks on New Year’s. On the far end, you have a duo of vocalists who could change your stars if you let them. With a wink and smirk at my camera, these two have won my heart. (An easy ask, considering I’d already given it to them three years ago.) With smooth choreography that recalls a time when performers were required to do more than mill about on stage and sing in half-whispers, and vocals that could rival any of the best voices today, Sir Woman stands as a paragon of what it means to be a true entertainer.

I Can’t Stand the Rain

The night is still young for many, but for me, the long day and the overabundant energy has me drained. However, that’s exactly what I’m here for. While I do end up calling it an early night, my entire vibrates on my way out of the venue. I’ve just been witness to one of the most amazing showcases I’ve experienced at SXSW. Three acts, all different in style in delivery, are all united for one mission: getting out the vote. What could’ve been a solemn night of reflection became a raucous rallying cry as audacious as the showcase’s title. With the three acts I experienced, the “Just…Just F*ckin Vote!” event changed the entire tenor of SXSW for me.

Read more of Austin Woman‘s SXSW 2024 coverage!


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