AUSTIN — Leon Bridges is new to South by Southwest, the annual event whose music portion kicked into high gear today in the state's capital. But fortunately for the stylish Fort Worth soul man, he enters the fray as one of the hottest new acts among the more than 2,000 playing showcases.
The excitement surrounding Bridges was palpable as he performed earlier this afternoon on the outdoor stage of streaming-music giant Spotify's day party. Held just east of downtown on 6th Street, the soiree pulled in hundreds of beer-swilling SXSW attendees to a makeshift venue dubbed Spotify House. Minutes before Bridges was scheduled to go on, the line outside was one-in, one-out. I was lucky enough to make it in and find a spot just before the 25-year-old singer took the stage with his five-piece band and two backup singers.
Having released only three songs to iTunes, Bridges offered up those and six more, all presumably from his forthcoming Columbia Records album hitting stores this summer.
He kicked things off with the groove-addled come-on song, "Better Man," then segued into an even faster one called "Brown Skin Girls" that had him moving his arms with the exuberance of a Motown legend. Three more new tunes found Bridges mastering boogie-woogie and doo wop styles, but the crowd didn't quite give him its undivided attention until he launched into the slow-burning debut single, "Coming Home," whose first few lines I can't seem to extract from my brain lately. He made sure to add some extra runs and ad-libs into the song, punctuating one of the lines with a staccato "Sugah!"
Later, Bridges gave the crowd a glimpse of his personal life via two songs about cherished family members. One was about his grandparents' first meeting: "My grandaddy said that when he met my grandmother, the first thing he noticed was her long legs," Bridges said.
Then came "Lisa Sawyer," a beautiful story song named after his mother. But according to Bridges, his mom would rather have some quality time than a tribute: "She said if I don't start calling her, she's gonna come beat me across the head," he told the audience.
It's unlikely that the singer will get much downtime in the next few months, though - his star is on the rise. After he ended his set, we heard four young ladies scream his first name before they ran toward the backstage gate to catch another glimpse of him. Something Bridges should get used to, no doubt.
Follow Hunter Hauk on Twitter at @hausofhunter for more SXSW music action.