Every March, I jot down the names of dozens of acts worth seeing at the South by Southwest music festival. The planning process requires sorting through hundreds of band names, bios and music links.
Despite very careful planning, I've not once been able to see everything I wanted to see. I've learned to manage expectations when it comes to Austin's annual musical behemoth. It also helps to whittle a bigger list down to one with the bare essentials. So here are the 15 bands on my "must" list for when the music gets started later this week. I'm going to try to catch them all and report back without spraining something:
BJ the Chicago Kid (bjtck.com)
This soulful Chi-town singer walks the line between classic-sounding and forward-thinking. Past collaborators Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar would probably concur.
Brandi Carlile (brandicarlile.com)
The well-respected, golden-voiced folk singer hits new harmonic heights and tugs at heartstrings on her new album, The Firewatcher's Daughter. I'm hoping her writing and singing partners, the Hanseroth twins, will be with her.
J. Cole (jcolemusic.com)
His latest album 2104 Forest Hills Drive made a splash without any catchy singles. It connected because Cole delved so deeply into his own coming-of-age experiences. I dig the approach.
Andrew Combs (andrewcombsmusic.com)
He's a Dallas native who's based in Nashville, yet his brand of country has nothing in common with what's selling these days. Rather than partying and power chords, Combs finds a friend in the softer soliloquies.
Dirty South Rydaz (twitter.com/dirtysouthrydaz)
The veteran supergroup of respected Dallas rappers - including Tum Tum, Big Tuck and more - plans to debut its latest mixtape at its SXSW showcase.
Elle King (elleking.com)
The 20-something daughter of SNL's Rob Schneider counteracts her growly roots-appropriate voice with infectious, radio-ready pop melodies. It's a winning juxtaposition.
Ex Cops (excopsmusic.com)
The Brooklyn duo's pop compositions are accessible and gleaming, but let's face it: I want to lend them support because they publicly shamed McDonald's after being asked to perform without pay at the fast-food giant's SXSW marketing event.
Steve Earle (steveearle.com)
One of Texas' most prolific musical poets just released a gritty blues album called Terraplane. I'll keep our fingers crossed for some "Guitar Town," though.
Max Frost (maxfrost.net)
I'm interested in finding out how this Austin-based musical polymath will deliver his intricate pop 'n' soul tunes in a live setting. And he'll most likely offer new material from his upcoming debut full-length album.
Marina and the Diamonds (marinaandthediamonds.com)
Welsh singer Marina Diamandis has put out plenty of catchy pop music, but her forthcoming album Froot finds her taking a step back from co-collaborators and trusting her own songcraft.
Gabriel Garzón-Montano (gabrielgarzonmontano.com)
A musical do-it-yourselfer with a talent for creating soul-stirring grooves, Garzón-Montano found many new fans when rapper Drake sampled one of his tunes heavily on the blockbuster mixtape If You're Reading This It's Too Late.
Wynonna Judd (wynonna.com)
The country powerhouse will open her life to a SXSW interview and she'll also give an intimate story-filled performance. Both should prove compelling for lifelong fans. I'm one.
Rae Sremmurd (raesremmurd.com)
These two brothers from Mississippi - both under 21 - have the power to hypnotize with their simple but effective rap chants. They're one of hip-hop's biggest breakout acts of late.
Roosh Williams (roosh.bandcamp.com)
One of Houston's brightest new rap stars is of Iranian descent. His new album Unorthodox features a rousing duet with the H-town legend, Scarface.
Young Ejecta (facebook.com/ejectaejecta)
The dreamy electronic pop of singer Leanne Macomber (who lived in North Texas at one time) and producer Joel Ford should provide a pulse-lowering break from all the madness of SXSW.