AUSTIN, Texas - Every March thousands of bands from around the world flock to Austin's annual South By Southwest Music Festival where the best of the best fight for the chance to showcase their talents.
From big acts including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Cold War Kids and Nick Cave to the Heartless Bastards and Ra Ra Riot, some bands are well-known while others are hoping to be noticed for the first time.
Among them this year is The Harlequins , a psychedelic/garage rock group from Cincinnati, who is embarking on their second trip to the festival.
Lead singer and guitarist Michael Oliva, bassist Alex Stenard and drummer Rob Stamler first met after their high school graduations and decided to form a band. For the past six and a half years, the three have played countless shows around the Tri-State, including Cincinnati's eclectic Northside and popular venues in Over-the-Rhine.
The Harlequins attended their first SXSW music festival in 2010 where they played "unofficial" day parties which were not part of the festival, but were open to the public. They applied several times to be on the official bill, but were not accepted until this year.
"We kept doing what we did, we didn't try to get a manager or booking agent, just did it all ourselves...kept playing too many shows in Cincinnati and a lot out of town and kept going and going," said Oliva.
Unlike other music festivals, SXSW is geared toward the music industry, not just the fans. Access is limited and tickets are more expensive, but SXSW musicians are given a unique experience.
"You learn so much, there's forums and seminars going on constantly and they tell you how to do things by yourself, how to go on tour and where to get sponsors....you basically come here for a business purpose and then learn how to do anything from the ground up," said Stenard.
Forums and seminars are held throughout the festival which offers insight into the ever-evolving industry. For The Harlequins, the most important part is networking while staying in the self-claimed music capital of the world.
"The amount of good music coming out of Austin that says something," said Stenard.
The group plans to tour as they make their way back to Cincinnati, making several stops along the way.
With years of touring experience and (almost) two full SXSW festivals under their belts, the group leaves this advice for new bands attending SXSW for the first time.
"Don't try to be someone else. So many bands just try to front and that's not what got us in here… We just said let's just keep doing what we do. Keep generating your own buzz. You gotta do it yourself," said Oliva.
The Harlequins play their first official showcase this Saturday at the Red Eyed Fly free at 11 p.m.
For more information on The Harlequins or their music visit http://theharlequinsmusic.com/.
(Drummer Rob Stamler was not available for this interview).
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