Former UK singer wins in Metropolitan Opera Auditions

National Council Grand Finals winners (L-R) Reginald Smith Jr., Virginie Verrez, Joseph Dennis,  Marina Costa-Jackson and Nicholas Brownlee. Photo by Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera.

National Council Grand Finals winners (L-R) Reginald Smith Jr., Virginie Verrez, Joseph Dennis, Marina Costa-Jackson and Nicholas Brownlee. Photo by Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera.

University of Kentucky graduate Reginald Smith Jr. was one of five winners Sunday afternoon in the final round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

Reginald Smith Jr. Photo via Facebook.com/reginaldsmithjrbaritone

Reginald Smith Jr. Photo via Facebook.com/reginaldsmithjrbaritone

He is only the second UK winner in the auditions, widely considered to be the most prestigious opera competition in the nation. The first was Gregory Turay, who won in 1995.

“It’s still surreal,” Smith said late Sunday evening. “It will probably hit me in the middle of the shower or something, what has happened.”

Asked about being the first singer from UK in 20 years to win, he said, “It shows UK has a lasting tradition of producing good singers capable of winning the Met competition,” and added that a two-decade gulf speaks to what a difficult competition it is to win.

“There have been loads of singers from UK who have gone on to wonderful careers without winning the Met competition,” Smith noted.

But now Smith will be known as a Met auditions winner, which he says comes with some pressure. “People look at you in a different way and expect more from you,” he said.

“I am so excited and happy for him!” Everett McCorvey, voice teacher of both Smith and Turay, texted after Smith’s win. “I told him yesterday that he had worked very hard to be where he was and that the mountain that he climbed was very high, but he climbed it, and he made it.

“I also told him that all he needed to do was go out and just  ‘do what you normally do!’  I also told him to enjoy the experience and have fun!   This is an incredible moment for our University, for the College of Fine Arts, the UK Opera program and for the process that we have put in place to train students in the School of Music.  I couldn’t be prouder!”

Smith, an Atlanta native, came to UK in 2007 on a full-tuition scholarship through the Alltech Vocal Scholarship Auditions. During his time at UK, he was a popular and busy performer singing numerous roles in UK Opera Theatre productions, as well as soloing with groups such as the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra.

Since graduating in 2012, Smith has gone on to join the Houston Grand Opera’s studio program and sang numerous roles in Houston Grand Opera productions. At Houston, Smith’s voice teacher is former UK voice professor Stephen King, whose UK student Mark Whatley went to the Met finals in 2002.

There were five winners in the final round of the 2014-15 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, which featured the nine finalists singing two arias each on the Metropolitan Opera stage with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, conducted by Fabio Luisi, in front of a live audience. Joining Smith were soprano Marina Costa-Jackson of Salt Lake City; bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee of Mobile, Ala.; mezzo-soprano Virginie Verrez of Brive La Gaillarde, France; and tenor Joseph Dennis of McKinney, Texas.

Smith closed both halves of the concert, the first singing Ford’s monologue from Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff and the second with Lord Jesus Hear My Prayer from Louis Gruenberg’s The Emperor Jones. Asked if had seen it as a good sign that concert organizers wanted him to close both halves, he said, “I just thought it was part of putting together a good concert. Both my arias are dramatic and climactic.”

Each winning competitor received $15,000 and the prestige of winning the internationally recognized competition. Some of the world’s most famous current and former opera stars have won at the Met Auditions, including  Renée Fleming, Thomas Hampson,  Frederica von Stade and Deborah Voigt. The Met’s current roster of singers includes 126 Met Audition winners.

Competitors went through four rounds, starting with district and regional rounds across the country. Smith, 26, initially auditioned in his hometown Georgia District and advanced through the southeast regional round to the national semi-finals, last Sunday in New York. Recent University of Kentucky graduate Matthew Turner won in the Kentucky District and Mid-South Regional rounds to advance to New York, but did not advance to the finals. There were 17 singers in last Sunday’s national semi-finals.

Smith said he planned to celebrate by having a good drink and sleeping in, adding that he’s excited to have nothing to do Monday. Then it’s back to work preparing for another competition in New York Wednesday. He will finish up in Houston in May and then heads to Wolftrap in the Washington D.C. suburbs in the summer. He said his long term plans are to move back to Atlanta and be based out of there. He noted that would make it fairly easy to get back up to Lexington to work with McCorvey and other UK coaches.

Smith’s next performance in Lexington is currently slated to be the annual Messiah performance at Christ Church Cathedral on Dec. 4.

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The second annual Moonshiner’s Ball lineup

New York-based jazz trio Moon Hooch will headline May 16 at the 2nd Annual Moonshiner's Ball. Photo via Facebook.com/moonhoochmusic.

New York-based jazz trio Moon Hooch will headline May 16 at the 2nd Annual Moonshiner’s Ball. Photo via Facebook.com/moonhoochmusic.

We can now declare the Blind Corn Liquor PickersMoonshiner’s Ball an annual event as it has unveiled the lineup for its second annual edition.

Lexington’s-own Ben Sollee will headline opening night, May 15, with Canadian folk artists The Duhks also playing. New York-based jazz-house ensemble Moon Hooch will headline a May 16 lineup that includes Lexingtonian Mark Charles Heidinger’s alt-folk project Vandaveer. The event, at Berea’s Homegrown Hideaways, will also include a short May 17 lineup and a slate of spoken word artists selected by Eric Scott Sutherland, creator of Holler Poets. They include Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker, his fellow Affrilachian poet Bianca Spriggs and  and Scuffletown author Chris Mattingly.

Here’s a glance at the rest of the Moonshiner’s lineup.

May 15

In addition to Ben Sollee and The Duhks:

May 16

In addition to Moon Hooch and Vandaveer:

May 17

Tickets are $60 for the weekend and on sale now.

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Reginald Smith Jr. takes UK experience to Met finals

University of Kentucky Baritone Reginald Smith Jr. has a lesson with his voice teacher, Everett McCorvey, in the Schmidt Vocal Arts Center on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington, Ky., on June 2, 2010. Photo by Rich Copley | staff.

University of Kentucky Baritone Reginald Smith Jr. has a lesson with his voice teacher, Everett McCorvey, in the Schmidt Vocal Arts Center on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington, Ky., on June 2, 2010. Photo by Rich Copley | staff.

The first time Reginald Smith Jr. stepped on the stage at the Lexington Opera House, he looked down into the orchestra pit and then up at the second balcony.

“I was thinking, how do I look down at the conductor and get my voice up there,” says Smith, left, who was one of the University of Kentucky’s most popular singers from 2007 to 2012.

Smith credits experiences such as learning how to sing on the stage of the Opera House with getting him where he is now: In the final round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

He is one of only three singers from the University of Kentucky to make it to the finals of the Met Auditions, one of the world’s most prestigious opera competitions. And if he is among the winners, he will join Gregory Turay as the only two winners from UK.

At 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon, he joins eight other singers on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera to sing two arias each accompanied by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, conducted by Fabio Luisi.

Of course, he has been practicing this week. But Tuesday evening, he was recounting other thrills like watching a rehearsal for the Met’s production of Ernani with Plácido Domingo and Angela Meade, conducted by James Levine.

“There are so many aspects of the competition that make it much more than singing on Sunday,” Smith says, pointing to coachings with Luisi and other Met directors, career consultations with Met personnel, meeting the other competitors and past winners and experiencing life in New York City.

The metropolis didn’t catch Smith off guard as much as some other competitors from small towns as he grew up in Atlanta and now resides in Houston, where he is part of the Houston Grand Opera’s studio program and has sung on the Houston Grand Opera stage.
“These things don’t happen by chance,” Smith says of his career path.

Yes, he believes in divine intervention, but he also believes his voice teacher in Atlanta, Elizabeth Colson, and UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey conspired to create the path that led him to New York.

Away from Atlanta and Lexington, Smith says he carries advice and wisdom from McCorvey that can be as simple as be nice and concentrate on what you can control.

“He would tell us you can control how well you sing, and things like your diction,” Smith says. “Other things you can’t control, so don’t worry about them. Go out and give it your all, and things will sort themselves out.”

One other aspect of this honor Smith could control was which aria he sang first in the national semifinals. He came with five prepared, could choose one, and the judges chose the others. His choice was Lord Jesus Hear My Prayer from the largely forgotten 1933 Louis Gruenberg opera The Emperor Jones. If you Google the aria and opera title, the first thing you’ll see is a YouTube video of Smith’s performance for a Dallas Opera competition.

“It was not a conventional choice,” Smith says. “But I really like the aria. It has a great message, and the rest of my repertoire could answer any other questions they had about me.”

Smith also chose it realizing it could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience singing on the Met stage.

“I’m very fortunate I stuck with my gut, and even if it didn’t work out for me, at least I got to sing that aria on that stage.”

Thus far it’s working out fine.

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Lexington filmmaker competing to direct ‘Twilight’ short film

An image from Lindsey Hancock Williamson's pitch video to direct "Turncoats," her winning script in the "Twilight" Storytellers competition. Images courtesy of Lindsey Hancock Williamson.

An image from Lindsey Hancock Williamson’s pitch video to direct “Turncoats,” her winning script in the “Twilight” Storytellers competition. Images courtesy of Lindsey Hancock Williamson.

Lexington filmmaker Lindsey Hancock Williamson is in the running to direct a short film based on characters in the Twilight series through The Storytellers: New Voices of the Twilight Saga competition presented Lionsgate films, Facebook, Twilight series author Stephenie Meyer, and others.

Lexington filmmaker Lindsey Hancock Williamson.

Lexington filmmaker Lindsey Hancock Williamson.

Williamson is already a two-time winner in the competition.  She first won when her story idea, Turncoats, was selected as one of 20 finalists out of 1,200 submissions, and she was invited to write a screenplay for it. Then her script for Turncoats was selected as one of six winning screenplays in the writing portion of The Storytellers contest. Now, she is competing with a Boston-area director to direct the short film. She could win up to $50,000 to complete the film.

Turncoats tells how Carlisle Cullen, father of series hero Edward Cullen, met Garrett, a vampire introduced at the end of the final book in the series, Breaking Dawn, during the Revolutionary War.

The winners will be decided by a panel of judges including Meyer and Twilight film series star Kristen Stewart, plus a public vote that is open until midnight Monday (Sunday night into Monday morning). You do have to register or sign in through Facebook or Twitter to vote.

“I am a Twilight fan,” Williamson says. “What made me want to enter is it is for women and giving women in the film industry more exposure.”

Williamson is a Lexington native and went to Watkins College of Art, Design and Film in Nashville. She and her husband, Sam Williamson, moved to Brooklyn where they worked in television and film before parenthood brought them back to Lexington, to be near family. Together, they own Suburban Tallyho Productions.

Part of Williamson’s pitch, in a short video shot on the day of Snowpocalypse 1, is that the 10-minute film will be shot in Kentucky, use vintage lenses for a color-saturated look and be shot on an area Civil War battlefield. “It will look like this, minus 15-inches of snow,” she says in the video, standing in a field.

Williamson says she initially submitted five ideas, and they Revolutionary War-themed Turncoats was definitely the most challenging of her submissions to film. But she said writing the script gave her intriguing chances to dive into Revolutionary War history as well as the intricacies of the Twilight universe.

“It was sort of like writing ER 1781,” she says of her story that takes place in a battlefield hospital. “I was really appreciative of the feedback I received from people involved in the competition.”

Now, she is hoping for great feedback from voters and the judging panel.

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Listening too … Houndmouth, ‘Little Neon Limelight’

Houndmouth are drummer Shane Cody, bassist Zak Appleby, keyboardist Katie Toupin and guitarist Matt Myers. Photo by Dusdin Condren.

Houndmouth are drummer Shane Cody, bassist Zak Appleby, keyboardist Katie Toupin and guitarist Matt Myers. Photo by Dusdin Condren.

“Go and take the millions, and the Derby hats, and stick ’em up your —,” Houndmouth guitarist Matt Myers drawls on the acid-induced ballad For No Onethat is indicative of the band’s second album, Little Neon Limelight.

The band that hails from just over the border in New Albany, Ind., and rose out of the Louisville scene with its noir take on Americana, dropped a startling debut in 2013 with From the Hills Below the City. It was filled with beautiful harmonies, spare instrumentation and vivid stories you frequently hoped weren’t too autobiographical.

Houndmouth-albumLimelight finds all those strengths sharpened in 11 songs presenting a distinct cast of characters and images that are never sunny, even when the music sounds that way. Leadoff track Sedona presents us with a bright chorus out of the Southwest contrasted with images of blacklists, no credit and “this duct tape makes you hush.”

Enhancing the cinematic quality of Houndmouth’s tunes are four members that all know how to interpret a lyric, particularly Myers and keyboardist Katie Toupin. Hear Gasoline, with the opening line, “Oh, how you talk a big game,” and follow as Toupin wistfully glides into the story of a woman whose misery has at least a little something to do with herself.

To an extent, this is a producer’s album, with Dave Cobb giving all these songs ideal settings, be it the raucous and distorted 15 Years or the simmering album closer Darlin’.

But still, it is these songs and occasional slap-you-upside-the-head lyrics like the tune that starts, “My Cousin Greg is a greedy son of a b—-” (My Cousin Greg) that make this album great. And you gotta hear about Greg, though it’s probably better you don’t know him.

In the chorus, Houndmouth sings, “If you want to live the good life, you better stay away from the limelight.” If Houndmouth keeps putting out albums like this, they’d better watch out.

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Listening to … Ben Sollee, ‘Steeples, Part One’

Ben Sollee and his cello. BenSollee.com.

Ben Sollee and his cello. BenSollee.com.

Minimalism is becoming all the rage these days: downsizing, simplifying your living space; tiny houses; basic cars; bare-bones wardrobes. We can look at the clutter around us and think, there can be too much of a good thing.

Steeples1Steeples, Part One, embraces that ethic. As Ben Sollee‘s first new songs in two years, it could seem disappointing it’s only three songs. But they are such distinctive and exquisite songs that remind us why we have liked Sollee’s unique take on cello and open new voices for him … in just three songs.

Forgotten is vintage Sollee, a earnest quick tempo from the strings underscoring a broad meditation on our quickly changing world. (He included Paul Simon’s Obvious Child on 2013’s influences album The Hollow Sessions, and this tune certainly has a Simon-esque quality.) Pretend borders on blue-eyed soul, an accenting guitar giving easy sway to lyrics that seem to say, “settle on me,” though there’s no apparent settling involved. Sollee lets his voice soar beautifully. With the exception of a cello solo, his instrument takes a supporting role in this highly rhythmic song that shows he does not need the cello front and center to be a compelling performer.

But man, the combination of Sollee’s voice and cello can be compelling. Loving Memory is just haunting, the perspective seeming to come from someone who has either departed this world or the listener’s life. You want to listen repeatedly to wrap your mind around it, and really, that is not a problem.

Steeples, Part One is an exceedingly satisfying listen, but that’s not to say it doesn’t leave us highly anticipating Part Two.

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Reginald Smith Jr. – official Met finalists photo

2015 National Council Finalists: (from l to r) Kathryn Henry, Joseph Dennis, Marina Costa-Jackson, Nicholas Brownlee, Virginie Verrez, Jared Bybee, Deniz Uzun, Reginald Smith, Jr., and Allegra De Vita. Photo by Rebecca Fay for the Metropolitan Opera.

2015 National Council Finalists: (from l to r) Kathryn Henry, Joseph Dennis, Marina Costa-Jackson, Nicholas Brownlee, Virginie Verrez, Jared Bybee, Deniz Uzun, Reginald Smith, Jr., and Allegra De Vita. © Photo by Rebecca Fay for the Metropolitan Opera.

In case you missed it … ahem … ICYMI … University of Kentucky graduate Reginald Smith Jr. became one of nine finalists Sunday in the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions. He will perform with the other eight finalists in the Met Auditions’ grand gala concert on the Met stage, with the Met Orchestra, at 3 p.m. Sunday.

I thought you might like to see the official finalists photo (above) the Met sent out today. Here’s a quick look at the finalists with the regions they won in and their hometowns, as supplied by the Metropolitan Opera:

Nicholas Brownlee, bass-baritone (Western Region: Mobile, Alabama); Jared Bybee, baritone (Middle Atlantic Region: Modesto, California); Marina Costa-Jackson, soprano (Middle Atlantic Region: Salt Lake City, Utah); Allegra De Vita, mezzo-soprano (New England Region: Trumbull, Connecticut); Joseph Dennis, tenor (Eastern Region: McKinney, Texas); Kathryn Henry, soprano (Upper Midwest Region: Sheboygan, Wisconsin); Reginald Smith, Jr., baritone (Southeast Region: Atlanta, Georgia); Deniz Uzun, mezzo-soprano (Central Region: Mannheim, Germany, currently living in Bloomington, Indiana); and Virginie Verrez, mezzo-soprano (Eastern Region: Brive La Gaillarde, France, currently living in New York, New York).

Watch this space, as we hope to have more on Reggie’s Met run later this week.

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UK graduate heading to Met auditions finals

University of Kentucky Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey, bass Matthew Turner, UK voice professor Dennis Bender and baritone Reginald Smith Jr. at the Metropolitan Opera Sunday afternoon. Turner and Smith competed in the semi-finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Sunday, and Smith advanced to the finals March 22. Photo courtesy of Everett McCorvey.

University of Kentucky Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey, bass Matthew Turner, UK voice professor Dennis Bender and baritone Reginald Smith Jr. at the Metropolitan Opera Sunday afternoon. Turner and Smith competed in the semi-finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Sunday, and Smith advanced to the finals March 22. Photo courtesy of Everett McCorvey.

Reginald Smith Jr., who took an overnight Greyhound bus ride from Atlanta to Lexington to win a full scholarship to University of Kentucky’s voice program in 2007, has advanced to the final round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

Smith will sing in the grand finals concert at 3 p.m. March 22 on the Metropolitan Opera Stage with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, conducted by Fabio Luisi.

With the win, Smith joins Gregory Turay (1995) and Mark Whatley (2002) as the only singers from the University of Kentucky to advance to the Met Auditions finals. Turay is the only winner from UK.

Matthew Turner, a bass who was last seen locally in the UK Opera Theatre production of The Tales of Hoffman, also competed Sunday, but did not advance. There were 17 singers in Sunday’s semi-finals and nine advanced to the finals. In an interview with the Herald-Leader, Turner said it was amazing to be one of the 17 finalists in the competition that began with thousands of competitors in district rounds.

Smith enjoyed a high profile UK career, appearing in leading roles in many opera productions as well as singing with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra and other groups. He graduated in 2012 and is currently in the Houston Grand Opera Studio Program for young artists and has appeared in numerous Houston Grand Opera productions.

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While his show is in ‘Cougar Town,’ Josh Hopkins’ heart is in Big Blue Nation

Lexington native Josh Hopkins, came out with cheerleaders Juliet McCreary, left, and Jacquilyn Lopez to do the "Y" , as #1 Kentucky defeated Texas-Arlington 92-44  on Tuesday November 25, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff.

Lexington native Josh Hopkins, came out with cheerleaders Juliet McCreary, left, and Jacquilyn Lopez to do the “Y” , as #1 Kentucky defeated Texas-Arlington 92-44 on Tuesday November 25, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff.

Life is about to get stressful for Lexington native Josh Hopkins.

It’s not that he’s wrapping up a six-season run on the TBS sitcom Cougar Town, playing opposite Courteney Cox, and now has to figure out what his next act is.

It’s something that starts late Sunday: The release of the NCAA brackets and start of the men’s college basketball championship tournament.

“It’s been a joy for me, as for all fans,” says Hopkins, who was in Rupp Arena March 7 to watch the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team complete a perfect season. “Once the brackets come out is when it really stops being a joy for me and just becomes an ulcer.

“Every win, before we get the last one, doesn’t make me happy as much. It just gets me back to medium. I’m just a wreck during the games, because we are the best team, you worry about that one game of not playing well and someone being on fire.”

Hopkins flashes back to the 2010 season with John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, when UK seemed to be cruising to the national championship and then ran into West Virginia in the Elite Eight.

“We were definitely the best team in the country that year, and we just shot really poorly, and they shot the lights out,” Hopkins recalls. “That hurt, because we were definitely the best team that year. We’re definitely the best team this year.

“I just want to cap it off right, and I’m stressed.”

Cougar Town actor Josh Hopkins and his sister Shae on the red carpet at the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs May 3, 2014 in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Amy Wallot.

Cougar Town actor Josh Hopkins and his sister Shae on the red carpet at the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs May 3, 2014 in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Amy Wallot.

He has already capped off a milestone of his own, filming the final episodes of Cougar Town late last year.

In the show, Hopkins played Grayson Ellis who, like Cox’s Jules Cobb, was newly divorced. Her cross-street neighbor, Grayson initially irritated Jules by dating younger women, but the two eventually fell in love and got married.

“My character has definitely had a giant arc on this show,” Hopkins says. “In the pilot, they all had this group and I was not in it. I was the neighbor who thought they were all weird and acted weird. Six years later, I’m married to Jules, thick in the group, and probably one of the weirdest acting characters. They’ve fleshed him out to be this narcissistic, wannabe actor with this weird, outlandish behavior.”

The series itself had an interesting history, starting in 2009 on ABC and running there until TBS bought the show in 2013 and took it to basic cable. Hopkins says the cast enjoyed the somewhat uncommon situation of knowing it was the last season.

“I will probably never, ever film a series finale again and know it’s the series finale,” Hopkins says, noting most series are simply unceremoniously canceled, with no chance to tie things up. “We knew this whole time this was our last season, and we got to appreciate it and have fun. and I think the writers did and the actors did, so we all just enjoyed it.

“To have a six-year run in this fickle business is such a blessing, it hasn’t even really been sad.”

Hopkins says viewers will be happy with the final episode, set to air March 31.

“They did a really good job this season and for the final episode of staying true to the wackiness, and yet every episode ends with a little bit of heart,” Hopkins says. “The finale’s going to have that, and I think they did a really good job of tying everything together — the wackiness and the fun and the family spirit of the show.”
Hopkins, who has a long list of screen credits, acknowledges Cougar Town is the show he is best known for. Now, he is in the process of looking for what is next for him, and projects include a pilot he is filming for NBC.

“Hopefully, I will find something to rival it,” Hopkins says of his Cougar Town success. “But I’ve been blessed to have it.”

Now, the proud member of Big Blue Nation just wants his Wildcats’ season to have a great ending too.

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Getting a taste of SXSW without going to Austin

Houndmouth are drummer Shane Cody, bassist Zak Appleby, keyboardist Katie Toupin and guitarist Matt Myers. Photo by Dusdin Condren.

Houndmouth are drummer Shane Cody, bassist Zak Appleby, keyboardist Katie Toupin and guitarist Matt Myers. Photo by Dusdin Condren.

Sometimes, if you follow music media, you can get the impression that everyone is heading to the South by Southwest music festival this time of year.

Don’t I wish.

That trip isn’t quite in our budget here at the H-L, plus we have quite a lot going on in Lexington, Kentucky, thank you very much. But South by Southwest — excuse me … SXSW — is no doubt an incredibly important and influential event in the global music calendar, so if you are serious about music, you want to keep tabs on what’s going on down there.

One of my favorite ways is the Austin 100, NPR Music‘s playlist of songs by 100 must-hear acts at SXSW. If you listen to NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, which you should, you have heard Stephen Thompson talking about this thing like he’s giving birth. And if you look at it and know a thing or two about putting things together for the web, you understand that is basically what he has been doing.

The 100 is a marvelously diverse collection of songs with some acts I’ve heard, many I haven’t, almost uniformly engaging, with a few keepers for every taste. And keeping is particularly easy on a mobile device because — and this is where I am particularly respectful of the effort —  every track has multiple links for saving or streaming on a variety of platforms including iTunes and Spotify. As I write this, my Austin 100 Spotify playlist is sitting at 34 tracks.

I’ve already sampled this year’s 100 once, and taking the second swing through, I was already finding myself drawn to finds from the first time, like Longview, Texas artist Sunny Sweeney‘s Second Guessing, a bright tune about a life of mistakes leading to a happy ending. Then there’s Torres‘ Strange Hellos, which shifts from quietly to abrasively haunting in a beat.

There were those instant hits like Tuxedo, the union of Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One, with their Number One, which sounds even more ’70s dance-floor retro than Daft Punk. Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear immediately grabbed me with the sunny Silent Movies, or the rapid fire rap of Little Simz (if you hit the link, be advised she is making an obscene gesture in the main photo) and Jakwob’s Devour. There were even acts like Weyes Blood and Jukebox the Ghost that warranted immediate downloading of whole albums.

OK, Jukebox was evidence of one slightly annoying aspect of the list: You had to wonder if the No. 1 way to get to SXSW or onto the Austin 100 was to move to Brooklyn. OK, SXSW is a bit of a hipster convention, and Brooklyn is the hipster capitol of the United States. But still, there were moments it felt like every other band …

But then there were towns like … Louisville! Yes, Kentucky’s largest city with a happening music scene of its own made the cut three times with White Reaper,  Joan Shelley and Houndmouth, whose new album Little Neon Limelight conveniently drops the first day of SXSW, Tuesday.

Of course, hundreds of acts descend on SXSW, and the 100 is simply a very educated listener’s take on the best of the fest. But it is one way to keep plugged in to what’s going on, while we’re up here enjoying March Madness and whatever else it is we do around here.

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