For many of my fellow students the end of Spring Break means it is time to abandon the beach, shed a tear, and return to the classrooms from which you escaped only a short time ago. However, being the nonconformist rebel that I am, I decided to put off my return to scholastic greatness and take an extra week to pursue some experiential learning in Austin, TX. From March 17 to March 22 I attended the music portion of South by Southwest, a large conference in Austin that attracts a wide variety of people and artists. I attended to view panels, network with professionals, and see as many shows as I could before heading back to school. I knew I would see a lot of high-profile artists and secret performances during my short time in Austin, but nothing could have prepared me for the second time I saw James Bay perform live.
Don’t get me wrong – the first time I saw him was also amazing. When arriving at SXSW everyone makes a makeshift list of artists they want to see during the week and I had no plans to see Bay perform. I had heard his single “Let It Go” and liked it, but it wasn’t something I was going to go out of my way to see. Luckily, and despite my ignorance, he came to me. A few friends and I were walking through the Austin convention center when we heard music coming from one of the rooms and decided to check it out. It was Bay and one other guy on the stage performing a very stripped-down set for a crowd of around 100 people and after the second or third song I was hooked.
Each song was simple enough in the instrumentation, with straightforward drum beats accented by Bay strumming his guitar. What made them all special was the raw power and emotion that came in the vocals. You couldn’t help but become fixated on him the minute he began to sing. To top it all off, between songs he was an extremely friendly guy. He would crack jokes, tell a quick story, and then move on to the next few songs. By the end of the quick performance I had already decided that I needed to see him again before SXSW was over.
A few days later Bay was performing at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, where Sam Smith had performed the year before. This time he was backed by a full band and the church was packed wall-to-wall. He opened up strong with “Collide,” then immediately slowed it down and played “Move Together” as his second song. This is a serene song on the album and doesn’t do remote justice to how beautiful it sounds in person. I was doing all I could to prevent myself from tearing up. I recognized a few of the songs from when I saw him a few days earlier but since this was a longer set and his album hadn’t been release yet more than half of these songs were completely new to me.
Before I knew what happened, the show was over and I was in the line of girls out in the hallway to try and meet him. Normally I’m not the type, but I needed to try and meet him. To his credit, he met with each and every person one-on-one and I even got a photo with him! I bought his album the day it came out and haven’t stopped listening to it. If you haven’t yet, I suggest you do the same. There isn’t a song on it that I don’t like.
Seeing James Bay live is a truly spiritual experience but listening to the album is the next best thing.
Photos courtesy of Cormac Dennehy