It’s Tuesday at noon and I’m looking for Headhunters, a bar downtown that’s hosting “This is Austin, Not L.A.” an unofficial comedy showcase with a very punk rock vibe. The goal today is to tell some jokes in the heart of the festival. Cameron Buchholtz, comedy mega brain and former Oklahomie, has messaged the show’s curator on my behalf. There’s no guarantee that he can get me on but if I show up and there’s an open slot, all bets are off. This all hinges on me finding the place.
Fifteen minutes have elapsed and I’m still pacing between the same stretch of buildings, trying to call anybody who knows this city.
My phone rings. It’s Cameron.
“How goes it?” he says.
“What’s up dude? I think I’m lost. I’m on 8th and Red River but I can’t find Headhunters.”
“Oh yeah. Everybody still calls it Headhunters but it’s really Metal and Lace now.”
“Metal and Lace?” I say, scanning my surroundings. Across the street I see a building adorned in non-functioning gears and cogs bearing the name Metal and Lace: Steam Punk Lounge. Turning the name over in my brain, I think the name Metal and Lace sounds a bit erotic for lunchtime and/or stand-up comedy.
“It’s right on the corner,” Cameron says. “You can’t miss it.”
“I think I see it. What the fuck is a steam punk lounge?”
“Who knows? The Bar Rescue guys did this.”
If you’re not a manly man, you might have some questions running through your head right about now. The first of which being, “What’s Bar Rescue?” Well, have I got a manswer for you. Bar Rescue is a popular show on Spike where a very American Gordon Ramsey rip-off tries to save failing bars ala Kitchen Nightmares. It sounds dumb, but I watched a mini-marathon in my hotel room last year before doing a show. It’s amazingly addictive.
“Bar Rescue did this?” I say.
“Yeah. They thought it would make the bar more marketable this way. But who knows.”
“All right. I’m going in. Thanks dude.”
As I walk towards the building, I see bands hauling gear in every direction. Their aura reeks of excitement and anxiety, which I’m guessing stems from the rat race mentality that performers fall victim to at large festivals. I’ve been there before and I’ll be there again. Being in a band who’s playing in the daytime at SXSW is like being a young Goran Dragic at the NBA All-Star game. You know you have the potential to hoop with best ballers in the world, even if the world doesn’t quite know it yet.
Inside Metal and Lace, no one feels this pressure. It’s non-existent. Everyone is laid back and friendly. I’m hanging out at the bar, taking shots with other comics when the show starts. For 1 p.m. in the afternoon, the energy in the room is great. Or it’s possible, I’m just happy to hear new jokes in a new city. Cameron shows up three comics into the show, taps me on the shoulder and says I’m next. I do five minutes and have more fun doing comedy than I thought was possible this early in the day. This is SXSW and so far, so good.