Big Bands Make A Texas-Size Bang

Has the fest's music conference gotten too big for its cowboy britches? The answer in 2012 is a resounding yes as arena-worthy acts descend on Austin.

Bruce Springsteen
March 15, Location TBA

The Boss delivers the keynote address March 15 at the Austin Convention Center. Hours later, Springsteen and his E Street Band will take the stage at an "intimate venue" with a capacity of several hundred. By comparison, his previous tour in 2009 included five sold-out nights at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, where he played to about 400,000 people. His 2012 trek promoting the new album Wrecking Ball kicks off in Atlanta on March 18.

Norah Jones
March 17, La Zona Rosa

Ten years after becoming a household name (thanks to the eight Grammys won for her 2002 album Come Away With Me), the jazz singer takes a musical turn, enlisting producer Danger Mouse (The Black Keys, Gnarls Barkley) for her album Little Broken Hearts. Typically booked in traditional theaters, Jones will play at this club in Austin's industrial area, among several SXSW stops.

John Mayer
March 17, Stubb's

Marking his first time back at SXSW since a career-launching bow in 2000, Mayer will debut songs from his forthcoming album, Born and Raised (due out May 22), on St. Patrick's Day. The show also will serve as a warm-up for Mayer's upcoming theater tour, which kicks off April 9 in Bloomington, Ind. David Crosby and Graham Nash appear on the record, prompting some to wonder whether they might make a cameo at the iconic barbecue joint.

Fiona Apple
March 15, Central Presbyterian Church

The elusive and often controversial singer is scheduled to make several South By appearances ahead of her much-anticipated new album. Apple headlines Pitchfork's showcase but also will perform at NPR's Stubb's kickoff March 14, joining buzz band Alabama Shakes and indie stalwarts The Magnetic Fields on the bill.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show
March 17, Paramount Theatre

Following the theatrical premiere of Big Easy Express, a documentary that chronicles the sights and sounds of the 2011 railroad tour featuring last year's biggest-selling rock act (Mumford) along with music-supervisor darlings the Magnetic Zeros and Nashville string outfit Old Crow Medicine Show, all three bands will hit the Paramount stage for an acoustic set.

Big Star Tribute
March 15, Paramount Theatre

When Big Star singer Alex Chilton died of a heart attack in 2010, fans scrambled to organize a SXSW tribute. This year, after a screening of the Big Star doc Nothing Can Hurt Me, disciples such as R.E.M.'s Mike Mills and Peter Buck and The Posies' Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow will join Big Star drummer Jody Stephens for a proper celebration of the seminal band's songs.

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… BUT IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT BIG ACTS: 5 small(ish) bands making a big buzz.

Big Deal: Since the band's debut in the fall on Mute, the U.K. has been abuzz with praise for this boy-girl guitar duo. SXSW will host their first U.S. shows, but already their raw, grungy torn-up love songs have aired on NBC's Parenthood.

Milo Greene: The four-song EP The Hello Sessions put the folksy pop quintet on the map, while a tour with Grammy winners Civil Wars spurred radio play for the single "1957." A full-length album is on tap in the summer via music supervisor extraordinaire Alexandra Patsavas' Chop Shop Records, with Atlantic Records' major-label support sure to give it a boost.

Grimes: The quirky Canadian chanteuse, performance artist and blogger darling will be one of SXSW's not-to-be-missed acts. Since she released her third album, Visions, on 4AD in February, the web has been buzzing over whether this singer and beatmaker, whom some have compared to Lady Gaga, might be the next big thing. If indie tastemakers have their way, it will be so.

Haim: The three Haim sisters grew up singing Fleetwood Mac classics with their parents in a family band. With just three songs from their self-released EP Forever, the soulful rockers have international tour dates lined up as well as major and indie labels knocking at their door begging for more.

Nick Waterhouse: The Bay Area-bred newcomer with a retro-soul sound has seen his tunes picked up for use on CSI, MTV and The CW, among others. A full-length is in the works via up-and-coming label Innovative Leisure. -- Colin Stutz

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