Ballroom D, on the fourth floor of the Austin Convention Center, is a cavernous, charmless room, colored in corporate grays and tans. But on March 14, when the room was transformed into the “Radio Day Stage” for the South by Southwest Music Conference, the smell of sterility was overwhelmed by a whiff of skepticism. Much of what’s left of the music industry had crowded into the SRO room to hear the Alabama Shakes, to see if the buzz band of the moment could possibly live up to its hype. After all, this group of four twentysomethings from small-town Alabama was appearing on magazine covers and being touted by Paste, The New York Times and NPR before they’d even released a debut album. I was just one of dozens of music critics in the room with arms crossed and notebooks ready, doubtful the band could live up to expectations.
Taking the stage were three skinny, clean-shaven guys (guitarist Heath Fogg, drummer Steve Johnson and guest keyboardist Ben Tanner), the bushy-bearded bassist Zac Cockrell and the big-boned female singer Brittany Howard. She wore a plaid shirt, black capris and nerdy, black-frame glasses stuck in her unruly hair. Their odd, small-town-Southern appearance was a good sign—at least they weren’t being hyped because they looked like L.A. models TBC HERE