We are in Shreveport, La., eating dinner. At the table with Finn Riggins are assorted members of two heavily buzzing bands also on their way to SXSW: Aan and Radiation City. Signed pictures of Ed Bradley, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top and Steve, the security guard from the Jerry Springer show adorn the walls.
The lively conversation is fueled by a dangerous house rum concoction called The Blind Tiger. The laughter and tour stories turn to a consensus that tonight's show—featuring the bands at the table, a local act called Dead Zebra and Chicago's Maps and Atlases—is going to be fantastic. Maybe even better than Norman, Okla., which Radiation City says was tip-top. Shreveport may not be able to handle the bombs about to be dropped on it.
After another round of Blind Tigers, we pile back in our respective vans and cruise through miles of empty buildings with more graffiti than roofs. The only building that isn't in some state of ruin is a 24-hour bail bondsman's office, which has a fresh coat of paint and a planter box out front. The venue is deep in this heart of darkness; a perfect location to get as loud and out of control as we expect the show will be.
But when we walk in, the room is nearly empty. A dozen kids mill around a space fit for hundreds. That number is less than the 14 that were at dinner, and when you add the members of Maps and Atlases and Dead Zebra, it is half the number of musicians slated to perform tonight. Dead Zebra was waiting for the other bands to get back from dinner so there would be an audience.
I ask Lisa Simpson, guitarist for Finn Riggins how many nights are like this on the road.
"More often than not," she says.
"Even with an all-star lineup like this one?" I ask.
"Just because a band is big doesn't mean they're big here," Simpson says. "And it can be hard to get people to come out every night of the week."
And it can be especially difficult for promoters to get people out in the month of March, when there is a deluge of top-notch bands heading to and from Austin, Texas.
A few more audience members trickle in over the evening, and combined with the total musicians there is something loosely resembling a crowd when Maps and Atlases takes the stage around midnight. We are told there are 33 paid entrants and the promoter lost around $1,500 on the show.
After the show, we pack up and head to Fayetteville, Ark., to play with Presto Bando, which is making its way to SXSW from Washington, D.C. The venue is a tiny dive bar with a dance floor smaller than the average bedroom. El Ten Eleven played here the night before. Including musicians and bar staff, there are 19 people at the show.