Scottish singer and songwriter Dan Willson, who plays as Withered Hand, learned about a week before he was to depart for the States to play a half-dozen gigs at SXSW and do a three-city mini-tour, that his visa application had been rejected by U.S. immigration officials. The reason? More evidence was needed to prove that he'd achieved "significant recognition" and had "extraordinary musical ability" - as if being invited to play at SXSW, one of just 17 Scottish artists, and releasing a well-received new album, Good News, wasn't enough.
Stunned and facing the loss of thousands of pounds (it costs him about $4000 between the visa application and an expedited appeal), Willson reached out to his record label Absolutely Kosher, his fans and friends who began an online petition. International and UK press followed and other musicians and radio stations took up his cause. Miraculously, Willson's visa was approved just hours before he was to leave for the States.
"Through my amazing visa agency Tamizdat and the graciousness of Creative Scotland, I received a great deal of support and advice and with their assistance, and that of U.S. officials, we managed to get everything in place to be able to secure my visa," explained Willson when the decision came through. "Whilst there was a lot of stress and delays we only had to cancel one show and I was able to get my original flight."
As a nice coda to his anxious tale, Willson played several additional gigs in the States, in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. As for his album Good News, which was just released last week, you can check it out here.
Given his stressful escapades, The Alternate Side thought that Dan would have an especially poignant perspective on SXSW and we asked him to do a blog for us ... and he kindly agreed:
Arriving in Austin from NYC was quite something. Firstly the weather was many degrees hotter. The BBC had to film my arrival for a documentary they were making, which was weird as we had to re shoot me coming down the escalator. I had totally forgotten they would be there but it was sweet to see them again! Also greeting me were the couple who had agreed to host me via the International Hosting Programme, David and Pam. It was great to meet them after the emails we had exchanged.
Driving to their house was my first time of realizing I was now in USA proper. Flat expansive views, motels and cowboy hats. David and Pam's home, a little way out of town, provided some sanity and good conversation in contrast to the furious cacophony that is downtown Austin during SXSW.
It added alot to the quality of my stay and we shared several memorable meals together, as well as a couple of shows. In fact, they drove me to many of my engagements and were kind enough to attend and recommend my shows to friends and relatives, having hosted bands for many years.
I tried to take these photos to show people how I experienced SXSW. It was confusing and overwhelming in many ways and thrilling in others. My shows went pretty well, especially once my first set was over and I had a handle on it. I played four sets in three days against a backdrop of battling a cold, sleeplessness and unintentional cough medicine abuse.
I ate mostly well, the food in Austin can be very good. I met some lovely people. There was a lot of camaraderie between the Scottish based bands especially and finally hooking up with my US label, Absolutely Kosher, meant I rarely felt alone.
SXSW for me was a blur of great food, strong lager, listless evening crowds, frustrating wifi connections, noise pollution and best made plans coming unstuck by a bewildering array of options for every moment of the day.
People sometimes have an idea that SXSW is just an industry-centric circus but it is truly a phenomenon attended by music lovers of all persuasions. It's hard to measure what, if anything at all, will come from attending it, but it was both unlike anything else I have ever experienced before and my shows were mostly busy. I couldn't ask for more than that.