Twin Cities band The Gully Boys are making their way back to Austin, Texas’s South by Southwest Festival this week. The punk-pop feel good group, known as much for their commitment to community as their danceable sound, traveled to SXSW back in 2019, but it was more of an unofficial tour.
“We did it the DIY way,” says drummer and singer Nadirah McGill, recalling the band’s last trip to the festival. “We played a whole bunch of unofficial showcases, and it was really cool.”
This year, the Gully Boys are making a bigger entrance, performing in an official showcase at the Drafting Room in Austin, presented by SXSW in partnership with Side Door, a new platform that supports bands with logistical help as they book tours around the country. They’ll also play smaller gigs to round things out.
“We are getting a true South by experience,” says vocalist and guitarist Kathy Callahan.
The Gully Boys formed five years ago when Callahan and McGill were both working at Ragstock together in Minneapolis. They had similar taste in music and soon decided to form a band along with Callahan’s childhood friend Natalie Klemond.
They quickly began turning up a following in the Twin Cities, but like all up and coming bands, faced the sometimes unexpected journey of playing at smaller spaces, house parties, and DIY venues when they go on tour.
Once, playing in Baltimore, the Gully Boys played at a Southeast Asian restaurant for an audience of just a couple of people. “They had a spot for us set up, but no one was there,” recalls Klemond.
Even on their most recent tour prior to traveling to SXSW, the band played in a loading dock. The crowd stood on the ramp as the band played on the platform. “The sound wasn’t the greatest ever,” Klemond admits. “But it was a really cool space, and a really interesting way to use the space that was next to a bar.”
In Pittsburgh, they played at a venue called the Mr. Roboto Project for an all-ages crowd. “It looks like a storefront, but they just built a little stage in the back,” McGill says. “It’s technically a venue space recognized by the state and the city, but it stays true to our DIY ethos.”
Mariah Mercedes, the newest Gully Boy, having joined officially in December, notes that audiences aren’t all that different in those offbeat spaces compared to traditional venues, though they often have more focus. “They tend to just want to listen,” Mercedes says.
The problem with many such spaces is they often aren’t the most accessible. McGill recalls playing in spaces where people were smoking cigarettes inside, or you have to walk down a flight of steep, decrepit stairs to get to someone’s basement.
Their most recent tour to the east coast was the Gully Boys’ least DIY tour they’ve done so far. “We’ve played in people’s basements and in unconventional spaces, but this tour we just completed felt like we’re taking it a step up,” McGill says.
The band also now works with an agent and a manager, as opposed to booking everything themselves. Callahan says it’s been a relief to have some help. “I feel like if we were doing it all ourselves like we used to, I would go crazy,” she says.
Now that the Gully Boys are more established than when they first started out, they can demand a bit better care while on the road. “We can ask for things like free water bottles now,” Callahan says.
Being on tour, Callahan says, is like a glorified moving job. Since their gear got stolen from their van last fall, the band has been bringing in everything at every location. They often encounter lots of stairs on which have to lug everything up and down. “I honestly feel stronger every day,” Callahan says.
What do you pack when you go on tour? Mercedes has learned quickly that they need to edit down a bit. “I have a better idea of what I’ll need,” Mercedes says. On their last tour, Mercedes brought a laptop and all their recording equipment, only to use it once. “It’s scary though, to go without that” Mercedes says.
For their trip to SXSW, the Gully Boys are working with Side Door, which is kind of like Airbnb for music gigs. It’s been around since 2017, mostly based in Canada. The brand’s partnership with SXSW was initially supposed to take place in 2020, and is now finally being realized as they host the Gully Boys along with Abstract Rude (Los Angeles, CA), JUNACO (Los Angeles, CA), S.C.A.B (Ridgewood, NY), and Status/Non-Status (London, ON).
“With Side Door, it’s really cool because it feels exactly what we like to do,” says McGill. “They’ve been a massive help getting us down to SXSW.”
Side Door CEO Laura Simpson says the company began as a way to make touring more accessible and easy to navigate for artists. The platform has the capacity to manage ticketing, booking, and payout services. “It is built to be a DIY platform that any artist or any potential host can sign up to use,” Simpson says. “For us, this SXSW project is a demonstration to broadcast the kind of shows that we’re able to create. But anyone can go out and without a barrier, create a profile to be an artist or host and then connect with someone else to create a show.”