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Couch By Couch Fest: How International Bands Find A Place To Stay Over SXSW

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
(From left): James Brannigan, Mikey Dornan, Patrick Genoe from the Scottish band Tijuana Bibles enjoy breakfast tacos in Robin Dusek's kitchen.

SXSW Music often prides itself on its international flavor, but for some international bands, like Tijuana Bibles, it can be an expensive trip.

The Glaswegian post-punk band is in town for its first SXSW and will be playing a few shows throughout the week – just last night they played a showcase for artists from Glasgow at Hotel Vegas.

But all of that almost didn’t happen because of how much it costs to attend SXSW.

“It was something that came up in conversation,” says lead singer Tony Costello. “Obviously, coming to South By, it’s an ambition for any band, but it's a very expensive thing to do.”

But then their band manager had an idea.

“We can stay at someone’s home and they take you in,” Costello says. “We were like, ‘That sounds pretty cool.’ It sounds like a cool way to sort of see Texas, and Austin, in an authentic way.”

The International Artist Home Share pairs artists with would-be hosts in Austin over the festival. It's been around for 25 of the festival's 31 years.

Austinite Robin Dusek has been a host with the program for almost a decade.

“I somehow came across an article talking about this housing program and that people were able to open their homes,” she says. “I was like, ‘Well I can do that!’”

In the nine years she’s been hosting, Dusek has had as many as seven people in her house at once over SXSW. Her first year, she fit six artists in a 700-square-foot house in Rosedale.

“There were just bodies everywhere, suitcases everywhere, a path to the restroom,” she says. “I mean and you had to like climb over stuff and … one bathroom.” 

Since that first year, she’s moved to a bigger place in Mueller, where Tijuana Bibles is currently staying.

The band members aren’t the only ones benefiting from this transaction. The program gives hosts a free SXSW Music Fest Wristband in return for opening their homes.

For Dusek, who’s been going to SXSW since she first moved to Austin in 2003, it’s about more than just free shows.

“The wristband is awesome,” she says. “But just meeting these people and being part of the experience - that’s the benefit.”

She has hosted bands from New Zealand, Mexico, Canada, London, Sweden and, of course, Scotland. In fact, Tijuana Bibles is her sixth band from Glasgow.

Why so popular in Scotland? Well, it wasn’t long after her first Glaswegian band, Prides, returned home that word spread of Dusek’s hospitality.

“The next year, the housing program contacted me and said, ‘This band [is] friends of Prides and heard about you and want to know if they can stay with you,’” she says. “So I said, ‘Sure, any friends of Prides are a friend of mine.’”

The secret was out, and Dusek’s name jumped from band to band. Tijuana Bibles heard of her and put in a request of their own.

Since they got in town Sunday night, Dusek has tried to give her guests an authentic Austin experience.

“For sure, want to introduce them to breakfast tacos, because you can’t leave Austin without a breakfast taco,” she says. “Barbecue is another big thing. They came in and the first thing they asked about was where you can get barbecue.”

Every year, Dusek makes an effort to take her guests to Salt Lick in Driftwood, so they can have real Texas barbecue. She hasn’t taken them there yet, but she has introduced them to breakfast tacos.

And, so far, Dusek says, the band has been pretty grateful – almost overly so.

“They keep saying, ‘Thank you,’ but the pleasure is all mine because it is so cool,” she says. “It’s my favorite week of the year.”

The feeling’s mutual for Costello and the rest of Tijuana Bibles.

“We’ve got one eye on next year already, and we’ll obviously be hitting up Robin before anyone else does.”

Nadia Hamdan is a local news anchor and host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on KUT.
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