Bob Boilen

In the midst of all the chaos that is Austin, Texas during the SXSW Music Festival, we seek moments of calm. And so one night, as the week was nearing its end, we made our way to the courtyard of St. David's Episcopal Church, just a few blocks from the thousands of festival participants and onlookers.

Two weeks ago, we reached out to Haley Heynderickx, a three-time Tiny Desk Contest entrant and Slingshot artist, about writing for the Tiny Desk Contest newsletter. "The Tiny Desk Contest changed my life," she said, so we asked her to tell that story in her own words:

Hello everyone!

It's the most wonderful time of the year! At least it is for avid music fans like us and anyone else attending the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. The annual endurance challenge gets underway this week, with thousands of bands from around the world — and many more fans — converging on the city for a seemingly endless bender of live performances — shows both big and small that last all day, every day, into the wee hours of the morning, with music pouring out of every club, restaurant, street corner and alleyway for miles.

An American treasure came to the Tiny Desk and even premiered a new song. John Prine is a truly legendary songwriter. For more than 45 years the 71-year-old artist has written some of the most powerful lyrics in the American music canon, including "Sam Stone," "Angel From Montgomery," "Hello In There" and countless others.

Every year for the past four years we've had a Tiny Desk Contest (there's one going on right now), and though only one band can officially win the competition, thousands enter. I inevitably end up discovering so much wonderful music while going through the submissions.

Out of nearly 700 performances at the Tiny Desk, this is simply the most exhilarating one I've experienced. The instrumentation is unusual, with pulsing bass sounds produced by a wonderful combination of cello, tuba and electronics. It's all rhythmically propelled by an astonishing drummer and Meredith pounding a pair of floor toms. And much of the repetitive melody is keyboard-and-guitar-driven that morphs and erupt with earth-shaking fervor.

Vagabon: Tiny Desk

Feb 23, 2018

Laetitia Tamko, the artist known as Vagabon, is a 25-year-old, Cameroon-born musician with a big, tenor voice just bursting with new musical ideas. I've seen her as a solo artist, with a band and, here at the Tiny Desk, both solo and with a bassist.

River Whyless is a band whose members push themselves toward perfection while holding each other up and allowing for some risk-taking. This is a band not only of strong players and singers but something a lot of bands rarely have: multiple, talented songwriters.

The music of Nick Hakim occupies a space and time that is faintly out of this world. The guitars and machinery that make up his music feel slightly askew, as though someone slowed down the tape machine every once in a while. His raspy voice feels drenched in a cavernous space. In fact, the first time I met Nick Hakim, he was literally draped in fiber optics, as if stars were surrounding him.