South by is like Mardi Gras at Disneyland: you’re surrounded by music and bacchanalian revelry, and there is no way to see it all in one day.  Or five.  With thousands of artists and dozens of simultaneous shows, one person can only absorb a fraction of the festivities.  MMT went to SXSW planning to be an under-achiever, and handily exceeded those expectations.  So with the understanding that these choices are limited by the narrow lens of personal experience, here are our picks for the SXSW 2011 Sammy Awards.

Best Tweet @funnyordie: Told a cabbie everyone in Texas has been extremely nice. He said, “That’s because we take folks who ain’t & beat the hell out of ’em.”

Best Debut (Foreign)Goldheart Assembly: Although the SXSW site describes them as “London’s alt-pop/anti-folk” group, I prefer the Guardian’s take on selecting them as New Band of the Day No. 496: “This London six-piece are purveyors of lovely melodies, ramshackle beardiness and the sound of banging doors.”  While much of their recorded work is soft and slow, their American debut in Austin at the 512 Rooftop was loud and rocky.

Best Debut (Domestic)Atomic Tom: Our domestic pick has a lot in common with the London lads – strong melodies, sweet harmonies, and songwriting that combines a pleasing mix of British and American pop/rock influences.  Both groups worked at the “band” thing for a few years before releasing their debut albums in 2010, and both produce music with an almost instant likability.

Best Occupation (Overheard at a coffee shop) – “I’m actually an artisanal yogurt-maker.” ~ Atomic Tom’s Facebook Page

Best RestaurantManuels: Superb food with excellent vegetarian rice, beans, tacos and flautas.  Try the verde sauce, and reportedly, Austin’s best margaritas. Still searching for the best vegetarian BBQ.

Best Return Appearance The Strokes: Yeah, we know there are mixed opinions on this one.  But listen to this endorsement from of one of the injured: “I fell, got trampled on, ended up in the hospital with stitches. TOTALLY WORTH IT.” ~ selenaa2009 commenting on SXSW The Strokes Riot

Best Future SXSW Showcase ActPublic Soul: I went off the SXSW grid to join my friend and former bandmate Dave Sebree, founder of the Austin School of Music, at JAX.  Dave had recommended a young group that included 3 graduates of the school’s Rock Camp.  One of the members, Carson Brock, is featured in the video clip below.  Now 17, Carson’s guitar playing, voice, and hair have all matured considerably over the past year.

Best VenueStubb’s BAR-B-Q: Excellent sound, great views, plenty of fully-stocked bars, and firm but polite and respectful security.

Best line from a Cab Company Austin Cab Co. (motto: Taking you where you want to go.) “We have no cabs.”

Best Dressed This was a tough category.  Compared to the denizens of NAMM or Lollapalooza, the attendees and performers at SXSW are a relatively down-to-earth bunch.  Not much high style or glam on display.  Seen here joining the FLASH Parade, what our winner lacks in haute couture she makes up for with homemade charm.

Best Smile Ms. Pamela Des Barres, MC at the Continental Club Rajiworld Show.

photos: David D’Agostino