Nothing surprised local band Hudson River School more than winning the Salt Lake South by Southwest finals.

"We were at the Zephyr and we were ready to leave," guitarist/vocalist Bobby Brinton said. "We just thought it would be a great party to play with some of our friends. And we didn't think we had a chance. When they announced we had won the competition, we just couldn't believe it."

Hudson River School wasn't planning to win the semifinals at Cassidy's the week before, let alone the finals. "We got the entry form for the semifinals and said, 'Whatever,' " said bassist Steve Babcock. "And when we played the semifinals, we ended up being the one chosen from 70 other bands.

"My wife likes those kinds of things and basically forced us to stay. Then we were announced as the winner. My first reaction was 'What?' "

Over sandwiches at Quizno's, Babcock, Brinton and guitarist Spencer Jacobs sat down for an interview (drummer Greg Baker couldn't get away from his day job) about their surprising good fortune, which included tickets to play the South by Southwest media and music conference held in Austin, Texas, a couple of weeks ago.

But instead of going simply to play in one of the 50 clubs as one of 950 bands at the conference, the boys in HRS decided to make the excursion an educational opportunity. "We were only supposed to go for two days and play one night," said Jacobs. "But we were able to stay the whole time. We wanted to attend the workshops and discussions and meet people as well as play the gig. We wanted to learn all we could before coming back."

The Hudson River School was formed last year when Jacobs, Brinton and Babcock decided to play music together. After a few drummer changes, which would make Spinal Tap proud, the band found Baker.

"We all wanted to be in a band and hang out with each other," said Babcock, who moved to Utah from his native Idaho just to be in a band.

"We also wanted to do all we could to make a living playing music," said Brinton.

"We wanted it to be more than just an expensive hobby," said Jacobs. "And that's still what we're trying to do."

After forming, the band played local clubs and even opened for Sunny Day Real Estate. And the fan base grew, eventually leading to the SXSW gig.

"It was good for us," said Jacobs. "We learned a lot and made a lot of contacts."

"We took a lot of demos down with us, too," said Brinton. "And every chance we got, we attended the workshops and talked with the people on the panels."

"And those contacts have panned out," said Babcock. "We've been contacted by a lot of people who heard our demo and checked out our Web site ( www.hudsonriverschool.com)."

"Now, we're looking into legal representation," said Jacobs. "We realized while we were at SXSW that we needed legal reps to make sure we're doing what we're suppose to be doing."

In the meantime, the band's debut album, "Scenes from a Vinyl Recliner," is selling at local CD shops, and the band is working on new songs for a new release.

"Whether or not the contacts we made a SXSW come through for us, we're still going to play music," said Babcock. "We get together three times a week and have put in a lot of time. It's our escape from work and, regardless if we get signed to a major label, we'll still be playing music as long as we can."