I spent most of a week chasing music around the edges — and sometimes the beastly middle — of SXSW, with old friends in from out of town.
Usually, having gotten my dose of inspiration and exhaustion during SXSWedu, I avoid the entire affair, searching out musician friends playing the seriously off-to-the-side shows. But with Marty & Annie coming in from Oakland, I jumped in as congenial (and curmudgeonly) host and driver, steering us clear of the worst of the mess with a simple guideline: no lines. Well, we had to break that a time or two (hello, Austin Music Awards!) but we skipped some showcases due to lines. Oh, and we generally pulled the plug early — when you’ve seen 4 hours of music by 6pm, supper and relaxing for the evening works out really well.
Here’s a quick wrap-up of our lazy, whirlwind spin around the glitter-lined black hole that is the Fun Vortex of SXSW. It is, by necessity, an incomplete list.
Big Cat — Malford Milligan’s new band — ’nuff said.
Curtis McMurtry — 3rd generation master storyteller, 2nd generation haunting songwriter, performed with cellist from Mother Falcon
James McMurtry — sardonically proud papa in a solo acoustic performance, showcasing not only his stunning lyric images but fine fingerwork laying down the tune to help tell the tales. I especially loved hearing him play Peter Pan:
“And I can’t grow up
Cuz I’m too old now.
Guess I really did it this time, mom.”
Robbie Fulks — my surprise of the day, and a recurring theme for the next couple of days.
Greezy Wheels — the house band of the Armadillo World Headquarters. or was it Soap Creek Saloon? or the Lone Star Cafe? or just THE Austin house band of the 70s, rather recently reincarnated and having themselves a grand time showing us the same old good time.
Don Pedigo — second on the Maria’s line-up that day, and another great surprise.
We tried for a showcase over at the Historic Scoot Inn, but encountered a line that was not moving.
After grabbing some tasty coffee at the Texas Coffee & Tea Traders, we made a scoot across town instead, zig-zagging to avoid the SX-Snarled Traffic to catch the Belle Sounds at Strange Brew Loungeside. First time I’d seen this band — but it sure won’t be the last!
2016 Austin Music Awards — what can I say but — wowza!
The evening showcased several thematically-based sets, from Freaks & Geeks (Mother Falcon meets the Golden Dawn Arkestra) to Blazing Bows (featuring fiddlers Warren Hood, Erik Hokannen, Carrie Rodriguez, Jason Roberts and Alvin Crow) to a triple-set salute to: the 20th Anniversary of SIMS Foundation (supporting the mental health needs of Austin musicians) and the re-opening of Antone’s (downtown, where it belongs!) and the late, great Paul Ray, and his radio show Twine Time.
By the time you’ve got Robert Plant onstage with Jimmy Vaughan and Charlie Sexton and too many more great musicians to count, much less call out by name — you’ve even forgotten waiting an extra hour in line.
What a show!
Then strolling back up Red River to their hotel, we stopped briefly outside the Mohawk where we saw crowds both inside and outside. “Who’s playing in there?” we asked.
“Erykah Badu.” SXSW — crazy in every which way there is.
In many ways, Thursday was the perfect SXSW day for us: we spent all day in one spot — now that’s SXSW done right! We were aiming for another showcase 2 blocks away but got turned off by the line, so we doubled back to catch the New Americana Party at the Craftsman, with bands on both inside & outside stages.
The only band I knew of on this list was the Band of Heathens but we liked nearly all of them (with a notable exception I will not share with you).
Several stood out overall beyond the Band of Heathens (who I already loved) — just listing them with links here, rather than trying to recapture their sound in some short descriptive phrase. Mostly, they were just, well, great!
Elise Davis — who opened for Leon Rusell the next day out at Luckenbach!
We strolled S. Congress for much of the afternoon — round 1, starting at the Yard Dog — caught Rosie Flores rockin’ it there (with an assist from Robbie Fulks for a song). Later, we took a short stroll down to South by San Jose with a brief stop for tacos (and incidental music — meaning I don’t know who it was and they didn’t say. C’mon bands — you’re playing SXSW for wider exposure — so tell us your name after EVERY song!) from Guero’s Taco Bar.
We returned to S. Congress again on Saturday — did a Yard Dog redux but the bands we caught didn’t strike our fancy as much.
Our big surprise for the day came down the street at the South by San Jose parking lot show, with BP Fallon and band (including a crown-less Joe “King” Carrasco), especially this tune.
Note: the video comes from 2015 but the band overlapped everyone except adding another guitarist (sorry, don’t know the name) and dropping the drummer— they didn’t need one to rock SXSJ.
When BP introduced the band, I especially loved his description of Ann Marie Lewis:
“She sings like a flamethrower with lips — she sizzles like an ice cube on the cookstove!”
The final music set we caught was Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. By this time, the parking lot had become overcrowded and they had to delay the show to get 300 people to leave. We stayed, as Marty had seen and recommended his act. Still, it turned out to be their 12th — and final — SXSW show, so the energy was a little more low-key than Marty remembered it. I didn’t point out that we were, too — but we definitely were.
We headed back to our house and found Sara had dinner ready for us. And whereas one of the shows I’d been most excited to see all week long was later that night, we ended up blowing off that show to sit and visit with our friends instead. It was a good choice and a great evening.
We played tourist with our out-of-towners!
From strolling the Capitol grounds and its grand interior to a slow drive up and down the Drag to walking along Town Lake (okay, Lady Bird Lake…some of us OAFs —Old Austin Farts — still call it Town Lake) from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s statue to the top of Doug Sahm Hill to the middle of our marvelous pedestrian bridge.
Yeah. We played tourist — saw things we’d never seen despite living here the last half of forever…
So long, SXSW — see ya next year.