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South by Southwest was the scene


  • Morrissey.

Downtown Austin was teeming with rock stars, hipsters, quirks and eccentrics, and there was no rest for me — and I’m sure the other music fan attendees of the South by Southwest Music Conference — with so many things going on.

A trip to the SXSW trade show meant seeing record labels galore, instrument companies and countless magazines. I think mostly on the idealistic, artistic side of music; I never realized how big the industry is, how corporate and how much wheeling and dealing goes on, nationwide and worldwide, within it.

There were booths from Japan, Ireland, Iceland and Canada, a real League of Music Nations. Alliances are made, people buy and sell, well, people (or at least their talent). I’m not dogging it: It can make or break some artists’ dreams, and the scope of what goes on behind the art of music was almost overwhelming. But, I also got a lot of cool schwag from some of the booths — buttons, CDs, multiple music mags, and a Score: a bumper sticker from a bookstore that stated, “I’d rather be reading Bukowski.” (Smirk.)

But most important to my visit was the music.

My only complaint is that with some of the scheduling, I was not able to catch everything that I wanted — various shows overlapped others I wanted to catch. I was able to hit on most of my prime choices, and did not leave unsatisfied, though a bit drained from all the hustling and hoofing from place to place.

My first night out (Wednesday, March 15) afforded the opportunity to catch Little Rock royalty American Princes at Nuno’s Upstairs (I later hiked it up Congress Saturday afternoon for their Yep Roc label party). The Princes are perfect for Yep Roc, fitting right in to the talented pool of creative artists. From what I saw, they are all professional and marketable (in a good way), but also had an infectious, fun-loving presence that had spectators at their shows rock-boppin’ their heads to “Rock ’n’ Roll Singer” and “Revolver,” among others. I spoke with them briefly and they said they were proud to “represent” the state.

Their new album, “Less and Less,” will be out April 4.

American Princes on Saturday at the Yep Roc party were preceded by Tres Chicas and — a highlight for me — uber-punk, political dissident and advocate of the working class/poor man Billy Bragg, who was as down to earth and fantastic as one would expect. We heard (with a mouthful of great cockney) “Greetings to the New Brunette (Shirley),” a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd,” and his own protest song “No Power Without Accountability,” as well as Bragg’s political views, which go hand in hand with his music. He was brilliant, as some Brits might say.

I also spotted Ben Nichols of Lucero, who was at the Wednesday Princes show, and was able to catch the now declared Memphis-based band’s show at Red 7 on Friday night, to a packed house. Several dozen people were jammed together at the front and were calling out requests for their favorites, like “Chain Link Fence.”

Sorry to say I missed the local metal band Rwake on Saturday night: They were in the Sixth Street area of the festival and I was far away from the venue, and had no time to make it.

And there was more to it than the Sixth Street perimeter: The festival spilled out into the peripheral area across the river on Congress, where the Continental Club and Stubb’s BBQ had choice acts all week long. The festival was HUGE, with more than 1,300 bands of all types: rock, pop-rock, avant garde, experimental, country, folk, blues, jazz and so on and on.

My biggest thrills: Morrissey, The Eagles of Death Metal, Wanda Jackson and Richie Furay.

I also caught former Arkansan Dana Falconberry, Brazz Tree, the Black Diamond Heavies, Tralala, the Lovemakers, the Thin Man, the Cool Groove, Modena Vox, the Cripps, Corrine Bailey Rae, Richard Hawley, the Weary Boys, Stardeath and the White Dwarfs, the Dresden Dolls, Slick Ballinger. There were more that I caught in passing, too many to name.

Who I most regretted missing because of overlapping times: Kris Kristofferson and Jessi Coulter, the Pretenders, the Beastie Boys, Uncle Earl, Juliette and the Licks, Goldfrapp, Blowfly, Ruthie Foster, The Minus Five, Gogol Bordello, A.J. Croce, Scott Biram, Neko Case, Honky, Echo and the Bunnymen, Rosanne Cash and, again, too many more to name.

I did blog faithfully at each of the shows I attended at www.arktimes.com. If you missed it, ask me all about it next time you see me; I would love to share. Thanks to Peter Read at Nightflying, an original founder of the festival, for paving the way for me to be there.

The vibe for the week was creative, open-minded, friendly, accepting, curious, but no time for dilly-dallying. Lots of tats, tits, Chuck T’s, Beck and Gwen Stefani look-alikes, cool DIY fashions — and the city, despite what some of the less exposed may think, was not at all ungodly, despite the many different types of folks that walked around. There was a singular grain of spirituality emanating on the streets, and music — or the love of it — was the common bond.


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