South By Southwest, Austin, TX, March13-17, 1997
For those of you that have been anticipating this article from my "Upcoming Events" link, I apologize for my tardiness. Also, Imight have been a little over zealous when I predicted "full coverage of South bySouthwest". The magnitude of the event has caused me to be able to report only on thesmall portion of it that I got to see. South by Southwest is an incredible showcase ofbands from all over the world that converge upon Austin, TX once a year. Austin has beencalled "The Live Music Capital" and for good reason. Every inch of Austin can beconverted into a music venue, including restaurants, parking lots, and coffee houses. Over1000 bands played there during a 5 day span. I was only there for two nights, Friday andSaturday, but got to see several good acts in multiple venues. Each venue had a five bandlineup and moved each artist in and out within an hour. For the most part, all the clubsstayed on schedule and did a really professional job. Many bands have come out of South BySouthwest with the proper exposure to hit the big time, like Cake and Soul Coughing, who were playing the larger venuesthis time around.
The crowds in Austin are great for seeing live music. Everyone there seemed to trulyappreciate good, original music, and was game for a variety of styles from rock to countryto blues to jazz and lots in between. Although a lot of the weekend is still a blur, hereis a general account of what I was able to experience. I have made an effort to identifylinks for all the bands I saw so you can fill in some of the details I might have leftout.
On Friday night, I met up with a friend who lives in Austin and she had recruited acouple other music lovers for our adventure. We started out at Liberty Lunch with hopesthat we could meet up with some others, but the place was so packed that it was nearlyimpossible to even think about tracking someone down. We only heard a few strains of oneband, Helium, and because we werenot terribly impressed, we had to move on. Next stop was the Waterloo, where we heard acouple of songs by a group called TheHaynes Boys from Columbus, OH. I remember them being very good, but only heard thetail end of their set. Next was The Picketts from Seattle, WA. They had an interestinglineup, strongly weighted toward a variety of guitars, a lead singer that played a drumkit, and a female lead that had an excellent acoustic guitar style. They were heavilyinfluenced by the rockabilly sound, but had some very nice ballads and straight rocksongs. The first several songs had some catchy lyrics relying on cliches, "ActionsSpeak Louder Than Words" and "Dont Let the Little Things Get YouDown", as well as an interesting cover of The Clashs "Should I Stay orShould I Go?" I couldnt find too much about this group on the Internet, exceptone reference to their membership being composed of former members of the Young Fresh Fellows. Hopefully, wellbe hearing more from them, because they had a talented and diverse sound that was a lot offun to experience.
After the Picketts, we were a little too cold to continue standing outside at theWaterloo, so we hit Ruta Maya for some coffee where Rebecca Gates was playing. She is fromPortland, OR and is actually a member of a group called The Spinanes. She had a niceacoustic sound, perfect for the coffee house environment, and even did a little playfulmale-bashing in her song that had originally been titled "The Death of the USMale" (cant remember the real title). After the coffee, we headed to B-side andcaught the end of Charlie Robison, a local of Austin, who had a nice country rock sound.Charlie was eventually followed by Jo Carol Pierce, whowas quite an experience. A native Texan, she had an interesting way of weaving storiesabout personal relationships and childhood into her songs. She played keyboard and wasbacked by several guitarists that offered the male commentary on the stories. Jo Caroltalked about when suicide was good ("in the morning, so you wouldnt have toendure the rest of the day" or "the first day of a new job, so the next day youcould call in dead"), revelations at the HEB Pantry, and the tale of Secret Dan, adisappointing lover. I personally found her very entertaining, but our one male compadrehad no interest in her long winded style. Jo Carol has definitely had some interestingmusical influences in her life, having grown up with Joe Elyand Jimmie Dale Gilmore (who she eventuallymarried and divorced).
On Saturday, we decided to take a different approach and stick with one venue for theentire night. We chose La Zona Rosa for its primarily TX band lineup and the fact that itincluded Sister 7 who I had missed earlier inthe week in Houston and RobertEarl Keen , a TX favorite. The second evening started with a disappointing dinner atLa Zona Rosa because we could never get seated. There was apparently an Arista RecordsShowcase going on in another room and the few tables that were left were being camped outin by others waiting for the show to begin outdoors. After grabbing a few warm tortillasoff the buffet, we ended up having the grilled corn and chopped beef sandwiches (picklesandwich in my case) that were sold by an outdoor vendor . The first band was an unusualgroup from Charleston, SC named Jump, Little Childrenthat played a diverse set of rock with country influences but at times verging onscreaming metal. They had an interesting stage presence in one lead singer that wore tightfloral pants and played a toy mouth keyboard. On their song, "Easter Parade", hewas marching around in the crowd with the instrument like a drum major. Some of theirsongs even approached a hip-hop sound. Altogether, Jump, Little Children offered a veryentertaining live show.
Next was Jeff Black. Although he was very good and had a talented band, Jeff Blacklacked the stage presence that others in the showcase had displayed, so I dontremember much about his performance. It was generally a mellow country/rock style headedwith an acoustic guitar. After Jeff Black, we got to see Abra Moore , who often guestswith the popular band, Poi DogPondering. Her style reminded me of a cross between Edie Brickell and Melissa Etheridge, and at times sounding like Liz Phair. I really thought she was greatuntil Sister 7 hit the stage. Sister 7s lead singer was more heavily influenced byMelissa Ethridge with occasional songs sounding like Fiona Apple. She had alot of energy and moved a bit like AlanisMorrisette.
Finally, Robert Earl Keen hit the stage. He played lots of his old favorites like"Amarillo" and "Gringo Honeymoon" and added some new songs. The crowdwas really into his beer drinking, partying style. A highlight of the performance was whenMargo Timmins of Cowboy Junkies joinedRobert Earl on stage for a couple of tunes. Robert Earl is a gorgeous man that is alwaysfun to see, and it was a great way to top off the evening and conclude my participation inthe festival.
All in all, this was a weekend of outstanding musical talent. Add to that some storiesabout a very expensive diamond ring and some tales of weird friends, and I had anenjoyable, fun weekend. Since there was so much going on, there were several artists thatI had wanted to see but missed, including Melanie Doane, TheCandy Butchers, and Matthew Sweet.Ill just have to catch them next time around. South By Southwest is a great time anda must for any music lover in the TX vicinity. I hope some of the bands I saw will be the"next big thing" because many of them were talented and entertaining. The nextbig festivals of this type are North By Northeast in Toronto in June and North ByNorthwest in Portland in October.
On That Note, I'm outta here......
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