So, as if there needs to be another blog about SxSw, here was my experience:
Disclaimer: the Foundation was kind enough to let me ride their bus down to Austin & back since they had an extra space. Dear reader, while I appreciate this nicety, my thoughts about the convention have not been clouded by such largesse. Boarding the bus with sodas, sandwiches, & cookies provided by the Foundation Tuesday at midnight with no window seats left to crash against, I found myself–by some bizarre nature coincidence–loaded with week-old poison ivy, and I took a place in what was Harlan T. Bobo’s seat, who also happened to be burdened by this unpleasant affliction simultaneously, perhaps he in an even worse state than I. Misery does indeed love company! Mr. Bobo is certainly one of my favorite Memphis magicians, and I duly enjoyed catching up with him and even laughed at his terrorist jokes about the bus blowing up at his behest through a bomb hidden in his headgear. I said if that happened, then the soon to be promoted MTV show would have to be rechristined 3$ Cover, due to the impending loss of most of the mid-town Memphis band scene.
Little did we know that within a couple hours, we would not need to worry about Bobo blowing up the bus, because the driver himself appeared to be on some sort of sortie suicide mission, driving recklessly through the rain like a madmen chased by Buford T. Justice, hellbent on getting Memphis music to Austin before sun-up. After a few winks at three a.m., I could no longer sleep as I was not prepared to die in my sleep while the driver zoomed up and around all manner of trucks in dangerous fashion. (Fortunately, after a sterile stop at some suburban Crackerbarrel outside of Dallas at 7 a.m., someone seemed to have mentioned to the driver that this was not a life or death mission, and he could indeed take his time on the rest of the journey). Other than some spurious drunken banter between River City Tan Lines’ Terrance and the bus driver around Little Rock, the rest of the drive down was uneventful.
Finally arriving around 2 p.m. the next day to beautiful Austin 80 degree weather, we checked into the convention and I immediately dispatched to 6th St. & a highly recommended Camino El Camino for a 3/4 lb. buffalo burger (buffalo wing sauce & blue cheese!). Now this dive bar is too cool for school. It’s one of those spots where the bartenders have to one-up everyone on piercings & tats. “You have a nose ring? Well, I gotta bone running through my nose.” “You got nipple piercings? I got my scrotum pierced to my earlobes…” One day, I’ll be that cool. Well, maybe. Well, never. I hope. Cool, obscure music you’ve never heard on the speakers & bizarre b-movies buzzing anonymously behind the bar while all manner of local hipsters & national hipsters roll in for a draft beer or two. The cooks in the back actually discourage you from ordering a burger from them, saying that it will take 45 minutes. (Actually, it took over an hour!). Anyway, the burger was damn good, esp. after a 14 hour bus ride, and I then headed to the hotel to take a much needed rest.
Woke up around 6 p.m. to a text from For Her And The Snow bassistPalli, who resides in Tejas, and offered to buy me the world’s tastiestquesadilla. We went directly to Polvo’s, an excellent indoor/outdoor spot–with an ambiance much like many restaurants in Austin–on S. 1st St. & immediately the chips, margaritas, tacos, & quesadillas began flowing. I knew I had re-arrived in Austin when the margarita hit my lips. How do they make it so much better there???
After a couple drinks, it was time to head over to the Austin Music Hall, which reminds me a lot of the new Minglewood Hall in Memphis, for the Austin Music Awards and a Doug Sahm tribute featuring Alejandro Escovedo. There was also a rumor that Roky Erickson would be appearing, but I did not expect that to happen. 1st up was the Dicks(who knew I’d ever see this troupe?) with David Yow doing “Wheelchair Epidemic” & then a great “Hate the Police”!!! Crazy way to start the trip! I love it. Tons of young punks up front & older, more cosmic types in the back. Austin rules! A few more awards–fortunately done quickly–then a Doug Sahm 2 or 3 song tribute by Sahm’s son & Augie Meyers. Not too bad as far as those things tend to go.
By this time I was pretty tired & really didn’t expect much else. Certainly I didn’t expect Roky Erickson to come out on stage, but the Black Angels played a number then brought him out.
They tried to begin “Splash 1″ and it didn’t quite work out as Roky appeared confused about the whole set-up. So they stopped and started it again, & at the right anointed moment Roky stepped up to the mic & bellowed out the words in a haunting manner that sent chills down my spine. It was an amazing and wonderful music moment and I think I was more happy for him than for me. In Memphis, we call that a Memphis music moment. Totally chilling! They followed with a decent version of “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” but it didn’t compare to the previous song. What a great and unexpected beginning to SxSW!
Next day was work, work, work at the Convention. The Memphis booth (co-run by the Tourism Foundation–pushing the new Civil Rights Documentary by Deanie Parker– & the Memphis Music Foundation) was the 1st & most prominent booth you saw when you came into the convention. While there were indeed no major labels to be seen and massive cutbacks in corporate spending at the convention this year, this lack of other competition really gave Memphis bands & music companies a major leg-up as the Memphis booth was easily one of the most exciting, crowded, & buzz-worthy of any booth at the SxSW. Lots of musicians like Jody Stephens, Two Way Radio, River City Tanlines, & the Jack Oblivions hanging out, performing acoustically or being interviewed by the omniscient MTV or MTV2 or MTVNews or MTV3 etc. Tons of cool Memphis record label and Memphis music studios or attractions passing out info promoting Memphis. Virtually everyone who passed by picked up free cds or other Memphis maps or promo material. Most folks coming by the booth either loved Memphisor have not been and want to come. Well-placed booth and very effective. I remember USO making inquiries about hiring the Bar-Kays or other Memphis bands for overseas tours, Offbeat magazine from New Orleans stopped by as did the Austin Music Commission head, a few distributors including Select-O-Hits & Sonic Rendevous checked in, LuAnn Williams, who used to run Pop Culture Press and now works for SxSW, & some guy booking a roots music conference in Germany…just to namedrop a few folks.
After a few hours of glad-handing & pimpin’ Memphis –which I did while the Memphis Music Foundation & all their employees had their massive tent directly across the street with free bbq & free Memphis music from noon to 3–I moved on to some music biz panels, which were very helpful (Long & short of every panel I went to is that the music biz is in the tank right now. Great for me–get rid of the riff-raff, Fastbuckfreddies in it for a quickbuck!). Everyone wanted to check out the Foundation tent as it was the only game in town that time of day, the weather was stellar, & the location was primo. Another grand slam for the Foundation! Nice work.
After meeting with some more distributors, I took an ASCAP/publishing house boat cruise on the local river dividing the city, talked publishing with some industry folks, & scarfed down a couple beers. Then I headed back to the hotel to prepare for a solo Howe Gelb show at the Continental Club Yeproc showcase. (please don’t expect much Memphis music coverage of SxSW here as I have seen virtually every Memphis band in Memphis ad nauseum & didn’t catch one live Memphis act other than those at the convention booth). The super silly Gelb started about 9:10 & finished by 9:35 singing his own brand of free-range expositories about payphones melting in the southwest summer heat and such. Great stuff, but obviously he wasn’t getting paid for such a short set and it thus ended too quickly. Continentalwas filling up as I went next door to Home Slice for some tasty New York style pizza. That was enough of a day for me.
Next day, I went to hear Little Steven mumble about the good old days and how bands should take the shaft from the record company in exchange for a 30 or 40 year career in music. As the convention began again, I chatted up the bands playing from Memphis. Two Way Radio showed up to play acoustically as did Dave Cousar, Jack Oblivion, more MTV interviewers looking for Lucero, and many others. Apparantly 8ball & MJG missed their flight & disappointed a couple hundred fans from the previous night’s showcase the Foundation put on Thursday. (Memo to Music Memphis & Memphis Music Foundation: Shangri-la Projects‘ artists don’t miss or cancel shows, leaving promoters in the lurch & other non-chosen bands screwed!) I guess they didn’t need the promotion after all. Pitched Memphis for a couple more hours then went looking for some lunch before more publishing seminars. One of the problems with SxSw is obtaining food can take forever during the fest. I opted for the massive spread being offered by the Australian government music contingent in the park across the street from the convention. Total booty: one hot dog, mustard only, after a 25 minute wait. Times are tough in these lavish SxSw private parties! Hey, it was the quickest & free-est lunch available!
After learning a fair amount at the publishing seminars (mainly the music biz is fucked and the only way to survive is to get a song or two on the next RockStar video game…Done!), I headed back to catch up with Palli who saw what was supposedly the best show of the fest,Blitzen Trapper, that evening. (Palli later played me their cd & it is indeed damn good!). We went to a taco trailer park on S. 1st & ate some very tasty tacos in a really cool setting with outdoor picnic tables/open fire, Mexican cokes, & lots of cool folk hanging out & chillin’ Austin-style. Next door was a great place with a great burger trailer in it I’ll have to try next time (even Joe hasn’t eaten burgers there yet!).
After a few tacos, we headed over to Joe’s coffee shop parking lot for a 14 piece band set by Austin superstar Alejandro Escovedo. This was one of the many free, non-SxSW events that was enjoyed by locals and out of towners equally. Just a totally kick-back 800-1000 people standing around the parking lot, drinking beer, getting high on whatever and enjoying quite possibly the best show of the week. Good on ya, Alejandro for rocking it so hard. Some of Austin’s finest musicians in this band. The weather, ambiance, & music was perfect. Just an amazing Austin night. Palli wanted to catch Dinosaur Jr.downtown so we grabbed some tasty homemade ice cream (white chocolate shake!) from Amy’s and headed that way. Palli didn’t have a pass so getting in was a bust & boring-ass Bjorn & Peter were noodling on the drums so we finally left to watch the end of the Siena basketball game (Great finish–the way the tournament is supposed to be). I was done after that.
Got up the next morning to meet the bus crew heading back to Memphis. After 3 days of hard work, schmoozing, & partying, folks were beginning to look ragged. Ran into Harlan at the hotel, who had had enough of the MTV cameras & didn’t play the Memphis music showcase the previous evening. (Memo to Memphis Music Foundation & Music Memphis: Shangri-la Projects bands do not miss their gigs!). Got on the bus & ate Pilot Wendy’s chicken & suburban Chic-fila chicken for the next 12 hours while watching Super Bad on the dvd. Back in the home of the blues. Austin seriously kicked ass and has done a phenomenal job making itself into the greatest music city in the U.S.
Great Memphis music promotion by all. This is one of the 1st times in my life Memphis as a music community has begun to promote itself in a positive way nationally. The only caveat about it all is that both Memphis Music Foundation & Music Memphis fell into the (I’m assuming, SxSW-forced) trap of over-booking Memphis roots music and pigeonholing Memphis music into something it isn’t necessarily so any more. Let’s hope they tweak their booking next year and book more bands like Antenna Shoes and Good Luck Dark Star!
So, for Shangri-la Projects it was a great week to promote our new releases by the Strapping Fieldhands, the Memphis Goons, Good Luck Dark Star, Forget Rock ‘n Roll Vol.1, Ron Hall’s newest book, & the Memphis Pops Fest. More on all of these great items soon. Thanks for taking the time to read about these great cultural items!