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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 13

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 13

Here’s my account of South By Southwest, 2004 in Austin, TX. If this were a piece of actual journalism for some publication, it would be edited down to a fraction of it’s length and would focus only on a few selected highlights…but I stuck with the all-inclusive personal journal format. It’s probably more information than most people care to consume; maybe just scanning the highlighted names is enough. If you do take the time to read it, you should get some sense for the expansive, exhaustive marathon that is SXSW.

3/18/04 SXSW Thursday. Ten years ago, I used to have my SXSW schedule all planned out and chase specific must-see shows here and there, often by myself. But this time, friends figured more into my plans and my days unfolded less deliberately. Today’s improvising began when I scored a ride from the airport to the first afternoon show with a band that I met on my flight into Austin.

We arrived at Jovita’s for the Twangfest afternoon showcase in time to hear most of the set by Tim Easton, backed by a three-piece band. His voice struck me as more distinctive than the last time I heard him. Subtle guitar touches were added to "All The Pretty Girls Leave Town" and other originals. Next came my new friends, Dolly Varden. Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen each sing lead vocals and their voices blend well together. "The Dumbest Magnets" and "Dangerously Thin" stood out. Slaid Cleaves played next- he’s getting more attention these days- I even heard a cover of his "Broke Down" by some slick country singer over the airport P.A. this afternoon! He and his band did a brief set that included "Down At The Horseshoe Lounge" and "Wishbones". Throughout the afternoon, the crowd got bigger- quite a few familiar faces from all over the country. The tip jar went around as each band played and Jovita’s served up a lot of beer and Tex-Mex food.

Next came BR549- first time I’ve seen them in maybe three years- this time around, co-lead singer Chuck Mead shares the singing (and songwriting) chores with Chris Scruggs (Earl’s grandson) and the feel is more rockabilly and honky tonk. They seem to have purposely toned down the costumes and didn’t do any jokey songs…elements that had previously led some to dismiss them as "Sha-Na-Nashville". They did all new songs today: "Aint Got Time" had a peppy Rockpile feel to it. "She’s Talkin’ To Someone" toes the line between smoother rockabilly and honky tonk, Chuck’s voice reminding me of James Intveld. Other new ones that stood out were "I’m Alright (For The Shape I’m In)", "No Friend Of Mine" and "Way Too Late (To Go Home Early)". At this point, the place was packed and it was difficult to move around the room. When they finished up, the crowd thinned out considerably…the party could have ended right then and been considered a success.

…but there was a late addition to the bill- Susan Cowsill and the Midcity Ministers (from the Cowsills in the 60s & The Continental Drifters in the 90s) sang a set of mostly originals that proved to be a pleasant surprise- she’s got a rich, mature (?) voice, along the lines of The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs, that lights up her melodic original songs. Plus, the sound quality was good and the band gave her enough space, so the lyrics were clear, as well. There was one song in particular, "I Don’t Want To Leave This World" (?), about a dying man, not ready to go, that was sad and beautiful. In addition to a Continental Drifters’ song, they did Lucinda Williams’ "Crescent City" with a tempo slightly accelerated from the original- the lead guitar was ringing joyously and the drummer was steadily clicking on a rub board, enhancing the New Orleans imagery of the song…by the time the verse "My brother knows where the best bars are" flowed by, I had a big smile on my face. I bought a 6-song in-progress demo tape she was selling- looking forward t the release of the full album.

After a brief dinner break, we stopped into The Continental Club to hear The Bigger Lovers- they’re a four-piece (with two lead singers) that play snappy guitar pop. I liked their original called "Blowtorch", as well as their cover of The Soft Boys’ "Queen Of Eyes".

When their set ended, Andrew called from Flipnotics, where Kevin Russell (co-frontman of The Gourds) was about to begin playing. Ten minutes later, I was sitting on the intimate back porch of this offbeat coffee bar as Kevin played for 20 to 30 people. I’m probably more familiar with his music than any other artist playing at SXSW this year, but ironically, I didn’t recognize a single song tonight. The dude is such a prolific songwriter that he just keeps ‘em coming…faster than he can remember them, apparently- he read from lyric sheets on a music stand. Without the vast arsenal of instruments that The Gourds make use of, Kevin just sat and strummed, so the range of tones wasn’t as dynamic, but the lyrics varied from cryptically religious and apocalyptic to silly and playful- one about a poor folks’ store that runs through a list of merchandise and another (Nelly cover?) that goes "Where’s the party at, Motherfucker?" He introduced one song as being influenced by Vic Chesnutt, and another as one he’d like to hear covered by Al Green…he sang the latter in an animated falsetto. Yet another song featured Roger Miller style scat singing. I was glad to hear a bunch of unfamiliar songs, but on first hearing, I don’t think any of these are gonna crack my Kevin Russell top ten.

Shortly after this set, Ellen dropped me off on Sixth Street to maybe catch a couple of bands that friends had recommended, but I found lines out the door at Exodus and Bigsby’s- I couldn’t get too upset, as I literally didn’t know what I was missing. I was finally able to get in to Stubb’s (a relatively spacious outdoor venue) for something pretty unlikely- The B52s- yes, it’s 2004, not 1984, but there was a huge crowd to see the four original members plus longtime (ex Gang of Four) bassist Sara Lee and an energetic drummer shake and strut through a set heavy on material from way back when- "Strobe Light", "Love Shack" and "Quiche Lorraine", to name a few. They saved their greatest hit, "Rock Lobster" for a rare (at SXSW, anyway) encore. Yeah, it’s kitschy and campy, but everyone was having fun- that’s the nice thing about these 45 minute sets- you can just go with it for a bit, knowing things will change soon enough.

Besides, I was mostly positioning myself to be at Stubb’s for another unfamiliar (but recommended by a friend) band, Denmark’s Junior Senior. Not knowing the first thing about them was kind of nice- the whole picture of what they do just took shape before my eyes/ears: Out struts this oddball bunch of Scandinavians, marginally dressed the way they might think cool Americans dress; B, D, G (Junior, I think), and 2 backup singers all backing this chubby frontman (Senior, I think). In an accent like that of Deiter from SNL’s "Sprockets", he enthusiastically inquired "Are you ready to shake your asses?" And here we go…It was no accident that they were preceded on stage by the B52s- the band lays into this syncopated dance/disco/rap beat as the chanted lyrics proclaim simple messages like "Go Junior, Go Senior", "Chicks and Dicks", "Shake Your Coconuts" and "Good Girl, Bad Boy". The music playfully drifted into pop territory, offering little teases of The Jackson Five and even early Rolling Stones, at times. The crowd had thinned out from it’s fullest (during the B52s’ set), but there was now a greater percentage of people dancing- women, in particular. After each song, the frontman comically reached back with both hands and tugged his pants back up, in a way that would make Chris Farley proud. They brought the B52s’ Fred Schneider back out to join them on vocals for their big hit, "Move Your Feet". Somewhere near the end, they did The Beatles’ "Twist and Shout". This isn’t music that’s likely to change the world, and may prove to be a passing "flavor of the month". But for an hour tonight, it felt fun and fresh. Besides, there’s only so much roots-rock I can take in a single day.

3/19/04 SXSW Friday. Around noon, I made the eight block walk from Ellen’s house to the Yard Dog gallery on South Congress Street. The front room displays folk art- some fairly primitive and some more finely articulated. My favorite paintings there are the ones by Mekons/Waco Bros. frontman Jon Langford. He’s a fairly accomplished portrait artist. A typical Langford painting features a quintessential roots music figure (Hank, Bob Wills, Lucinda, Doug Sahm, etc.) on a rich irregular backdrop containing odd icons and text. Out behind the gallery is a little courtyard, maybe 30 feet wide by 60 feet long, with a funeral-style tent filling most of that space. That’s where Bloodshot records was hosting it’s annual party.

A steady stream of Bloodshot acts squeezed into the stage area against one of the long side walls to do brief sets. Rex Hobart & The Misery Boys gave us more of what they did at Frederick’s a couple of weeks ago as a light rain came down. The only song I’m remembering the day after is "Lie For A Lie". Next came a short set by Dollar Store, a four piece fronted by Waco Brother Dean Schlabowske (his songs are my favorite in the Waco’s catalog). There was a bit of twang in what they did today, but mostly it was LOUD (almost painfully so) rock. "Dry Land" (a more obscure Wacos song), "New Country" and a cover of Robyn Hitchcock’s "I Wanna Destroy You" were notably strong. The exact order of the bands is a bit of a blur now, but I remember steel guitarist Jon Rauhouse mixing in a few instrumentals (including "Powermaster") among songs sung by Kelly Hogan (ex- Jody Grind) and Nora O’Connell (ex-The Blacks). Kelly sang lead on "Accentuate The Positive". Bobby Bare, Jr. & The Young Criminals Starvation League did a handful of songs, including "Maynardvile" and his "greatest hit"- the ultra-catchy "I’ll Be Around". Next, the guy I’d been waiting to hear- Graham Parker, who has a new, roots-oriented CD out on Bloodshot. Today he played acoustic guitar backed by a guy on stand-up bass. It’s always a bit dangerous seeing someone who at some point years ago, ranked among my favorite singers and songwriters…Parker’s current batch of songs (all were from the new CD) weren’t horrible, but I walked away with a ho-hum indifference toward them; kinda disappointing, having been taken to great heights by his music for a string of several years. Songs included "Anything For A Laugh", "The Rest Is History", "Sugaree" (subtract coolness points for recognizing it as a Grateful Dead song) and a reworking of his classic "Crawling From The Wreckage", the latter without the manic pep that worked so well for Dave Edmonds twenty plus years ago. Later I spoke to one guy who agreed with my assessment, and another who loved Parker’s set, so individual results may vary. (writing this a couple of days later, the new album is starting to grow on me, but I feel like I shouldn’t revise my initial impression, even if I end up eating my words later).

At this point, the huge crowd in the tight confines of the courtyard/funeral tent were getting to me, but right as I tried to make an exit, a bunch of friends arrived, all enthusiastic about seeing The Meat Purveyors…so I stuck around for one more set. As the sun began to stream in through the parting clouds, this sassy bunch from Austin pleased the crowd with their rollicking bluegrass-based original songs that shine a clever and humorous light on the perils of hard livin’ and lovin’. Today, the basic lineup (acoustic guitar, mandolin, stand-up bass and the spunky Jo Walston on lead vocals) was joined by a fiddle player, adding another layer to the sound. In addition to their own "More Man" and "Go Out Smokin", they did a bright, upbeat version of Fleetwood Mac’s "Monday Morning".

I finally escaped the gravitational pull of The Yard Dog around 5PM, when Brian, Lisa and I found our way across the street to the outdoor courtyard of The Texas Café. It’s been renovated since I was last there- it’s got stepped terraces to stand on (providing better sightlines) and it now has an actual stage. That’s where Rosie Flores, backed by an all-female band (steel, bass and the ever-present, ever-lovely Lisa Pankratz on drums) jumped into a nice set of rockabilly/honky tonk; "Hot Dog" and "Honky Tonk Moon" served as good examples of each end of that spectrum. Having heard fifteen (or so) bands in the last 30 hours, Rosie’s guitar leads didn’t exactly stand out as stellar, but they served the modest tone of her material just fine.

I’ve recently become part of one of those e-group cyber-communities consisting of music fans who attend Twangfest in St. Louis every June. About twenty of us ate dinner at a huge table at Curro’s before, once again, scattering off in different directions to pursue our individual passions…Big Star, Dwight Yoakam, Bettie Seerevert, whatever. It was fun to finally associate some faces with names. For as different as everyone’s musical tastes and personalities are, there is somehow a nice family vibe to this bunch.

Soon enough, though, we all scattered- me back to the Texas Café to hear The Twangbangers, featuring the dual lead guitars of Red Volkeert and Bill Kirchen as well as Dallas Wayne on bass. Even among the dozens of guitar players I’ve heard in the last couple of days, Kirchen’s grace and finesse stood out as noteworthy. These guys draw from roadhouse country & western, honky tonk and rockabilly for their sources of inspiration. They did "Truck Drivin’ Man" and ended with the customary finale of any Kirchen show, his expanded version of "Hot Rod Lincoln", where he runs through a lengthy list of pop musicians, punctuating each name with a trademark guitar lick from the given artist. I have to say that I find this less entertaining hearing it for the fifth time than I did the first.

I was thinking I would pass on seeing The Gourds this time, in favor of something less familiar, but when my Atlanta friends headed over to Austin Music Hall, I found myself tagging along. The scene we found there was not promising. For whatever reason, the room was only about half full and the band was having the worst time trying to get the sound people to get things right on stage. Band members were jumping back from blood-curdling shrieks of feedback as they prepared to start playing. They were all visibly upset as this whole ordeal continued until well past when their set was supposed to begin. When they finally opened with "Hellhounds", the house sound wasn’t so great, either. I had to move further away from the right speakers and still things were only adequate. So much of what The Gourds do is about the band having a good time and the audience getting caught up in the rollicking romp and stomp that ensues, but tonight that wasn’t happening so much. They’re competent musicians, even in a bad mood, but this was by far the least I’ve enjoyed a set by them. They did a couple of new songs tonight, including a cool accordion-driven tejano song. Other songs I remember included "Waxie’s Dargle", "Layin’ ‘Round The House" and "Ceiling’s Leaking". Conspicuously absent was their semi-famous cover of Snoop Dogg’s "Gin and Juice", a song that has attracted a lot of fans (and a few detractors) from all corners. They ended with "Greivin’ and Smokin", Max Johnston’s searing lap steel providing a harder edge than his usual dobro treatment. Before the last note had completely died down, the band laid down their instruments as frontman Kevin Russell gruffly muttered, "We’re outta here".

After The Gourds’ set, a quick phone call to Lisa confirmed that La Zona Rosa was not too crowded to get in to, so I quickly made the two block walk…Delbert McClinton was about to go on stage. Although he’s been around for a long time, I’ve never been exposed to much of his music. For white boy blues, it’s about as good as it gets. Delbert has assembled an impressive bunch of musicians (B, D, sax, trumpet, 2 guitars & keys) and chosen some classic, can’t-miss songs to cover. He opened with "Take Me To The River" and moved on to "Standin’ On Shaky Ground" and "I’ve Got Dreams To Remember", among others. At times a Texas blues groove reminiscent of The Sir Douglas Quintet came through (Delbert on harmonica); at other times the horns struck a rich, mellow tone like the Saturday Night Live band sounds as the host says "Goodnight". Is this an unintended slam on the band or on my limited exposure? Gary U.S. Bonds came out and joined in on lead vocals for one song.

La Zona Rosa was packed as Dwight Yoakam took the stage; all of Dwight’s trademark elements were in place- cowboy hat pulled down to conceal half of his face, jeans jacket, acoustic guitar (often held high as he strummed) and, most importantly, that distinctive voice. He opened with a newer song, accompanied by drums, bass and banjo. Immediately after this, the banjo player (Keith Gaddis) switched over to electric guitar, and Dwight ran through a marathon set of familiar favorites from all points in his considerable career: "Fast As You", "1,000 Miles From Nowhere", "Turn It On…", "Wheels", "Little Sister" and Cheap Trick’s "I Want You To Want Me" all had lots of people singing along. Somewhere in that meaty middle part of the set, the drummer segued into an unmistakably "Johnny Cash" beat that led into "Ring Of Fire" and continued seamlessly into "Dallas" (a nod to The Flatlanders, who were on this stage two hours ago). The first quiet verse of "Beunos Noches (From A Lonely Room)" was interrupted, medley-style, by one of his upbeat early hits- was it "Guitars, Cadillacs" or "Honky Tonk Man"? I don’t exactly remember (he did both), but you get the idea. This set wins my vote for "most satisfying set by someone I was already familiar with" at SXSW 2004.

After Dwight’s set, a quick phone call to Jim Utz confirmed that Maggie Mae’s was not too crowded to get in to, so I hustled over to catch the 1AM set by The Vue. This band is just what I needed- not familiar and not even remotely roots-rock. They play with the ferocity of a garage band and the swagger of a glam band. These guys (B, D, G, K & Ron Shelverton on guitar and lead vocals) play with an explosive energy…this small stage could barely contain them as they frantically jumped around. One song featured a Stonesy blues/rock harmonica. I wonder if my friend Doug Enkler knows about these guys. This being my first exposure, I can’t come up with any song titles, but I expect I’ll track down some of their CDs.

As I went out the door and down Sixth Street at 2AM, I had the pleasant surprise of finding Mary Lou Lord set up on the sidewalk with her acoustic guitar. A captivated bunch of fifteen (or so) people was listening to her do a mix of quiet, confessional originals and covers, as a steady stream of drunks headed west out of the bars. I pulled up a planter and heard her do "Ron"(a new original about a deadbeat dad), Jackson Browne’s "These Days" and a personal favorite, Nick Saloman’s "He’d Be A Diamond". At this point, my friends John, Marie and Maggie came walking down Sixth Street and that nagging question about how I was gonna get back to south Austin was instantly answered. I crawled into bed a little after 3AM.

3/20/04 SXSW Saturday. There’s this oddball independent movie called "Slacker" (filmed in Austin, BTW), where the camera follows character "A", who meets up with character "B", but when their exchange ends, the camera now follows character "B", at least until character "C" comes along, and so on…anyway, today I felt like I was the camera, as I seemed to stay in the constant companionship of a random compadre, but never the same person for more than an hour or so. After hanging out downtown with Jeff from Denton, he dropped me off on Sixth Street where I met up with Alex from Detroit; we stepped into Casino El Camino.

About this time, Jeff from New Jersey showed up raving about The Ponys, who were about to start playing in the courtyard out back. Good call on Jeff’s part…this four-piece from Chicago brings the rock, creating fresh new music that draws from all the right punk-rock influences. The lead singer (Jered?) sings with a droney yelp (sounds like an oxymoron, but I’m stickin’ with it) that recalls Television’s Tom Verlaine. On "Little Friends", one guitar player established a cycling hypnotic line ala "Twilight Zone" that carried throughout the song. "Fall Inn" began and ended with the lead guitar tease from "And The He Kissed Me". The whole band would often form a deep, loud, mesmerizing swell that gives major nods to The Velvet Underground. I went out and bought their CD the next day, so I can tell you that they also did "Let’s Kill Ourselves". This gets my vote for "most enjoyable set by someone I was unfamiliar with" for SXSW 2004.

Since Jeff was one for one on the band picks, I followed him over to Beerland where The Cool Jerks were just starting their set. They were OK; blues-based punk rock. They did that song with the refrain, "Around the whole wide world" and played hard, but in the wake of The Ponys, it seemed less than spectacular…so we went next door to the outdoor courtyard of Red Eyed Fly where I ran into Mike from Dolly Varden. We listened to Anders Parker (former frontman for Varnaline) as he started off with a couple of songs on acoustic guitar. He was soon joined onstage by members of Centro-matic, showing their murkier, moodier side. As much as I’ve tried to like this guy, I just find his subtle, slow and moody material boring. Lots of people I know love what he does, but it just doesn’t grab me. After two or three songs, I crossed the street to the tent set up across from Emo’s.

I ran into Dean from St. Louis right before Teo Leo and the Pharmacists went on stage. Everyone who saw their set on Thursday night was raving about them, so I had to see what all the fuss was about. This hard-hitting trio came busting out as loud and intense as any pop band can- Leo’s sharp, angular guitar and a hard-hitting drummer leading the charge. I’m not familiar with his songs, and current conditions weren’t so good for picking up lyrics (which apparently incorporate some lefty politics), even from the dozens of people singing along, so I can only describe the sound of the music, not the words behind it. There’s a sneer in Leo’s vocal delivery and a hard, yet poppy punch to the music. My clumsy, on first hearing, thumbnail sketch might go like: Joe Jackson fronting the Plimsouls in a meth lab. OK, you try to describe ‘em, smart guy. I liked it just fine, but as the set moved along, I found the sound mix to be heavy on the drums, at the expense of the guitar (and, consequently, the overall feel). I liked it a lot; maybe next time I’ll concur with my friends who love it.

Immediately after this set, I stepped out onto Red River and bumped into Steve Rauner (from the St. Louis band Nadine). He and I made it back over to Red Eyed Fly to hear American Music Club. Hopefully, anyone reading this (as if) realizes by now that I make an attempt (however superficially, at times) to say something about every act I see, even when there are lots of people with far more familiarity/grasp/appreciation of the subject at hand (AMC, in this case) than me. AMC is another one of those dark and moody bands who have a cult following. I liked it OK, but I’m not likely be joining the crew of people I know who are flying to Seattle next month to catch one of their shows. What I heard was slow-to-mid tempo music with rich textures(guitar, keyboards, trumpet) that provide the backdrop for Mark Eitzel’s evocative and dramatic vocals. The character of his voice wasn’t too far off from that of Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz; one song heavy on dramatic drums ("Ladies & Gentlemen"?) reminded me of The Afghan Whigs. After this set, I met up with a few Twangfest friends for catfish (breaded in crushed tortillas) at The Shady Grove. Yum.

I caught a ride back over to Sixth Street in time to meet up with Maggie for a set by Neil Cleary. The most notable thing about this set was the setting- Coyote Ugly (inspired by the movie of the same name) features partially clad women (exposed midriff & legs, ala Hooters) prancing and strutting across the top of the bar as the music plays. How does that work as a backdrop for a sensitive singer/songwriter? Judging from where people were sitting (and looking), I’d say fifteen were here to see Neil Cleary, while the remaining forty or so were here for the visuals at (on) the bar. I have to admit I was too distracted by the irony (yeah, that’s it) of this juxtaposition to pay full attention to Neil’s set- which struck me as pleasant enough singer/songwriter stuff (backed by B, D & G). Neil played harmonica, too. Before his set ended, it was time for me to cross the street for hometown favorites…

Nadine, who were doing a brief, modified lineup set at The Ritz as part of the Trampoline Records showcase. I ran into Liza and John Horton (Bottlerockets) right as the core duo of Adam Reichmann (guitar & vocals) and Steve Rauner (keys) took the stage; they did three songs including "Different Places". They did another three backed by Rami Jaffe on keyboards (Steve R. moving to lead guitar) and the rhythm section of Minibar. The only element that this ad hoc band was not able to recreate from the (soon to be dismantled?) full Nadine lineup was the bass- I missed the buoyant punch that Anne Tkach usually provides. They did one of my favorites, "End Of The Night" in this electric incarnation. Next came The Hang Ups, with Rami J. guesting on keys for a song or two, and Pete Yorn on drums. At some point, I caught a dopey, poppy vibe along the lines of The Lovin’ Spoonful- not a complaint. When they finished up, I got to hang out with Adam for a bit before Minnie Driver started into her set. I’m not so up on my movie stars, but other people are- The Ritz was packed by now. Ms. Driver has a pleasant voice and a congenial, down-to-earth stage presence. The melodies weren’t especially memorable (a big issue in my book), so I soon headed west to try to get in to hear Iron and Wine (something unfamiliar, but recommended), but there was a long line out the door, so I quickly made a "plan B" and walked three blocks over to…

Opal Divine’s, where The Damnations had just gone on stage. This time out, they were more electric- no banjo tonight. A couple of their trademark covers stood out- Sir Doug’s "I Wanna Be Your Mama, Again" and The Minutemen’s "Corona". Having three different (and distinctive) lead vocalists goes a long way to keeping things interesting. They ended with a song that sounded like an X cover. I think it was an original. Things are good when your "plan B" is getting to see someone as fun as The Bottlerockets close out the evening. Carrie (from Dallas) was celebrating her birthday with a big bunch of friends right up front as the Brox ripped into a set highlighting songs from all points in their history. Songs ranged from older upbeat songs ("Indianapolis", "Kit Kat Clock", "I’ll Be Comin’ Around" and "Hey Moon") to some of the newer, quieter ones ("Baggage Claim" and "Cartoon Wisdom") and a few points in between. This was the third time I’ve seen them since John Horton has joined them on second guitar, and his leads mesh more seamlessly with Brian’s each time. This might be the best I’ve ever heard them. Since the band is from around St. Louis, we kinda take for granted that these guys are favorites among our crowd; so it’s fun to see them playing for a huge crowd hundreds of miles from home. The place was packed with people from all over the country, many singing along. Somewhere near the end, they covered Doug Sahm’s "I’m Not That Kat Anymore", Robert on vocals.

As all the wise people were heading off to bed, a bunch of us ended up over at a party at the house of one of the guys in Grand Champeen. Some people began to mess around with instruments on the back porch. Somewhere in there, my buddy John Wendland did a nice cover of Warren Zevon’s "Roland", just him and acoustic guitar. I remember from seeing Grand Champeen last fall that they have a keen ability to choose just the right cover for just the right moment on a Saturday night in a bar…well they nailed the bleary spirit of 4AM by stringing together "Motion Pictures" and "Ambulance Blues" from Neil Young’s "On The Beach" album, in all their long, down, slow and beautiful glory, with Channing on acoustic guitar and vocals, Michael on mournful steel guitar and Rich (from Ol’ Yeller) on guitar. As unlikely as it may seem, this was one of my highlights of this year’s SXSW. Really. I finally made it back to my home away from home around sunrise.

3/21/04 SXSW Sunday. Staying out super late the night before meshed well with Sunday’s scaled back live music schedule. John W. and I spent some time (and money) at a couple of record stores before heading up to Ginny’s Little Longhorn around 5PM. It’s a real live Texas honky tonk up in north Austin- a small concrete block building surrounded by a parking lot. Dale Watson and His Lone Stars were set up in the corner and the place was so full that the crowd spilled out into the parking lot out back, where a bunch of us stood around drinking Lone Star longnecks. People whom I had just met a couple of days ago, now seemed like good friends- funny what an extended, intensified shared experience will do. Even from out back, we could hear the band clearly as Dale did his "legends" set, covering the likes of Hank, Merle, Waylon, George and Buck. Dale’s voice and telecaster playing evoke a Merle Haggard feel.

A regular feature of Sunday afternoon at Ginny’s is Chicken Shit Bingo. Here’s how it works: Just inside the front door of the bar there’s a plywood table with a 9 by 6 square grid on it and a number painted in each square. This table is enclosed by a chicken wire cage. People buy slips of paper with a given number (1 through 54) on ‘em. Then, this burly, tattooed bartender/farmhand dude brings a live chicken in from out back and puts it in the cage. As you’ve probably already guessed, the winning number in this peculiar game of chance is determined by which numbered square the chicken shits on. Something tells me that this activity was not the brainchild of some special events coordinator.

After a brief barbeque break at Ruby’s, a bunch of us rallied for one last dose of live music. Since the Alejandro Escovedo show down south was already underway (and likely sold out), we stayed north and went to The Hole In The Wall club for a special themed show called "Rockslides". A slide show featuring photos taken at various rock concerts was shown on a huge sheet hung behind the stage. These images were taken by a guy from Austin, who died of cancer a few years ago. As a tribute, the photographer’s brother organized the slides, by artist, and enlisted a few Austin musicians to perform cover songs by each artist as the slides went by. Scott Biram, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar (and steady footstomps), opened with Muddy Waters’ "Got My Mojo Workin" as the 20 or so slides taken at a concert in the seventies were shown. There was a steady stream of people on and off the stage as this exercise was repeated for material by Eric Clapton, Mott The Hoople, Yes (!), Springsteen, The Talking Heads, Rockpile, Elvis Costello, The Ramones and so on. Everyone was having fun and nobody seemed to care that things didn’t go super smoothly. There were plenty of pauses as instruments and slide carousels were switched in and out- this aint no slick Powerpoint presentation. Towards the end, there were some fun moments featuring Pestorius (a reggae-fied "Watching The Detectives" with horns worked well), Mike Nicolai, Beaver Nelson, Walter Traggert, Grand Champeen and an all-star superjam featuring a few Clash songs, complete with three trombones (!?). I got my now-familiar ride south from John and Marie around 1AM, and put my weary bones in bed. Whew. I’m ready for baseball season.




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