My 30th SXSW may have been my most enjoyable since 1996, when I covered it like a maniac for the Statesman (and then had to practically spend the next few days in traction.) Yes, Sixth Street has gotten out-of-hand as Loiterer’s Row and the price-gouging ($9 for a Budweiser?!) is so against what made SXSW such a popular music industry destination in the beginning. But this was the year I learned to let go of my dogged pursuit. I had only one responsibility all week- an interview with Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses for a magazine profile- which had a lot to do with my enjoyment. Laying in my hotel bed, reading the dispatches from Deborah Sengupta Stith and Kevin Curtin, who both deserve a big hand, I was thinking ‘this is how it’s done.’ If there’s anything major that came out of my SXSW experience it was that your own work is really all that matters. The fest was a sometimes-inspiring, sometime tedious diversion, and I made some (hopefully) fruitful contacts, had some wonderful catching up conversations, and saw a ton of great music. But I couldn’t wait to get back to work. Some highlights, going backwards:
* Homer Henderson was the best thing I saw all week, at Lucy’s in the afternoon. With feet and reverb, one man sounds like four, and Homer played metal, country, blues, garage, swamp pop and the meanest version of “Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger” you’ve ever heard.
* Intocable at Auditorium Shores was the best Tejano band I’ve seen since Selena (which I guess is like Biggest Schlong winner at an Irish bar). Loved watching the crowd in euphoria.
* Lavender Country at the Hideout. I let my friend choose the bands and this one was unforgettable. A country band where the lead singer brags about how good he is at fellatio and it’s more touching than gross.
Friday I watched the Horns lose a heartbreaker at the buzzer and that and the rain kept me in. I read Maud Cuney-Hare instead. But during the day I saw the Heavy, a British nouveau soul band, and loved them. And my favorite panel was the Angelique Kidjo interview with Ann Powers. Kidjo is hysterical- and she has such a great story.
Best set of the night was Lissie at the Majestic. Catch her at Emo’s next month. I think she sings as well as Adele. I hit the clubs with my son Jack and Debbie P, my best friend from Arizona, which made even the lesser acts fun. Saw some solo techno/soul at Lambert’s (Us), some mediocre hip hop at ACL Live, then over to Antone’s for the great Jai Malano, then Jonathan Tyler somewhere in that Sixth Street mess, for a face full of sacred blooze.
As always, the Austin Music Awards was a blast. It’s the annual scene reunion and everybody’s hugging. What made this year special was the tribute to Paul Ray, the longtime host of the ceremony who passed away recently, featuring Robert Plant. The Hilton Ballroom was packed and there was little coming-and-going all night, which is uncharacteristic for the first night of SXSW. Then Plant took the stage for four songs at the end and it became apparent, as the crowd surged to the front of the stage, that they had all come to see the former Led Zeppelin singer. But they didn’t get “Whole Lotta Love,” they got some obscure ‘50s R&B like Ray played on “Twine Time.” And Plant sang the hell out of it. Fantastic!
I know it’s changed and “our Austin” is almost gone, boo hoo, but SXSW is still the best thing that happens here all year. Losing John Morthland and fest co-creator Louis Meyers reminded me to enjoy the life I have and to make every day count. SXSW is a proving ground of sorts. It tells us the kind of person we are. And it’s not for everyone.
SXSW30: Year two memories from Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell
Kevin Russell has played SXSW promiscuously, as a member of the Gourds and now Shinyribs. But you never forget your first time.
Russell played the second SXSW in 1988 with his punk/ new wave band Picket Line Coyotes. They were from Shreveport and SXSW’s then-booker Louis Meyers managed a band (Killer Bees) whose members were from there, so they got in without even having to apply. Since there had been only a “secret” SXSW before, Russell was thinking the ‘yotes would be playing a big outdoor music festival. Instead, they got Thursday night at Joe’s Generic Bar- Sixth Street’s grimiest blues bar. After the set, the band was accused of stealing the dive’s Jim Morrison velvet painting. “We didn’t, but the management thought we did, so we got the hell
out of there,” Russell says. Dinner was bologna sandwiches in the van parked on Sixth Street (ah, the early years).
“We had no money and no hotel, so our plan was to camp somewhere,” Russell says. They met a cat named Mesmo the Mesmerizer, who suggested they camp out at Pale Face Park. But the directions were given by a guy named Mesmo, so the group got lost and found an alternate place to camp on the way.
“Our drummer, David Green and bass player Joey Percival pitched a tent behind the van,” Russell recounts. “Me and Rob Bernard would sleep in the van. We made fun of Joey for walking around in the dark picking up leaves and limbs covering the tent with them. It seemed ridiculous. But, he said, ‘ya never know.’”
At around 3 a.m., Russell and Bernard awoke to flashlights in the face. This never ends well. The cops pulled the two guitarists out and put them up against the hood of the van. “They thought we were outlaws,” Russell says, “and they were yelling at us. ‘What the hell are you doing sleeping in a neighborhood?!’ Russell and company set up in the Southern hills between 360 and 71, not knowing a housing development was just a block away. “A couple of them walked around behind the van and we expected them to return with David and Joey in tow. But, alas, Joey’s camouflage worked. They completely missed the tent.” That probably would’ve gotten the four a night in jail, especially after the requisite search. “They told me and Rob to get in our van and get the hell out of town.” The patrol car followed the Coyote carrier a little ways up the highway then turned. “We immediately headed back to the camp site where we found Joey and David all packed up and waiting for us. They jumped in and we drove to the SXSW hotel parking garage where we slept until sunrise.” The next day, Russell and Percival drove back to Shreveport, while Bernard and Green stayed for the party, having found a floor in a room of the host hotel. In the early years of SXSW, the meeting room sides of the suites often found broke and stranded bands crashed out on the floors. “I never did find out how they got back to Shreveport,” Russell says of his bandmates.
Overheard at SXSW 1989
- “The registration line was insane. That’s 20 minutes of my life I won’t get back.”
- “Some band just handed me an album. Haven’t they heard of cassettes?”
- “Do you know where Saturday’s day party is?”
- “Austin learned its lesson from the Armadillo. No way they’re tearing down Liberty Lunch for an office building.”
- “I’m in such a hurry I’m gonna have to grab lunch from a food trailer. Where’s the nearest construction site?”
- “We can either see Mojo Nixon tonight for free or pay $50 to see him next year at the Erwin Center.
- “Let’s just take a cab to Salt Lick. How much could it be?”
- “So, besides the Austin Music Awards, what else are you excited about this week?”
- “They used to be a punk band, but now they play roots music. With punk energy.”
- “Listen, I paid $20 for this wristband and I WILL get in to see Scruffy the Cat.”
- “I’m not sure, but I think the Spin party is either in room 1703 or 1307.
- “Holy crap, that’s Peter Zaremba!”
- “SXSW is a good idea, but they’re going to need to rely on the revenue from the Austin Chronicle to survive.”
- “One day this thing might be bigger than Aquafest. OK, I’m wasted.”
- “If you’re cool you call it ‘Southby’.”
- “I heard they were going to have a hip-hop act this year, but couldn’t find a corporate sponsor.
- “They need to get someone hip, with an opinion, to keynote. Someone like Michelle Shocked.”
- ”Wow, I just gave my business card to music industry bigwig Jim Fouratt!”
- “OK, we’ve got this cool party space on SoCo. What should we do in the storefront? A gallery for outsider art? Really?”
- “Let’s share a room at the San Jose. Not to save money, but to take turns standing guard.”
- “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!” (Also overheard 1990-2016)
HEALTHY GUIDE TO SXSW
Next year is going to be different. This is what I’ve told myself every Friday or Saturday of South by Southwest, when I was trying to find the strength to drag my carcass out of the rack, if only to plop a couple Alka-Seltzers. There was a culinary battle of the Alamo in my belly between the brisket and the quesadillas, and my head was pounding unjoyously, like a drummer at sound check (or Meg White all the time.)
As the cobwebs cleared, I went over what I had done the previous 24 hours: all the buffet-traipsing, the free booze swilling, the after-hours parties. The thought of doing it all over again was the only thing that got me out of bed. But sometimes even that didn’t work — says the king of the 14-hour disco nap. A combination of deadline stress and a festive atmosphere, hard work and hard partying, has made for some unhealthy choices in past SXSW campaigns. Believe me, I’ve paid for every free thing I’ve slid into my migas-hole. But this year is going to be different, my pepitos. Welcome to the first annual SXSW music and media and fitness convention, where the indie rock head bob won’t be the only exercise I get. I’m going to be burning more calories than Beatle Bob, the dancing loon from ol’ St. Lou. At the risk of setting myself up for a Jim Fixx-ian tragic irony (“Newly Health Conscious Rock Critic Collapses In Pilates Class”), I vow to come out of this SXSW in better shape than when it started, and you’re welcome to join me.
There are drinking games, you know, like having to take a shot every time Toby says “yeah” on “The West Wing.” Let’s come up with some fitness games, like every time Lol Tolhurst, whose new band Levinhurst plays the Soho Lounge Thursday at midnight, does a song from his old band the Cure, you’ve gotta run in place for the tune’s duration. Or whenever Pete Yorn (Saturday 11 p.m. at the Ritz) displays an expression you have to drop down for 10 push-ups. “Why is everyone doing stomach crunches?” Jon Langford’s just arrived at the party. Instead of wedging our way through the crowd packed in the back of Yard Dog to almost hear Robyn Hitchcock, Carbon Leaf and Marah at Saturday afternoon’s Harp magazine party, wouldn’t that time be better spent with a yoga class or a massage or a stroll around Town Lake?
Your cell phone isn’t the only thing that needs recharging, Boo. Instead of waiting in line for a beer, why not grab a bottled water (the other clear liquid) out of the ice bucket, walk three blocks to Herb Bar (200 W. Mary St.) and buy some Fire Cider? A dropper full in the water is said to support the immune system and elevate energy. A block east, at the corner of South Congress Avenue and Mary Street, is White Crane Herbal Medicine, sort of a Wal-Mart of Chinese remedies, which also offers hourlong massages ($55) and acupuncture ($65).
They also sell hangover relief herbs called Curin Wan, which I’m guessing is Chinese for “yeah, right.” There hasn’t been a surefire cure for hangovers on South Congress since Just Guns closed.
All right, healthy campers, let’s get started. First you need to go to Run-Tex at 422 W. Riverside Drive to pick up a free map of area greenbelts and hike-and-bike trails. Next stop is Whole Foods Market (Sixth and Lamar) to stock up on fruit, trail mix and prepared meals. Austin nutritionist Alexa Sparkman recommends food with a high protein content, like turkey sandwiches and grilled fish, which will increase alertness levels. Anything to get through that “Mastering Engineers Talk Shop” panel Friday afternoon.
You can’t find good Mexican food in this country north of Research Boulevard, so it’s natural for Yankee out-of-towners to gorge themselves on enchiladas and fajitas. But along with beans and rice, the No. 2 plate includes a side of serotonin, which will make you as lethargic as a SXSW volunteer who’s been checking badges for five hours. Listen, I know the restricted diet is going to be tough. I’m a music critic. I’m as likely to turn down a Bob Dylan interview as a free meal. But if all those gaunt low carb addicts, who look like junkies except that their shirts are tucked in, can eat hamburgers with lettuce buns, we can skip the potato salad and white cream gravy.
Bye, bye, buffet, hello Mr. Natural (1901 E. Cesar Chavez St. and 2414 S. Lamar Blvd.). Another entirely bearable health food restaurant near downtown is Veggie Heaven at 1914 Guadalupe St. They do tofu right.
Not being able to get into sold-out venues can be a regal bummer, man, but being turned away can be a silver lining for fitness. When the line’s way too long, just keep on walking. In fact, here’s a recommended schedule to keep your aerobic workout going tonight. Start by trying to get into Exodus on Sixth Street, where Ozomatli and Plastilina Mosh lead a host of alt-rock bands from Mexico. That club should be wall-to-wall all night. So it’s over to La Zona Rosa, where the townies will settle in early to ensure that they get to see Modest Mouse. All right, it’s back over to Emo’s. Wow. When did Atmosphere get so huge? You won’t hear any music with this plan, but you’ve earned your Michelob Ultra for the night.
Thursday’s uninterrupted walk includes a pass at the Austin Music Hall, where Little Richard, dubbed a young talent to watch by Tracks magazine, oughta pack the place. We hear you knockin’, wristband wearers, but you can’t come in. Over at La Zona Rosa, the person who can guess the number of people in line for Mission Of Burma will win a big jar full of jelly beans. Sure to be the most quickly filled — “and we ain’t leavin”‘ — gig of the fest is Saturday at Stubb’s, where Esquire magazine tries to make up for that ludicrous “Cities That Rock” feature (basically, an attempt to build up circulation in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati) by serving up Los Lobos, Patty Griffin, Ozomatli, the Mavericks and more.
It’s going to be insane at Emo’s this week, with all three stages hosting free live music from about noon to 6 p.m. each day. Thursday looks especially strong, with Toronto’s Broken Social Scene, whose very initials buzz, playing the the main stage while Local H and those local hellcats the Riddlin’ Kids take over the annex stage across the street. Red River will be rocking almost nonstop, with free daytime shows also at Beerland, Elysium, the Caucus Club, Headhunters and Room 710, plus private parties at Club DeVille and Stubb’s.
Do you really need to hear that much music? Sometimes the duo of Hale & Hearty is the best daytime act, so why not sneak in a workout at Gold’s Gym (522 Congress Ave.), which has a walkup rate of $16.24 per day? The Powerhouse gym, at Fifth Street and Lamar Boulevard, also takes non-members, for $15 a day. The lineup there includes Pilates, Yoga, Spinning and some new alt-country exercise from Australia. Class schedules for this sweat factory can be found online at powerhousegymaustin.com.
For $8 admission, you can go to the Body Mind & Spirit Expo Saturday and Sunday at the Palmer Events Center (900 Barton Springs Road). Learn all about aura photography, abundance angels, feng shui and which John Tesh CD you should own if (gasp) you could only own one. It can be a drag being indoors on a nice day, especially if you’re from Chicago, where 45 degrees is considered balmy this time of year. Rent a canoe or kayak at Zilker Park for $10 an hour, ye Cubs fans, and row, row, row away all those poison thoughts of Steve Bartman. Negativity is just bad cholesterol of the mind.
One of the coolest things about Austin is the public swimming pools. Despite the Statesman’s recent front page report that Barton Springs Pool is too cold (a report the Austin Chronicle rushed to discredit), Robert Redford’s childhood swimming hole at Zilker Park remains a No. 1 tourist shriveler. I prefer the warmer (and free) Big Stacy Pool at 800 E. Live Oak St., just a few blocks east of the South Congress stroll.
Today at noon, you can take in a free outdoor yoga class in Republic Square, the park across the street from the Fox & Hound. Now, flexibility is not my strong suit; for me yoga’s about as out of the question as Jack White sitting in with the Von Bondies. But if you’re a little more limber than a two by four, yoga can be a perfect complement to a busy day. “Yoga is very calming, a great way to de-stress,” says Jamie Hodge of the Yoga Yoga studio (1700 S. Lamar Blvd.). Walk-ins are $15 a class, which is also the rate at Prana Yoga (1115 S. Congress Ave.), two blocks down from the Continental Club. Every once in a while I like to relieve stress and pent-up agression by hitting something white, with dimples. Since Rhett Miller of Old 97’s would probably press charges, I plan to spend an afternoon slicing Titleists at the Hancock Golf Course (811 E. 41st St.), a scruffy antidote to snobby country clubs. Green fees are $8.50 on weekdays and $9.50 on weekends, which seems real cheap until you find yourself using a seven iron for your second shot on a par five. (It’s a real short course, see). Clubs rent for $8.75 for nine holes.
Why not do South by Southwest by Bike to get a fresh perspective on a festival that ends up not changing your life as much as you hoped it would (sorta like the George Foreman Grill)? Put your mettle to the pedal and feel the breeze of rejuvenation as you glide from club to club. Laugh at all the scenesters desperately descending on cabs like refugees at an airlift. The Bicycle Sport Shop at 1426 Toomey Road (behind the South Lamar Schlotzsky’s) rents two-wheelers for anywhere from $40 a day for pro calibre road bikes to $18 a day for “comfort” bikes.
The best way to make like Lance Armstrong, or at least Sheryl Crow, is to bike to the wilds of East Austin, previously known as The Land SXSW Forgot. Tonight at the Blue Genie Theater at 916 Springdale Road is the BMG/New Times party headlined by Toots and the Maytals, who’ve recorded a stunning duet with Willie Nelson on “Still Is Still Moving.” Invite required. Not so at Saturday’s free blowout at the Tillery Street Theater (701 Tillery Street). How’s this for a lineup? Carrie Clark’s new band the Pretty Please, last year’s SXSW sensation KaitO, Bedbug, Volcano, I’m Still Excited, Subset, Palaxy Tracks, Fivehead, Preston School of Industry . . . and we’re not even to 6 p.m. The shindig goes from noon to 8 p.m. The opposite of a health club is Red’s Scoot Inn (1308 E. 4th St.), which sports an “Ironweed” motif. Two big free punk shows from 2 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, featuring everyone from the Applicators to Tia Carrera (who unlike the fest’s Minnie Driver is a band not an actress) to Kinski will scare away the regulars. All right, it’s starting to sound like I’m thinking more about guitar tone than muscle tone. Let’s get back on massage with these healthy tips: * Work on wind sprints and stop/start agility by trying to cross South Congress on Saturday afternoon between the Continental Club, with Mojo Nixon’s annual festival of bands who used to open for the Beat Farmers, and Jo’s parking lot where Raul Malo heads a bill that also includes the annual debut of a new Alice Spencer band. Mojo has vowed that this will be his final performance. To which I say, “Curin Wan.” Yeah, right. * Stay away from the CSE/Charles Attal Management party in far East Austin. This late, late Thursday night party, known as “the Friday Killer,” has a strong lineup of Cake, Joan Jett and Secret Machines. But just as certain as Ray Benson will have a song called “The Chet Atkins Diet” on his next album, you will hate yourself in the afternoon, when you wake up, if you attend this soiree. Hit the hay early and come fresh to Friday’s parties a plenty, which kick off at 11 a.m. with a punk rock show at La Zona Rosa, featuring Sparta and more. Joss Stone, the young Brit soulster in a Sarah J. Parker wig, plays the Starbucks stage, near 24th and Guadalupe, at 3 p.m. Friday. From noon to 4 p.m. at Cedar Street Courtyard there’s the Virgin/ Astralwerks party with the Thrills, the Sleepy Jackson, the 88 and the Populist. An array of Houston hip-hoppers, including Devin the Dude, will be at the Lucky Lounge from 4- 8 p.m. (Since this is a rap show, the music should start around 7:30.) Over at Stubb’s, meanwhile, is the Spin party, hosted by David Cross. To say the headlining Hives are as hot as they were last year would be an inaccuracy along the lines of calling Spin editor Sia Michel camera shy. A bigger draw may be to see how Von Bondies singer Jason Stollsteimer healed up after being Jack White’s Jerry Quarry. (The thing that’s weird, though, is that even while he was being punched silly by White, Stollsteimer couldn’t get the riff of “Seven Nation Army” out of his head.) Also on the bill are the Killers and the Bronx. I guess the Faint would’ve been too perfect a booking considering last year’s Spin staffer swoon. * Oh, yeah. Drink lots of water. So, there you go; almost everything you need to know about having a happy, healthy SXSW. Follow this guide and you can stand before the legendary Soul Stirrers at Threadgill’s Sunday at 11 a.m. without shame. Before I head out to the SXSW Golf Tournament at noon, I’d like to point out one last thing: I am constantly being confused with KUT’s Larry Monroe, one of the better looking disc jockeys in town. Here’s how to tell us apart. If you see someone fitting my general description piling a plate at a buffet or hailing a cab, that’s Larry Monroe. I’m the one with the shirt tucked in, doing pushups against the bar.