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

PLC with David Green, Rob Bernard, Kevin Russell 1986

PLC with David Green, Rob Bernard, Kevin Russell 1986

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. joesgenericBut, 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.


Born in 1987: The History of Lizzie Brenner (and SXSW)

Born in 1987: The History of Lizzie Brenner

Part 1 (1987- 1994): From baby acts and first steps to inspiration from the man in black

If you want to see how old South by Southwest is, look at volunteer coordinator Lizzie Brenner, who was born in April 1987, a month after her current employer. SXSW is a spry blonde with a pierced nose from Oklahoma (incidentally, the home state of one of its first buzz acts Defenestration.)

Brenner turns 29 in the spring, which reminds us that SXSW will not be 30 years old in March, but it will be the 30th year that the music conference and festival will be held. Younger twin siblings Interactive and Film will turn 22.

The year 1987 opened with The Dow Jones Industrial Average closing above the 2,000 mark for the first time. The week before the first SXSW, U2 released alternative music bonanza The Joshua Tree. Three days before Brenner saw life, so did The Simpsons, appearing for the first time on The Tracey Ullman Show.

SXSW 1987 Logo

That first year of SXSW there were 177 acts in 15 venues and the number of registrants, including comps, was 700. Some of the notable acts in the maiden year include Hal Ketchum, Rev. Horton Heat, Little Joe y La Familia, the Wagoneers, Dash Rip Rock and Buck Pets.

A true Oklahoma Sooner, Lizzie arrived two months early. In 1988, both Lizzie and SXSW took baby steps, with beatbox hitmakers Timbuk 3 headlining the Austin Music Awards and giving Austin a new theme song with “The Future’s So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades).” The number of venues almost doubled to 27 and the buzz acts included a 19-year-old from D.C. named Kelly Willis and an unsigned act from Minneapolis called the Jayhawks. In Year Two, SXSW backlash was born with experimental rock band Ed Hall starting a “SXSWSUX” campaign.

But, somehow, more and more folks started showing up and kept coming. Gin Blossoms hold the distinction of being one of the first acts signed to a major label after SXSW 1989 and they went on to have a big hit on A&M with “Hey, Jealousy.”

Not quite three years old, Lizzie was almost bit by a rattlesnake back in Oklahoma in 1990, but her trusty canine came to the rescue. But while Bitsy the Dog was a hero up north, Scruffy the Cat ruled Austin that week. Also in the buzz bin were Ultramagnetic MCs, Trip Shakespeare, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Let’s Active, Ranch Romance and Blake Babies, plus Austin’s own, Twang Twang Shock-a-Boom. This was the year SXSW started getting creative with the panels; one held in the Hyatt parking lot (“Dead Van In the Middle of the Road”) had a mechanic showing musicians how to make repairs on the fly. “Who Killed JFK?” would keep SXSW weird in ’91, with a symposium in Dallas to follow that November.

If you lived in Oklahoma in 1991, it didn’t matter if you were four years old, you fell in love with Garth Brooks, Lizzie’s first musical hero. The thunder rolled in Austin that March with the number of showcase artists topping 500 for the first time. Wristbands leapt from $15 to $25 to see such acts as Flat Duo Jets, Bob Mould, pre-Natalie Dixie Chicks, the Judybats, Kevin Welch, Spanic Boys, Uncle Tupelo, Barenaked Ladies and Matt “Guitar” Murphy, perhaps best known of them all because he played Aretha’s husband in The Blues Brothers.

In 1992, Lizzie started playing t-ball with the Diamond Bears, starting a sports career that would include a short stint of international basketball after college. The Mixed Media softball team could’ve used Brenner’s .725 batting average in ‘92, losing to Record Companies 24-3 in the championship game. (There’s no “mercy rule” in the music business.) Hitting home runs in the clubs that week were L7, Beat Farmers, Tiny Lights, Shadowy Men On a Shadowy Planet, Gear Daddies, Southern Culture On the Skids, Junior Brown and Dave Alvin. Columbia Records had a big free show on Auditorium Shores with Poi Dog Pondering, T Bone Burnett, James McMurtry, Darden Smith and more, but stealing the show was the arrival of Willie Nelson’s “Honeysuckle Rose” bus. The living legend made his SX debut with a short, unannounced set.

1994 SXSW Music Keynote Johnny Cash. Photo by Theresa DiMenno.

Nineteen-ninety-three was a bit of a traumatic year for Lizzie, who had just started first grade and had the class hamster get loose and die on her watch. Things were a bit crazy down in Texas, too, as the Branch Davidian standoff was happening in Waco during SXSW, which caused many journalists to do double duty. Still “shellshocked” from the previous year, SXSW was without a keynote speaker in ‘93, but Gov. Ann Richards stepped in to give a smart and funny welcoming speech that felt like a keynote. Lizzie missed the debut performance of P, featuring her favorite actor at the time Johnny Depp. Also partaking in the mid-March festivities were actors Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, in town shooting Waiting For Guffman. SXSW’s first “celeb sighting” was at Antone’s for fellow Canadians Blue Rodeo.

Big changes came to second-grader Lizzie in ’94, as she moved from the big city to the smalltown of Woodward, OK. SXSW, meanwhile, was moving in the other direction. The once-regional affair received national attention when the gigantic presence of Johnny Cash, at the start of his Rubinesque solo acoustic comeback, lifted it with a musical keynote address. Those gathered were his “grandchildren,” and for the rest of the week we were on a mission to make PawPaw proud.

It was a confusing time of starting over for Lizzie, but she found spiritual comfort in Father Joe from St. Peter’s, always dressed in black except for his priest’s collar.

Part 2 (1995-2000): Music, sports, social media and going international

A major event in Lizzie’s life in 1995 was getting her first portable music player, a Sony Walkman. New technology was a major topic at SXSW that year, with one panel exploring “Performance Rights on the New Frontier.” With the demise of the almighty New Music Seminar in NYC the previous year, SXSW was now THE place to mix business and pleasure, topping 5,000 registrants and 100 trade show exhibitors for the first time. In retrospect, the set of the fest was Wilco playing Liberty Lunch 10 days before their debut LP came out, but the biggest lines were for platinum-selling Soul Asylum at the Terrace (formerly Austin Opera House), the Bush/Elastica pairing at Liberty Lunch and extreme buzz band The Presidents of the United States of America at Steamboat.

SXSW 1996 Poster.

Third-grader Lizzie Brenner was wowing the soccer crowds in 1996 with her handspring-fueled throw-in move, but down Austin way everyone was flipping over the Fugees at Stubb’s (they came back after a 90-minute rain delay), the Matador showcase at Liberty Lunch (Liz Phair, Spoon, Guided By Voices) and punk-pop band Blink-182. The biggest crowds were for the free stage at Sixth and Brazos featuring Joan Osborne, so hot with the musical question “What If God Was One of Us?” and God himself, Iggy Pop. The previous year’s free outdoor concert at the prime intersection- Rounder Records 25th anniversary party with Irma Thomas, Johnny Adams, Beau Jocque and Rebirth Brass Band was a New Orleans street party compared to the Mardi Gras intensity of Joan and Iggy. Free outdoor shows moved to Waterloo Park two years later and eventually to Auditorium Shores.

In 1997, Lizzie and her family explored their ancestorial roots in Ireland for three weeks. SXSW was also full of “pond-jumpers” that year, with Atari Teenage Riot coming from Germany, Ben Lee from Australia and Guitar Wolf from Japan. SXSW has had an international flavor since the third year, when reggae star Pato Banton led the charge from England and Mano Negra came from Paris. But once the housing program- placing foreign acts in Austin homes, with hosts receiving credentials in return- was established, the exchange really took off. Wednesday, which has previously belonged to the Austin Music Awards, became a night for official showcases in 1997. Also, Brent Grulke joined the three remaining SXSW founders – Roland Swenson, Louis Black and Nick Barbaro – as a director, in charge of booking and running the music fest. He landed Tony Bennett that year, as well as Whiskeytown, of Montreal, Jimmy Eat World and Archers of Loaf.

Lizzie got her first grill- gold braces- as a fifth grader in 1998. That was the year drummer Fred Armisen, who had come to SXSW with his then-girlfriend Sally Timms of the Mekons, made his name in comedy grilling badgewearers for the impromptu mockumentary Fred Armisen’s Guide to Music and South by Southwest. Notable unknowns that year were Black Eye Peas, Rufus Wainwright, Get Up Kids, Neko Case, Queens of the Stone Age, the Donnas and the Urinals.

Patti Smith at SXSW 2000. Photo by Gary Miller.

OK, what are we up to: 1999? Oh, yes, this is the year Lizzie Brenner became terrified of the ocean, after seeing Jaws. She also got her own email address, not too useful for a sixth grader back then. But the new social media was encroaching at a fast pace (cue Jaws music) making for the prophetic panel “Downloading On the Upswing: Trouble For the Music Industry?” The worst rainstorm in SXSW history was the Thursday of SXSW, canceling Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard at Stubb’s. But Saturday night came that force of nature known as Tom Waits, who thrilled a packed Paramount Theatre and moved SXSW into the realm of “anything can happen.” Other notables in ’99 were Death Cab For Cutie, Bright Eyes, the Hives, Cibo Matto and Built To Spill.

Somehow the world did not end on Y2K, though Brenner nearly burned down the family’s farmhouse when a Roman candle at midnight changed directions and crashed into the side in a burst of flames. Oops! In its 14th season, SXSW featured 970 acts on 47 stages, with the 8,000 plus registrants topping the number for Interactive and Film combined. This was a political year at South By, with keynoter Steve Earle using much of his time to assail the death penalty, while Patti Smith read a poem about Ho Chi Minh and wrapped herself in the Vietnamese flag at the end of her free show at Waterloo Park.

We had entered a new century and both Lizzie Brenner and SXSW were teenagers now. Puberty was not always easy.

Part 3 (2001- 2007) From hoopsters to hipsters: Lizzie shoots, SXSW rebounds

Born In 1987: The History of Lizzie Brenner

How old is South by Southwest? The music conference and festival was born in March 1987, a month before SXSW volunteer coordinator Lizzie Brenner. In getting to know about Lizzie, we hope you’re also finding out stuff or reliving your own memories of SXSW in years past.

We pick up the story in 2001, with Brenner and SXSW both 13. Music is about to take over Lizzie’s life like never before, as she bought a brand new device called the iPod. She was in the 8th grade now and ready to rock.

SXSW passed 1,000 acts for the first time in ’01 and keynote speaker Ray Davies sat in with one of them, performing the appropriate “Starstruck” with the New Pornographers at La Zona Rosa. The music component of SXSW had its first drop in attendance, but 2001 was a banner year for up-and-coming talent. Many of the acts who would fill Lizzie’s iTunes library for years to come, including The Strokes, White Stripes, Coldplay, My Morning Jacket, the Shins, Kasey Chambers, Robert Randolph and Drive-By Truckers, played clubs, though none of those acts had longer lines than Flickerstick and Soulcracker of VH1 reality show Bands On the Run.

The 9/11 tragedy affected everything, from a nation’s psyche to its economy, and SXSW had another dip in registration in March 2002. It was a big year for Lizzie Brenner, who was elected freshman class president, attended her first concert sans the ‘rents (Britney Spears) and tried alcohol and cigarettes for the first time. We survived Courtney Love, whose erratic interview with Chuck Philips of the L.A. Times came just hours after she locked herself in the men’s room of the Hole In the Wall with a couple of powdered caffeine salesmen. Courtney went on and on about The Hives, who weren’t at SXSW that year. But Norah Jones, who had the #1 album in the country at the time, was on hand, as were Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mastodon, They Might Be Giants, the Darkness, OK Go and Ash.

Lizzie got her driver’s license after failing the written test twice in 2003, the year of the fender-bender. But down in Austin the big topic was whether or not President George W. Bush had license to invade Iraq and blow up those “weapons of mass destruction” (wink, wink). In the midst of severe Dixie Chicks backlash over an anti-Bush statement made the week before South By, the artists panel was themed with activism. But the party went on. This was the year Junior Senior had half of Sixth Street dancing during their set at Friends, plus you also had Raveonettes, Blur, the Yardbirds (with guests Slash and Steve Vai), Fall Out Boy, Decemberists, Black Keys, Mountain Goats, Tony Joe White and B-52’s. The Flatstock poster show became a part of SXSW and the Spin party, previously an after hours rager, moved to Friday afternoon in ‘03.

Mavis Staples at SXSW Music 2005. Photo by Gary Miller.

Eleventh grade was all about hoops for star forward Lizzie B., who led Woodward High to the state championship. Named tourney MVP, Brenner was recruited to play basketball for the University of Central Oklahoma. Getting a full ride at SXSW 2004 were Los Lonely Boys, who came to South By with the massive hit “Heaven” and set an Auditorium Shores attendance record by cramming in 20,000. Just two Marches earlier, the San Angelo blues brothers were hoping anyone would notice them. In the clubs, the biggest buzz was for Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse, Coheed and Cambria, Dizzee Rascal, Dresden Dolls, Hold Steady, TV on the Radio and N.E.R.D. Pharrell Williams of that latter band would go back to the coasts and hype SXSW to the hip hop hierarchy, who could come to define SXSW for many in the years to come.

In 2005, Lizzie graduated Woodward High as valedictorian. She was also class president all four years and the basketball team’s leading scorer. But she couldn’t rebound like SXSW. After a few flat or down years in registration, ’05 saw a large spike in attendance from the previous year. Robert Plant was a funny and charming keynoter, perhaps inspired by the Mavis Staples prelude. This was the year SXSW expanded East in a big way, but downtown was still packed with folks wanting to see LCD Soundsystem, M.I.A., Paul Wall, John Legend, Ray LaMontagne, Sleater-Kinney, the Go! Team, Death From Above 1979, Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party and so on.

The hype hit the fan in 2006, and we’re not talking about Brenner’s b-ball skills. (She scored a career high 30 points against Southeastern University.) Arctic Monkeys, fresh from an appearance on Saturday Night Live, were the hottest new band since Oasis when they played La Zona Rosa to a packed house. Leaving town with more buzz than they had coming in were Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Corrine Bailey Rae, KT Tunstall, Chamillionaire, Flight of the Conchords, The Gossip, Animal Collective, Silversun Pickups and Art Brut.

Before her second year in college, Lizzie and her brother did a three week tour of Europe, where they happened to stumble in to a Muse concert in Florence, Italy. It was a life-changing experience, which is what the Stooges and Stax were to many at SXSW 2007. Iggy, the Asheton brothers and Mike Watt dee-stroyed Stubb’s on a bill with Kings of Leon and Spoon, while the Stax 50 Revue delighted a packed house at Antone’s (including Amy Winehouse, who exploded in ‘07), with a house band of Booker T and the MGs and Isaac Hayes, Eddie Floyd and William Bell on vocals. And British Invasion royalty took over the Austin Music Awards when keynote Pete Townshend jammed with Ian McLagan on a tribute to Ronnie Lane, Ian’s mate from the Faces.

History of Lizzie, Part 4 (2008 to present): Changing careers for a walk on the wild side

Born In 1987: The History of Lizzie Brenner

In 2008, Lizzie Brenner and SXSW Music both turned 21 (though it would be the 22nd conference), but nothing makes a music conference more street legal than having Lou Reed, the Godfather of Punk, as a keynote. It was also the year a couple of non-musical celebs started getting involved in a big way. Parties hosted by Rachael Ray and Perez Hilton have become a popular new tradition. The month before “I Kissed a Girl” was released, Katy Perry played an ASCAP showcase and the Perez party. Who else broke out at the 2008 affair? Lady, we were all ga-ga over Bon Iver, Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes, MGMT, Duffy, Blitzen Trapper and Darondo.

In 2009, the number of acts matched the year SXSW and Lizzie Brenner were born, with 1,987 taking 88 stages. These were the names of SXSW Music 2009: Quincy Jones, Metallica, Kanye West, Avett Brothers, St. Vincent, Matt & Kim, Mumford & Sons, Jane’s Addiction, Erykah Badu, LMFAO, Kid Cudi, Janelle Monae, Devo, Echo and the Bunnymen. Twas a glory year for SXSW Music, which would top the Interactive component in registration numbers – 11,687 to 10, 741 – for the last time. Lizzie Brenner, whose mind was on WNBA not SXSW, was deep in her senior year at UCO, then, after setting 10 school records in basketball, she spent the summer playing hoops in Australia.

Brenner returned to Central Oklahoma with the intention of continuing graduate studies to become a basketball coach. But in 2010, she did a 180-degree spin move, changing her masters program to entertainment business. This is when she first became aware of that monster of mid-March called SXSW, which had a bittersweet 2010. On the first day of Music, Alex Chilton, whose seminal Big Star group was to play and be the subject of a panel, passed away at home in New Orleans from a heart attack. The panel turned into a wake and the showcase became a tribute on Saturday, the coldest day in SXSW history, with temps in the 30s. Also feted with songs, delivered by John Cale, Bob Neuwirth, Los Lonely Boys and others in the back of Las Manitas, was SXSW treasure Alejandro Escovedo, whose near-death experience related to Hepatitis C was the subject of the Por Vida benefit LP. The buzzbirds of ’10 included the xx, Surfer Blood, Broken Bells, Anita Tijoux, Local Natives, Low Anthem, Band of Horses, Death, Miike Snow and all the N.O. “bounce” acts like Big Freedia.

Lizzie Brenner didn’t know a single person in Austin when she moved here in 2011 for an internship with SXSW. It was a leap of faith when she packed her car and drove down from Oklahoma, but she’s never looked back. And she met the man of her dreams in fellow SXSW staffer Catlin Whitington. In ’11, thoughts were heavy for Japan, which lost thousands when the country was rocked by earthquakes and tsunamis the Friday before SXSW Music, which has long been a favorite destination of Japanese bands. This was the year Kanye West and Jay Z took over Seaholm Power Plant for a private party that found them “uninviting” thousands for safety concerns. Private shindigs routinely approve the RSVPs for numbers many times higher than the venue’s capacity, but that practice was halted in this high-wattage instance. The drama was comparatively mundane, though fan reaction was high, at SXSW ’11 sets by Odd Future, Foster the People, Wild Flag, James Blake, tUnEyArDs, Eliza Doolittle, Two Door Cinema Club, the Naked and Famous and other acts of note. Good thing Brenner’s not starstruck because there were celebs galore at SXSW 2011: Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Jodie Foster, Michael Stipe, Yoko Ono and the Foo Fighters, who played a surprise show at Stubb’s.

Bruce Springsteen at SXSW Music 2012. Photo by Kevin Mazur.

Hooray for 2012! Lizzie Brenner was offered a full-time position at SXSW, joining the working class that year’s Music Keynote Bruce Springsteen writes and sings so eloquently about. Springsteen and the E-Street Band played an epic concert at ACL Live, calling up Eric Burdon and Jimmy Cliff for guest spots. 50 Cent performed one of his albums in it’s entirety, just checking… yes, it was Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, with Enimem doing his part. But perhaps THE set of the fest was when Jack White and his Third Man Records took over the Stage on Sixth Street, a country-western bar. With room for only 500 inside, Sixth Street was full of fans who just wanted to hear a taste and got a full plate when the windows were opened and White, doing one set with an all-female band and one set with the boys, played to the outsiders. You want more proof 2012 rocked? How ‘bout Alabama Shakes, A$AP Rocky, Gary Clark Jr., Zola Jesus, Sharon Van Etten, Of Monsters and Men, Father John Misty, Metric, SBTRKT, Lana Del Rey and Nas. There was also that business of the Strokes at Auditorium Shores, when many more thousands than there were room for showed up. Oh, for the days of the Iron Cactus showcase!

SXSW lost Brent Grulke in August 2012 to a heart attack. But the longtime SXSW Music director’s love of music became the inspiration of the Grulke Prize, awarded annually to two rising acts – U.S. and international – as well as to an established artist. The winners in 2013 were Flaming Lips (career act), Haim (developing U.S. act) and CHVRCHES (developing Non-U.S.) And what of our Okie hoopster? L.B. added the music volunteer program to her duties organizing film volunteers. She was too busy to wonder if Kendrick Lamar, who broke big in ’13, got robbed at the Grulke. As far as setting trends that are still going: Dave Grohl was everywhere at SXSW, delivering a great keynote, screening his Sound City film and playing a set at Stubb’s, with Foo Fighters backing Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Rick Neilson of Cheap Trick and Rick Springfield. Oh, and Prince played SXSW with his 22-piece band at La Zona Rosa. Yes, THE Prince!

Well, here it was 2014 and Ms. Brenner became engaged, as fiancée Catlin dropped to one knee in front of his family and hers at Butler Park. But we also remember the horrible tragedy of that year, when a drunk driver fleeing police plowed into a crowd on Red River, killing four. With heavy hearts, the event continued. Many fans were healed by Hozier, whose performance at St. David’s was near-religious. Sam Smith played the same venue and was booked for Saturday Night Live, before his first album came out, based on that performance. We searched for beauty in the darkness. Keynote speaker Lady Gaga was the big name going in, but Royal Blood, Protomartyr, Chet Faker and Grulke Prize winners Future Islands and the Strypes also had tongues in wag mode during the week.

Winning the Grulke Prize in 2015 were Spoon (career act), one of Brent’s favorite bands, plus Fort Worth soul man Leon Bridges and Aussie writer-rocker Courtney Barnett in the developing categories. The late, great Doug Sahm cast a big silhouette on SXSW 2015, with the screening of the Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove documentary and a tribute concert both packing the Paramount Theatre. SXSW grew out of what Doug Sahm started, so 2015 had a full circle feel, especially when Miley Cyrus took the stage as an unannounced act at the Fader Fort on the Thursday night. Did you know Miley’s daddy played the second-ever SXSW, at a showcase at Birraporetti’s on Riverside Drive, years before “Achy Breaky Heart?” SXSW has become a multi-generational affair, especially since, like Lizzie Brenner, so many of the participants were not even born when SXSW started. In March 1987 that would have been inconceivable, but you take one year at a time and stack them up and before you know it, you’re about to do your 30th.

Circles are completed and started at SXSW; Lizzie Brenner starts her new life as Lizzie Whitington in November. What a ride it’s been so far for the event and its volunteer coordinator born a month later.

30 Days in September for 30 Years in March: Read the SXSW history project.




  1. “The registration line was insane. That’s 20 minutes of my life I won’t get back.”
  1. “Some band just handed me an album. Haven’t they heard of cassettes?”
  1. “Do you know where Saturday’s day party is?”
  1. “Austin learned its lesson from the Armadillo. No way they’re tearing down Liberty Lunch for an office building.”
  1. “I’m in such a hurry I’m gonna have to grab lunch from a food trailer. Where’s the nearest construction site?”
  1. “We can either see Mojo Nixon tonight for free or pay $50 to see him next year at the Erwin Center.
  2. “Let’s just take a cab to Salt Lick. How much could it be?”
  3. “So, besides the Austin Music Awards, what else are you excited about this week?”
  4. “They used to be a punk band, but now they play roots music. With punk energy.”
  5. “Listen, I paid $20 for this wristband and I WILL get in to see Scruffy the Cat.”
  6. “I’m not sure, but I think the Spin party is either in room 1703 or 1307.
  7. “Holy crap, that’s Peter Zaremba!”
  8. “SXSW is a good idea, but they’re going to need to rely on the revenue from the Austin Chronicle to survive.”
  9. “One day this thing might be bigger than Aquafest. OK, I’m wasted.”
  10. “If you’re cool you call it ‘Southby’.”
  11. “I heard they were going to have a hip-hop act this year, but couldn’t find a corporate sponsor.
  12. “They need to get someone hip, with an opinion, to keynote.  Someone like Michelle Shocked.”
  13.  ”Wow, I just gave my business card to music industry bigwig Jim Fouratt!”
  14. “OK, we’ve got this cool party space on SoCo. What should we do in the storefront? A gallery for outsider art? Really?”
  15. “Let’s share a room at the San Jose. Not to save money, but to take turns standing guard.”


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

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.

2 Comments on “SXSW”

  1. Pretty damn great article!

  2. Debi Martin says:

    Got a good work-out laughing out loud. As usual, you crack me up. Keep writing. Please!

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