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.