They say you shouldn’t meet your idols because they just can’t live up to your expectations. But Leslie Uppinghouse, whose 20-year run handling production at SXSW ended in March 2016, became an even bigger fan of Patti Smith after working with the high priestess of punk at SXSW 2000. This was back when the big free concerts were at Waterloo Park, not Auditorium Shores. Patti, Lenny and the gang made their first stop in Austin in 20 years to promote new CD Gung Ho.
“Every little dealing with Patti and her people was just a pleasure,” says Uppinghouse. They asked if they could get their equipment down to Austin in one of the trucks SXSW orders from New York and it turned out to be just a small set of drums and a guitar amp. No stacks or backdrop. “It was a big stage and I kept asking them to tell me what they needed,” she recalls. “They said all they needed was a riser for their drums.” Uppinghouse met her idol the day of the show, when Smith was held up at registration because she didn’t have a photo ID on her. “That was a proud moment,” says Uppinghouse, “getting to vouch for Patti Smith.” The pair chatted for a few minutes as her badge was made, then Patti was off to Waterloo.
Uppinghouse was busy during Smith’s set, making the rounds and “putting out fires,” as she says of her troubleshooting duties at venues. But she did find 10 minutes to catch a spirited performance by the goddess of the gutter. Gung Ho was inspired by Ho Chi Minh, and Smith read a poem by the former North Vietnamese leader before launching into “People Have the Power.” The Austin Chronicle wrote that the show “left the crowd dazed and still, witnesses to something that seemed not of this world,” which pretty much sums it up for Uppinghouse. But being a production chief she noticed the stage set-up first of all. “I’m glad I got the biggest riser because it turned out that the entire band stood on it. They had this whole, big stage to roam and they were all up there on the drum riser!” Mark down 2000 as the year the Patti Smith Group brought CBGB’s to an Austin park next to the hospital.