SXSW 2007 (a/k/a “Every Breath I Took”)

Musical Quik-Sketch
. South-By-Southwest provides 60 venues for approx. 1500 bands over 4 nights, most changing hourly from 8 pm til 2 am, much of the activity on and bracketing a one-mile strip. During the day the same clubs host showcases from record companies, bands and entire nations - “The Bands of Australia.” Near the Austin Convention Center are outdoor and tented venues which blast music all day long, free to everyone. Elsewhere, vacant lots are rented out or commandeered by bands, and independent bands and soloists perform on street corners, alcoves and houses. It’s a beehive of musical activity.

A fast-cut assemblage of my annual views of downtown Austin over the past five years would look like a Whack-A-Mole missing a mallet, bldgs springing up and nobody whacking them down. It’s not hard to envision the day when 6th Street, the Skid Row dolled up each year for the fest, will be “Old Town,” the city’s only remaining Civil War era strip. Then Austin’s downtown will be exactly, not increasingly, like every other.

How many people at SXSW? Coulda been a million. But the common cry of “It’s too crowded” only applies to shows attended by “buzz” followers, always someone famous or ‘hot.’ For every crowded show there are thirty not-so. The people choosing music for the fest aren’t idiots: go to the clubs less traveled.

“South-By” has apparently been standard shorthand for SXSW for years. I’d missed it. Speaking of words, it would be nice if they ran a moratorium on bands with ‘fuck’ in their name.

I put my phone on Vibrate at the loud clubs, but had to check it all the time because bass-speakers make everything vibrate. When walking down 6th Street during South-By, the bass-blasts coming out of clubs make you think you’re in Baghdad. Rock the Casbah. (I know, that’s Algeria.)

I got caught in a mind-warp when I opened a copy of The Onion and saw SXSW band reviews. I knew it was a satirical paper so didn’t know what to make of lines like “took some of his main band’s most fetching indie-folk moves and stretched them out into crisp, longform songs adding subconscious nods to Latin music.” Was it a sendup of marble-mouthed rock writing? How about “builds an improbable bridge between the gauzy noise of early 90’s shoegaze and Japanese Pop, with layered guitars swirling around catchy, bilingual vocals.” A wicked turn on Ann Powers? No, the exterior of the Onion is satire, the insert is real. Who knew?`

This year I became aware of the inexactitude of Austin drivers. More often than not in the downtown crush I would see intersections blocked by drivers - pickup truck drivers, livery people, not SXSW badge-wearers - who would crowd forward when their light went red. This, I think, occurs in an atmosphere in which drivers lack the fear of violence from other drivers. We in L.A. are very good at keeping our intersections clear and our lives intact. Another quirk is parking in front of two adjacent parking meters, harmless enough because the spaces themselves are unnaturally long to accomodate unpredictably-long vehicles.

Cars blocking Cesar Chavez Ave.

California-bashing is alive and well in Austin, strange for a town just like ours only smaller. Driving past new highway and housing clearings a dozen miles outside of town, a non-native Austinite scowled “Damn Californians.” Makes you wonder how Texans have dropped their birthrate to zero-replacement. Serrano peppers?

I’m not one to issue ‘awards’ except this once. The award for Most Exhausted SXSW attender is a tie between Paul Riley of Proper Records UK whom I encountered Saturday buying new sunglasses because someone TOLD him that one lens was missing from his current pair and Kent Benjamin who walked past a familiar three-story downtown parking lot without noticing it was a two-story pile of rubble.

Crushed pkg lot - pretty neat

And finally, a fall SXSW commercial handout hit so hard at how companies could make profits from the convention that I thought there was a new waterway there called Revenue Stream.

South-By, By Me

Feb 15 Day minus-24.
Spoke with Larry Slovin of Hightone. He was proposing a SXSW panel with Chip Taylor and Hightone’s P.F. Sloan, but needed a third songwriter. I could think of no one. I called my friend Teri in NY and she said “Jackie DeShannon, you idiot.” I called Larry and he flipped. (I took full credit, of course.) Jackie was contacted but declined: too much cost, bother. No P.F., no conclave. A loss for everyone.

March 1 Day Minus-11
. Swamp Dogg called asking if there’s anything he do at SXSW. (He played twice in the late 90s.) At 11 a.m. I contacted the talent booking dept on a ring (email) and a prayer with “I have Swamp Dogg. Do you have any cancellations?” At 3 pm I got back: “He is playing 11:00 Saturday night at the Continental.” So how come I can’t work these miracles for myself?

Tuesday, March 12 Day Minus-1
. I arrived at Burbank Airport at 6:20 for the 8 am flight. All’s easy til the terrorist screening when we’re all handed Ziploc sandwich bags into which “all your gels, lotions, liquids and pastes must fit.” I looked at the hotel samples randomly strewn in my ‘toiletry’ case, and threw out a bunch. (The trashcan was brimming.) When it was handed back to me, the searcher eyed my nearly-spent toothpaste tube suspiciously. “This is too large” he said. “Have you weighed it?” I said. No matter, he said, and tossed it.

I got off the plane at 2:30, and knew I was in Austin - live music in the lobby. Knowing the airport extracts a 30% surtax on car rentals I bypassed picking up the penultimately-small car I’d reserved from Avis for $256/wk (with my discount card!) and for $30 took a cab in the rain to the Avis office on (Highway) I-35 and Wm Cannon and got a price of $199 (and, luck with me, a P/T Cruiser). I asked the clerk if there was an alternate to the crawling, crowded freeway to downtown and he suggested Cannon west to Congress north. “It will be jammed, too, but at least you can stop for a cup of coffee.” But he didn’t reckon I was Lucky Man. I shot down Cannon at 45 without stopping and then up Congress at 40 mph with nary another car alongside me.

I parked at a meter near the Austin Convention Center (heretofore ACC) and donned rain gear. At the center I saw four men in orange space suits and helmets handing out Windows samples and knew I was at SXSW. Inside the bldg I took the escalator up, and easily obtained my credentials; the next day would be a different story, which is why we Early Birds arrive Tuesday. I talked with Jay Trachtenberg, the ex-L.A. guy who runs a popular show at KUT in Austin, and the grand-gesturing Michael Des Barres. Headed then to the Dog & Duck where my host Kent was contemplating the big free show he was producing there Friday for Pop Culture Press. Then went over to Ruby’s barbecue on 29th & Guadalupe
(final syllable pronounced ‘loop’) to meet L.A. restauranteur Rich Brenner (Hugo’s, the Dive) and his daughter Rachel. I watched them eat (already’d had fish & chips) and listened to the rain beat loudly on the tin roof.

At midnight I showed up at the Saxon Pub to see the non-SXSW (had to pay $10) show by Peter Case, my roommate at Kent’s house. He played live and lively with his son accompanying him on guitar and harmonies, and onetime Nerves companion Paul Collins joined for a few songs. Pete rocked the house, but I got there too late to see Bobby Whitlock’s set.

Peter Case, Josh Case, Paul Collins

Back at Kent’s at 3 am, me and Pete jawed a while, then went to sleep.

Wensday, March 13. Day 1.
Got a 1:10 pm call from Mark Leviton wondering if I’d arrived. It was a wakeup call! So much for a jackrabbit start. Met Rich Brenner at Maudie’s for breakfast, got to ACC at 3:00. The pkg lot was posted ‘Full,’ but someone must’ve’d just left bec the gal waved me in. (This year your $7 gets you two in-and-outs, a nice touch.)

On the second floor of the Center I saw several long lines, the main one a continuation of the downstairs line, which led to a holding pen and another line. Everyone gets processed eventually, but Oy! I stepped into the concert room next to the Trade Show (which would open Thursday) and watched Robyn Hitchcock, whom I’d never before seen (he strikes me as a more precious Nick Lowe), intersperse 60’s songs between Joe Boyd’s readings from his - Joe’s - book. Saw Press chief Elizabeth Derczo, had photo-permit cards attached to my camera and mini-DV. (As the cameras get smaller the cards get more intrusive.) Ran into Swamp Dogg, carrying a box of new CDs. Arranged for a pass for Ray from L.A. who was acting as Swamp’s percussionist.

Got a call from NY writer Jason Gross, just arrived in town with Ed Ward from Berlin. Met Jason and his gf Robin Cook at the Ironworks Barbecue next to the ACC. (We had walked previously to Las Manzanitas on Congress, only to find it closed.) Chowed down and walked to the Hilton where Pete Townsend was giving an onstage interview. Many were thrilled, I stayed 5 minutes and set out for La Zona Rosa to find Mark and see the Pipettes, whom he recommended. I stepped onto the street and ran into a friend, Austin bassist Vic Gerard, and his son.

At La Zona Rosa, the line Mark had waited in for 45 minutes had just been admitted so I walked right in. Ha! The Pipettes were extremely usual, girls singing and doing ‘Hairspray’ moves, very British television, nothing great, so I left. Headed east on 4th Street past Fado’s, a non-SXSW Irish bar, heard a good band on the patio and went in. They were Pennysworth from Minneapolis, playing in an early-70s British Pop style. What a wonderful surprise. Then I stopped at a hollow under the Frost Bank bldg at 4th & Congress to listen to Stick Man (theoctobermayfly at MySpace), an Austin band recently arrived from Michigan. The singer’s slide guitar and singing were great, the bassist/synth guy and drummer terrif, so I took a plastic chair and shot 40 minutes of dv tape. I had been heading to a show, but why leave when great music is right in front of you? I was the only constant audience member. It was good to be king.

Finally uprooted to ACC to see Austin Music Awards, an opportunity to shmooze. (Haven’t heard that word lately. It must be “out.”) Saw a line AND saw Billy Altman, NY rock writer, and ingratiated myself in - some would call it ‘cutting’. The guy behind him said “I need to talk to you,” which I thought an unclear threat (for cutting in), but in fact it was Rick Mitchell, co-author of the book and producer of the album by Johnny Bush, whom I was scheduled to interview tomorrow. Indeed, we did need to talk! So we did. Inside the hall I saw Austinites Freddy Krc (pronounced Kirch), Mike Vernon, Jim Yanaway, and others. Also saw Townsend join Ian McLagan onstage, a visual thrill for fans, of no musical importance.

I was not prepared to make choices that night so attached myself to Billy Altman, who had. Billy’s first pick was the Holmes Brothers at the Parrish. I hear it was good: I arrived as they left the stage. Watched a bit of Ruthie Foster, a fine singer, and went to Stubbs, a huge outdoor venue, to see Lily Allen. She sang ska-like songs, and seemed sorta bratty. I heard the word ‘pregnant’ and saw her light a cigarette, which I found tres autre, but that may be happenstance. Saw little of the show, as we got in late (after cutting in on Rich Brenner and Rachel. It was my ‘cut’ night.) Billy led me to Emo’s to see Voxxtrot, who are in the vein of the Buzzcocks I am told. We left and he ran into Jim Fourrat, longtime NY club booker. Then we went to Flinty’s Loft to see KTU, a Finnish experimental band with a lead singer (?) who made electronic strangling noises while playing accordian, aided by a guitarist and drummer. I ditched KTU and “Wrong Way” Altman (in his defense, the band was recommended to him by David “I’ve Lost My Mind” Fricke) and went to a reliable sanctuary after any evening of puzzling music, the Continental Club.

KTU - “UGH!”

Ostage was Scott Biram, who sings like Joe Cocker gargling cat litter. It was OK. In the backroom were two Heads - always better than one - Jerry Harrison and David Byrne. (Byrne, someone said, had earlier played in a lot across the street.) Stayed til closing, then went to the Magnolia Cafe and encountered (literally, he was sitting at the counter) Rich Brenner. Exiting I ran into Big Sandy and his friend Veronica and invaded their table til I exhausted my welcome. Home to bed.

Sandy, Art, Veronica

Thursday, March 14. Day 2.
Broke fast with Kent and Peter Case at Kerbey Lane on Lamar, and ran into Paul & Nancy Body and Rich Brenner and Rachel. I was disappointed that the sign I saw every year, ‘NO UNREGISTERED GUNS ALLOWED,” was not posted by the entryway, but a local assured me most restaurants had it.

AF, Kent, Peter, Paul

My cellphone wasn’t giving me messages Wensday and I futilely sought a Verizon store but stopped searching when I realized the Convention Center was a mini-universe. Sure enough, at the Trade Show I found a Verizon rep and he solved my problem. I went to the press room and used a complimentary laptop, and hung around most of the day missing all the cool panels, waiting to do my tv interview, for SXSW, with Johnny Bush.

At 5:30 I did it with reservations. I wasn’t comfortable with the airless glass booth - and being on the right; I always interview from the left. Also, just before going on I learned that it was a 15-minute, not 30-minute interview, that would be edited down to 5. That was hardly enough time, and indeed, when I asked him about a time BEFORE he joined Ray Price’s band, became Willie Nelson’s best friend, wrote “Whiskey River,” lost his voice to a nervous disorder, climbed up and skidded off the charts and he consumed five minutes answering in a slow, measured manner, I could feel time racing by. There was too much to discuss in too little time and I was drenched in flop-sweat but got through it, covering approximately 1/20th of what I intended.

J. Bush interview

From there I met Mark at a nondescript corner patio restaurant on 8th & Congress and had an unmemorable salad of my own construction. En route on 7th to the Red 7 I heard a band playing late 60s British blues and couldn’t tear myself away. It was Back Door Slam from England (previously identified mistakenly herein as Dead End Slam), playing in a flat spot in a brick-strewn lot, between large column speakers that listed the day’s bands. (The “This Lot For Rent” sign for this rubble-filled space seemed like a joke, til I realized someone had done it!) The lead singer sang like Terry Reid and played amazing guitar. I stopped and watched the their set in dropped-jaw amazement. Also got choked up when the 19-year-old singer said with great sincerity “You have no idea how happy we are to be here.” In a brick-filled lot! The band is signed to a Wash. state label, and was doing concerts all around Austin - and was thrilled to be playing to 30 people. Man, the best shows in Austin are free.

Back Door Slam

I still got to the Red 7 Club early and got a good spot at the Norton Records show. Billy & Miriam of Norton have never showcased at SXSW before, and presented a socko lineup. I saw a bit of the Dex Romweber Duo, a guy singer and his drummer sister, then a great set by the A-Bones. (Billy fired this off; “For you Old Testament fans, we’ve had Rachel, Rebecca and Miriam up here. For you New Testament people Mary is coming out later.”) After the Alarm Clocks, Sam The Sham came out to great clamor after a long delay, but he put out the fire by with a 6-song set, three of which were a blues by Sam, his bassist, and keyboardist Charlie Rich Jr. Sam holds his early works in contempt and, by extension anyone who likes them, as he intro’d “Wooly Bully” with words to the effect that it took an IQ of 38 to write the song - or, I took it, to like it. Thanks, Sam. I went out to walk someone to their hotel but then couldn’t reenter, told instead to get in the mile-long new-arrivals line, so I missed Mary Weiss. As I walked toward 6th Street I encountered Gary Stewart, once of Rhino now of iTunes, dining al fresco from a takeout container and he generously shared his fries with me as we gabbed. Forthwith I sought shelter at the Continental Club. (I nearly wrote “The Palomino,” the L.A. country nightclub I inhabited for 20 years.)

Sam was really a SHAM

Outside the Continental at midnight I encountered an ex -L.A. writer (Austin resident, Texas born!) who is known there, and here, for his obnoxiousness. “Hey, Fein, you look almost straight” was his pretty clever greeting, and I responded honestly “Last time I saw you you had all your teeth.” He, a little bigger than me and a lot crazier, said “I oughta kick your ass.” I tried to slip from his social grip, and did. Inside I saw the finish of John Doe’s set, which was vigorously received by the crowd, and ran into Big Sandy, who was about to sing with Los Straitjackets, and Mojo Nixon, who has a show on Sirius (or is it XM?) and was hosting a bash at the club later in the week.

Big Sandy about to go onstage

When all was sung and done, I went to the Magnolia Cafe (it’s a little south of the Continental Club) - and ran into Rich Brenner again. It’s funny being at a restaurant with a restaurant guy. “Look at all that food” he said, pointing to the untaken plates (we were sitting facing the kitchen). I did, and saw nothing. “They need a runner. That stuff is getting cold.”

Friday, March 15. Day 3. Had breakfast at Maudie’s with Kent alone, Peter Case having left town for other gigs. Had Pete’s Tacos again, the greatest food on earth. Kent left for the Dog & Duck to tend to the free show he co-produces. I went to the ACC again, hung around, used the computers (Dell this year) in the press room, and dropped in and out of Ed Ward’s interview with Joe Boyd. Got a call from Charlie Feldman inviting me to the BMI back-lawn breakfast at the 4 Seasons, but when I walked over there the food was gone (no matter, wasn’t hungry) and I couldn’t find Charlie.

Ian McLagan signing books and CDs in the Trade Room

Went to Threadgill’s around 3. There I learned I had friends in prominent places, or placement. The first person to greet me was gracious Nancy Coplin, who books bands for the airport, who remembered me from my tv show which stopped running in Austin eleven years ago. Then I encountered the slightly psycho ex-L.A. guy from the Continental the night before, who greeted me with “Hey, Fein, I don’t like what you said last night.” His threatening posture was strictly theatrical, but still I sought to get away from him, and after exchanging a few words I moved to slowly depart and he moved to block me. He in fact was just posturing and I passed, and when I looked to the back wall of the patio I saw Jim Yanaway and a friend poised to pounce - they’d been eyeing the guy’s body language and were going to leap to my rescue! A nice feeling.

Uncle Monk

After the finale of the excellent country-rock Sisters Morales, a small guy with crusty white beard and matted white hair set up a mike on the ground in front of the stage. The gnomish guy played mandolin and sang bluegrass accompanied by a girl with a guitar and a banjo player. At that point my friend Ray from L.A. walked in and I pointed to the guy and said “You have records by him.” Ray was puzzled til I told him it was Tommy Ramone in his group Uncle Monk. I watched a bit of Butch Hancock but his songs were wordy and protesty and I slipped away (not without guilt, I felt like his eyes followed me, it was broad daylight and everyone is within sight of everyone else). Ray and I went up/down Congress (it’s uphill, south) to the alt.commercial (heh) strip to the back of Yard Dog and saw the Gore Gore Girls, then walked past Guero’s where I stopped to listen to the Goslings, from the northwest. (“We’re from the Tri-Cities” the singer said mysteriously.) They reminded me of mid-70s English bands, in a good way. Then we met Mark Leviton in front of the Continental, and since there was a seemingly insurmountable line, me and Ray, of little faith, stood outside listening to the Hacienda Brothers while Mark joined the line and got in in about five minutes!

AF, Swamp Dogg, at Threadgills

Afterward, Mark split and I ditched Ray after receiving a staticky call from Jason Gross encouraging me to go to the Pop Culture Press party (Kent’s shindig!) to see the Hoodoo Gurus from Australia. I shot over there and caught their last three songs, which were terrif. I then phoned Jason to axe where he was in the crowd and he said “You bastard - you went there?” He in fact had been inquiring whether I was going, and since the answer was un-hearable on our cellphones he’d skipped it and driven with Ed Ward to Hoover’s, a home-cooking place on Manor. I met them there and talked manically between bites of fried catfish.

Charlie Sexton, AF, Opal Divine’s

After that I headed to west 6th Street and the impossible task of finding a parking space, even for cash. Finally two guys waved me into an apt bldg lot with a 45-degree outdoor ramp leading to second-story parking and I gladly handed them ten bucks. I went to tent at the back of Opal Divine’s Freehouse and watched a portion of the Ponderosa Stomp ‘teaser’ show (acts which would be presented in full-length at the May 2nd fest in New Orleans), running into nearly everyone I knew. (“This is a Clan meeting,” I said to people, unclearly.) At 10:30 I spied ol’ Ray on the other side of the fence - he had a pass, but his friend Lisa didn’t - and he, scanning his band-book, asked arbitrarily “Who’s Johnny Bush?” Was he playing?, I asked in panic. “Yes, right now at Jovita’s.”

James Hand, Broken Spoke

I hightailed out and saw most of Johnny’s set, which was great. Next up was Charlie Robison, whom I watched a while, then me and Rick Mitchell ran over to the Broken Spoke to see James Hand, a Hank Williams doppelganger who did his, and Hank’s, songs attired in a white hat and a western shirt with long sleeve fringes. It was an fascinating original - and also not - act. It was taxing shooting his performance with my mini-dv on the roller-rinklike dance floor, as two-stepping couples inevitably bounced into me. James eyed me warily (as do most people). Me and Rick went back to Jovita’s at 1:00 and I caught the entire set by rambunctious Ricky Broussard and Two Hoots & A Holler, my favorite Austin band. Their merch guy handed me a free t-shirt, recognizing me as the guy who inadvertently saved his hide two years ago at Opal Divine’s. I’d been shooting video there, and happened to have it on for the the finale when Rick unexpectedly smashed his guitar to the ground. (I’d wondered why it was so out of tune for that last song. Didn’t know it was a doomed guitar.) HE, the merch guy, had been assigned to catch that on film but didn’t; my footage (which I sent them), he told me, had saved the day!

Johnny Bush Onstage

Saturday, March 16. Day 4.
Exhaustion set in. (Not just me: many people had that just-dead look, and my fr Rich Brenner lay in bed all day with a cold.) I had been running 16-hour days without napping, thrilled to be in Austin at the fest, and this morning seemed no different til I got to ACC and saw the long line at the parking structure. (Kent had worried about getting parking that morning, as he was going to the Nick Drake panel there at 11, but I assured him that the crush was over, it was Saturday and many early-week fair-weather attendees would have left town and not been replaced - I was wrong.) I detected a lack of energy and declined to seek parking, heading instead to the Mexicali Grill on Oltorf to see if Cornell Hurd’s annual outdoor show was on. (Last year’s was rained out. This year he was iffy about the weather.) I greeted him and then mingled with Larry Slovin from Hightone (who told me when I innocently asked if he’d ever seen Two Hoots & A Holler that he had tried to sign them in 1990), Bill Kirchen, Paul Riley from Proper UK, Blackie Farrell and John Morthlund. After an hour, after Kirchen’s hilarious set, fatigue overtook me and I shuffled off to head home to rest.

Bill Kirchen and Blackie Farrell

Once in the car I decided instead to visit record-dealer Jurgen Koop near Dripping Springs, 15 miles south of Austin. (And en route discovered the fabulous radio station KOOP - dig the irony!) Jurgen’s house of records, jukeboxes, books and memorabilia was surprisingly neat for a record collector (the expected clutter was in another facility) and we had a very fine visit, him showing me autographs from Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Elvis and others and playing me a reel tape of Roy Orbison singing at a party in 1956 and an unissued Hank Williams concert from Buffalo, NY.

There, with him, I realized my role as ‘appreciator’: what is the point of amassing cool stuff if nobody else sees it? I was the honestly awed onlooker, who also alerted him to video stuff he had but hadn’t seen. (We all do that.) I left chez Koop at 5 p.m. barely coherent and intended to stop at the recommended Nutty Brown Cafe for the intriguingly-named Chicken Fried Chicken but when I got out of my car I nearly fainted so went back to Austin and slept from 6 til 7.

At 8 pm I went to Threadgills on First. (The original Threadgills, to the north, gained fame in the 60s as the place Janis Joplin played during her UT college years.) My diet hadn’t been so hot, and they serve plenty of veggies; oddly, only one-third are marked ‘vegetarian.’ It was not as crowded as days past, SXSW dying out tonight. The walls are adorned with mementos of Armadillo World Headquarters, Austin’s cherished - well, not to the people who tore it down - rock club of the late 60s/early 70s. The b&w photos - Doug Sahm, Grateful Dead, Freddie King - struck a surprising resonance with me. The photo quality reminded me of photos I took at that time, and the images rekindled thoughts of an era that has no name, of longhaired country/rock/blues kids in cowboy gear. This feeling was reinforced by the presence in the restaurant of veterans of that era such as Augie Meyer at the table next to mine. It was heartening to see seasoned guys in western wear and long hair still making a living, I presume, with that music.

I drove up to the Continental at 9:30 to secure a place for the 11 pm Swamp Dogg show, and saw throwback bands the Waybacks and the Red Stick Ramblers. Swamp set up with his local compatriot band McLemore Avenue and started a little late at 11:15 with “In Time Of War Who Wins,” a protest song from his new album, “Resurrection.” Though the song was unknown, the crowd embraced it heartily, as they did “Synthetic World” and other favorites. My only service as ‘manager’ was persuading him to perform standing after the first song, since 95% of the audience couldn’t see him when he sat at the keyboard. He’s not treetop tall.

The place was packed and his rapport with the McLemore Avenue band was superb. The triumphalness of his performance was expressed nicely by owner Steve Wertheimer, who afterwards embraced Swamp and thanked him for playing the club.

Swamp Dogg at the Continental

Afterward, I saw a few tunes by the Gore Gore Girls, who with their Pop Art getups and girl-group songs made a loud familiar impression.

Sunday, March 17. Day plus-1.
Skipped the journalists baseball barbecue in favor of breakfast at Kerbey Lane (the orig, on Kerbey Lane) with Kent, Mark, and Luann Williams. Mark, Luann and me went to the Oaks, near Manor (pronounced Mainer) for the free all-day show in what looks like a small rodeo arena but’s really a dance floor with bleachers. Saw Two Hoots & A Holler - can’t get enough of them - and then Rick Shea. James Intveld came out ostensibly to do a set but had Rosie Flores and Mike Stinson cover for him as his voice was shot. We went inside the bar and watched Love Gone Cold, an Austin bluegrass trio, joined for a couple songs by a banjo player from the Weary Boys. Great stuff.

Love Gone Cold

Rosie, James

I took a hotel room, then went over to South Congress at 7 to get some gifts, but the flashy stores were closed. (Probably were open late Saturday, when SXSW was still on.) Ate at Guero’s. Ran into Charlie Sexton again and he asked what shows I’d seen, and I said I was on a busman’s holiday, seeing only L.A. acts. Not true but it passed the time. Got a call from Kent to meet him at Evita’s, a small Mexican restaurant on south First recommended by Ian McLagan. Back to the motel, the TV was depressing: cable standardizes everything, there was no “Austin” tv, just the same crap I see in L.A. Can’t one station run Austin City Limits for 24-hours daily? It would be good for everyone.

Monday, March 18. Day plus-2. Went to drop off the P/T Cruiser at Avis at 7 am, the guy checks the tailpipe and seeing its bottom squared says “I have to file an accident report.” I pleaded “previously there,” but had to wonder - well, not really - whether this is a chronic problem with P/T Cruisers, tailpipe hangs too low, the bottom of the circle gets crunched. Otherwise why would the guy look at a tailpipe? Went through security check with nobody handing me a plastic bag to shove my toiletries in. Aren’t standards federal, not local? It’s a wacky world.


Mark On the Move

Going to South By Southwest without a girlfriend for the first time in a few years turned out to be a good thing –there were several shows that were so hot, loud and overcrowded that no female of my acquaintance could have tolerated them. (All the same, none touched my all-time most-uncomfortable SXSW show, the Japanese psych-noise band Acid Mothers Temple, which played at a club that actually dripped sweat from the ceiling.) So I didn’t have to compromise my fanatical plan to make absolutely sure I saw The Black Angels (this year’s Velvet Underground, and mighty fine), The Mountain Goats (Americana with balls) and Blonde Redhead. (Interesting combination of Talking Heads, Flaming Lips and Yoko Ono, but I wasn’t sold on them live, although I find their albums worthwhile).

Other musical highlights were two bands that crowded eight musicians on stage and played mostly instrumental tunes. Beirut is a group expanded from the original one-man-band concept of Santa Fe native Zach Condon, who’s become obsessed with Balkan music, and now fills the stage with great players, combining various horns, percussion, uke, accordian, violin, mandolin and more. I especially liked “Elephant Gun,” which sounds like something the Bonzo Dog Band might have tried in an alternative universe. Also filling the stage with equipment was Austin locals The Octopus Project in combo with Black Moth Super Rainbow. They have one of the best theramin players I’ve ever seen, and at one point had three different keyboards wailing away while two drummers, bass and guitar laid down a complex web of counterpoint. Oh, and a few of the members were dressed as animals.

I also admired the audacity of Austin band Moonlight Towers announcing “We have one more song” and then playing most of the second side of Abbey Road, the 4-song acoustic set I saw by U.K. soul singer Amy Winehouse (she sounds remarkably like Aretha while singing songs about refusing rehab and giving up on boyfriends), and Buddy Miller’s daytime set at the New West party. Free beer!

I also went to a dozen films of the SXSW screenings before the music started. I recommend you see the documentaries Steal Me a Pencil (holocaust survivors with a quirky love story to tell) and Scott Walker: 30
Century Man (in which the reclusive Scott makes sense, finally) and the fiction feature Blackbird (a junky tries to find a way out, with an incredible performance by Paul Sparks, who was nominated for a Drama
Desk award in NYC when he did the play off-Broadway).

One evening I was walking down an alley and saw ahead of me what I thought was a rather large pregnant woman with her dirty blonde hair in her face as she tried to light a cigarette. As I approached her, I thought “She really shouldn’t be smoking, she’s going to give birth any day” before I realized it was obese, slovenly cult hero Daniel Johnston, clicking an empty lighter in frustration. My mistake!

-- Mark Leviton
(Mark’s sixties-themed radio show Pet Sounds can be heard alternate Mondays 4-7am PST on KVMR-FM 89.5 in the Sacramento area and streaming at )

SXBody 2007

Tuesday March 13th

After checking out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Amy Winehouse on the Letterman show the night before, it was off to Austin in the cool of the morning. It was great to get an early start. It was still dark when we got to the airport. They took my hand cream among other sundries and that was a drag. But the flight was pretty noneventful.

It felt great to back in Austin. It seemed like it was just yesterday but a whole year had passed. A few musicians were arriving, getting an early start on the festivities. Our room at the Driskill was small, never get a corner room. We went to the to the Convention to pick up our badges and swag bags. We sorted out the stuff that we wanted and left the rest. We went back to the Driskill, and then headed for Stubbs for our traditonal first meal in Austin. It was good and not that crowded. Everyone was still rolling into town.

After dinner we walked up 6th Street and then over to the Paramount to see “The Last Days of Left Eye”. It was a docu about Lisa “ Left Eye” Lopes from the group TLC. It was pretty good; they filmed a lot of before she was killed. It was an early night. Tomorrow is the real deal.

Wednesday March 14th

We got an early start and headed over to Kerbey Lane, the coolest breakfast spot in Austin. There are three or four Kerby Lanes in Austin but the one South Lamar is a real favorite. By the time we finished breakfast it was beginning to look like rain and when we got back downtown it began to sprinkle lightly. We decided to walk around town to check out some of the changes that everyone was talking about. Went into this boot shop but they didn’t have what I was looking for. We then passed by this French restaurant that looked kind of interesting.

By the afternoon, it was time to go back over to the Convention Center to check our first panel, which was a demo listening session. The panel featured Diz Dickerson from Prince’s Revolution band and three other guys. People would put their demos in a box and they would be pulled from that box and listened to. Since the it was all males on the panel, the women got the best feed back and the lone male rapper was singled out for the most pointed critique. Man, those kids have more guts than I have. After the demo listening session, we went to check the Gilberto Gil panel, ran into Andrew Loog Oldham and his son Max.

They bailed after about a half hour, and we soon followed. The interviewer was a teacher and he was kind of dry. Besides everyone was getting ready for Pete Townshend’s keynote speech. It was held across the street from the Convention Center at the Hilton in a huge ballroom. By the time Townshend appeared it was packed back. Townshend was touching and informative, it seemed like he was enjoying himself. Ran into Gary Stewart there, he landed on his feet since the Rhino purge, he is working for Itunes.

After the Townshend keynote speech, we had dinner at Evita’s. They remembered us from years past and welcomed us with open arms. We have seen the kids grow up in the 14 years that we have been coming to Austin. We had a change of plans after dinner, we were going to Jovita’s to see David Olney but we decided to go straight to the Parrish. We got there just as Sunny Sweeney was ending her set. Saw Chris Morris there, he seemed to be enjoying himself. The Holmes Brothers rocked the house. They did a great version of “What’s So Funny About Peace and Understanding” , a Elvis Costello song. Ruthie Foster came on after the Holmes Brothers and she was pretty good. Her band was really good, especially when they locked into a reggae groove on one of the songs. Midway through the second or third song, her backup singer showed up late, her blue jeans slightly unzipped. She said she was coming from the Austin Music Hall...yeah, I guess so. By the time Ray Wylie Hubbard came on it was getting late but we did see three songs, he was pretty funny. We were going to have an early morning, so we called it a night.

Thursday March 14th

Had an early date to see Emmylou Harris. She was doing a panel at 10:30 in the morning, good God. We decided to sleep in a little bit and get breakfast after Emmylou’s panel. She was a vision of country poise, a classic lady. She has gotten more beautiful over the years. She brought along the great Buddy Miller to accompany her on guitar. Jonathan Demme was the interviewer but most of the people in the room didn’t realize who he was. She didn’t duck any questions including those about Gram Parsons, she said that she has been talking about him for 30 some odd years. She told the story about how her baby sitter was responsible for her meeting him, I wonder whatever happened to that baby sitter. Emmylou and Buddy Miller played about 5 or six songs. They didn’t do “ Pancho and Lefty”, now that would have been perfect, songwriter Townes Van Zandt being from Texas and all. I really dug the sounds that Buddy Miller was getting out of his guitar. Seeing Emmy Lou up close and personal has already made the badge worth its weight.

After the panel, we rushed over to Kerbey Lane. It was near lunch time, so it was crowded. Ran into Art Fein, Kent Benjamin and Peter Case. I told Fein Art that Buddy Miller played with Emmy Lou and he was devastated: he's become a big fan. We took pictures of each other. One of the Kerbey Lane waiters asked if Art and his crew were famous, I said that they were and to treat them real good. After our breakfast-lunch, we went back to the Convention Center because the trade show was opening up. It was SWAG TIME. I wish the Oxford College kids would show up because they had the hippest music magazine. The guy from Memphis was there, he is always a gas. He was wondering if anyone ws going to see the Stax Revue at Antone’s later on.

We ran into Fein Art and then we ran into Swamp Dog who is playing on Saturday. It was going seeing him, it has been almost three years since we crossed paths. We chatted for a while and then it was time to go check out Ozomatli, homeboys from my Hood. They were doing a live television thing. There was a line of people waiting to get in. We finally got in and went right the front of the stage, where they were waiting to go on. Just before they started, I was name-checked from the stage by Will Dog the bass player. He yelled out…”Hey There’s my neighbor”, everyone around me started cracking up. They played a cool set although it was brief, the new stuff sounds great especially “After Party”. After the show we went back to the Driskill to rest before heading over to Antone’s. We got to Antone’s just before 6 and there was a line all the way down the block. GOOD GOD. Luckily people were cool and not too many people were butting in. Saw my homeboy Glen from New Orleans, he was behind us, way behind. He had a badge so he might have got in, I don’t know if his wife did. I told him to check out Swamp Dog at the Continental Club since they operate in the same field but he said that they were leaving before the Swamp Dog show. Dan Perloff who works at Concord Records the company putting on the show kept coming out and checking out the line. We finally got in and the show started.

What a show. Booker T. and MGS were tight as time, at one point Steve Cropper played a lick and Duck Dunn looked over and mouthed…” You Mother fucker”, Bill Bentley was standing a few feet away from me and he was digging it. Isaac Hayes was there in spirit but he looked a little tired. I never thought I’d ever see William Bell sing “ Private Number” but sung it he did. He sung his part and Judy Clay’s part because Judy’s gone. Next up was Eddie Floyd and of course he did “Knock On Wood” and “634-5789”, somewhere Wicked Pickett was looking down and smiling. All I can say is that The MGS were cooking.

Isaac Hayes, Eddie Floyd and William Bell came back and sang “Dock of Bay” and the crowd still wanted more, so we got a taste of “ Can’t Turn You Loose”. This show was HIGHPOINT so far. After the show we had dinner at this Japanese place that was right out of Orange County. It was a date night place complete with silicone, thigh high minis and blondes. I felt as conspicuous as a tarantula on a piece of Angel Food cake. It was really dark, I couldn’t see my food. The couple next to us was unhappy because their waitress disappeared. The bathroom even had weird markings on the door, it didn’t say Men or Women. I guess I went into the right one.

After our late dinner we walked down 7th to club where Mary Weiss was playing, but when we got there there was a huge line. We decided to got back to the Eternal to see Amy Winehouse. It was packed there but we got in. Nancy stayed back by the entrance while I moved up to be next to the stage. I wanted to see the tattooed one up close and personal. One band was just finishing and another one was going on, we waited and waited……….finally they almost started and then the piano wasn’t working. We waited and waited some more. Then they said Amy Winehouse was coming on last. Nancy left, and I kept my spot next to the stage.

I got a couple pictures of Amy walking down the stairs. She stuck out her tongue at the kid next to me. By the time she went on, all was forgiven. SHE IS THE REAL DEAL. The Dap Kings backed her up with Binky the coolest bald guy in the world playing guitar. She did most of songs from “Back In Black”. At the end of night I swiped the set list and headed for the Driskill. After all of that standing my dogs were beginning to bark.

Friday March 15th

As usual we had breakfast at Kerbey Lane. We had to get back to the Convention Center to see the Booker T. Jones interview. Everyone ws beginning to look bleary-eyed now, feet beginning to drag. The Booker T. thing was pretty good except for the two interviewers trying to dig up dirt. Booker was cool, he pushed it aside. It was interesting that he said that the Monterey Pop Festival changed his life. After his panel, I got him to sign a autograph and he laughed when I told him I quit my job to go to Monterey. He was a total gentleman when he excused himself to talk to Bobby Neuwirth an old friend.

We decided to shine on another conferenceand go see Amy Winehouse at a day party on 6th. When we got there it was packed. It was her on vocals and Binky on guitar. She did just 4 songs but she was fab. She’s pencil thin though. Paul Cashmere the Stones fan from Australia was there also. We walked back up 6th street and it was nuts and it wasn’t even dark yet. Next up was the mini Ponderosa Stomp at Opal’s Divine's. We decided to eat there because we didn’t know if there would be a line for the Ponderosa thing; it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Ray Sharpe of “Linda Lou” fame started everything off and he was pretty good, he had Charlie Sexton and Augie Meyers backing him up and man it felt like Friday night. The next couple of acts were country: Jay Chevalier and the Haunted Hearts and Herb Remington, a former Texas Playboy and maker of Remington steel guitars. Of course he did “Faded Love” and it was great.

Right this time it was dark and I had to use one of the Port o Potties, all I can say is use them while it is still light. The next few acts were New Orleans based acts with Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural leading the band on Hammond B3, the Stomp was turning into house party. The Mardi Gras Indians came on in their colorful outfits and all I could think of was how in the hell they got all of the stuff on the plane, that is if they are still living in New Orleans. All this was good, but Barbara Lynn from Beaumont, Texas was the cherry on top of the sundae. She was great, she started off with “We Got A Good Thing Going” and from there, there was no letup. She even gave the Godfather his props when she did a killer version of “Please Please Please”. All this and her guitar was hot and so was she. Not hoochie hot but like a sexy grandmother.

Saturday March 16th

Today was St. Patrick’s Day, so I remembered to put on green. We had our usually breakfast at Kerbey Lane, it was crowded with the usually weekend crowd and we had to wait a while for a table. I had my usual one butter milk pancake, home fries and bacon. It was great. We went back to the Driskill to rest up for the last two panels. Basketball was all over the televison, MARCH MADNESS.

It is funny but my dogs were barking yesterday and today everything is cool. The first panel that we checked out was one called “Say It Loud I Am What and I Am Proud”, it was a panel about racism in music. Chuck D., Cyril Neville, Garland Jeffreys and Alejandro Escovedo were on the panel and Dave Marsh was the moderator. He had a meltdown at the beginning, consumed by white guilt. As usual Chuck D. was super articulating, not overly emotional, just the facts, Cyril, Garland and Alejandro were the heartbeat of the panel. The whole thing might have been too sobering for SXSW but it was needed. Hope that they do it next year. Ran in to Rosie Flores before the panel, it was great seeing her.
The panel went over and bled into the next one that we were going to, the 40th Anniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival. It was fun. Andrew Loog Oldham, Mama Michelle Phillips and Lou Adler were funny and touching. Lou Adler had almost total recall. After the panel, I went and commiserated with him about the Lakers because when you see Jack sitting in the front, Lou Adler is usually sitting next to him. A couple of lucky stiffs.

After the panel was over we went over to the Paramount to see “Monterey Pop” on the big screen. It was a shattering experience. It was something else seeing it on the big screen LOUDER THAN BOMBS. The audience was going nuts. Janis on the big screen was earth shattering, Otis was every each a TRUE SOUL MAN, the Who were magnificent, as Jimi appeared on screen people were applauding and laughing at him popping his gum and I was hyperventilating and near tears. It brought it all back, it was a fast 40 years. It was a great way to end the day. As we were walking outside, I grabbed a guy from VH1 and demanded that he interview me, that is how moved I was.

For dinner we went to this French restaurant around the corner from Antone’s because that is where we were going to be later on. I had steack frites and it was pretty good, Hey, they even had Dr. Pepper, so it was all good. We got to Antone’s in the middle of Terry Reid’s set, it was just him on acoustic guitar and a piano player. He could still sing. He was followed by Garland Jeffreys. Once Garland Jeffreys was A&M's answer to Springsteen, he had lots of critical acclaim, but like Graham Parker he fell through the cracks. This night he put on monster of a show, especially considering that he'd just arrived from Belgium the day before.

Next up was Kenny Wayne Shepard. Since it was Saturday night it was great to hear some blues at Antone’s. Ran into Paul Cashmere the cat from Australia and his camera woman. Hubert Sumlin came on and did three songs, he is old but when he plays it’s like a young dude up there chopping heads. A couple of other guitar stranglers came up, the one cat who was from New Orleans was damn good. He sat down while he was playing but his playing had that menace thing. Pinetop Perkins came on toward the end, Pinetop is in his 90’s, he looked every year of it until he played. When he played the boogie it was like he was kid.

We left because I wanted to catch Tony’s sister Eliza Gilkyson at the 18th Floor at the Hilton Garden End. It was a chore walking down 6th Street because of all of the St. Patrick revelers. 6th Street was a sea of green. Eliza was midway through her set and dig this, there was chairs at the place. Ran into this guy from Cinema bar (in Culver City, west L.A.) there, what a small world. Peter Case was the last act for me at this years SXSW and it was quite fitting, he was good and funny too.
Walked back up 6th half expecting to see Mary Lou Lord but no luck; she was a street singer nearly every year we've come here, and many famous people would join her. But last year she swore would be her last, and she kept her word. It was near 2 AM, the crowd was out of control, and the Driskill was our sanctuary.

Wow, for about 5 days Texas was about as near as heaven can be. Each year is better and better, this year was damn overwhelming once it got going.

Sunday March 17th

Wow another SXW has bitten the dust. It was wonderful. Today we ate at Kerby Lane and did or South Congress crawl, looking for cowboy boots. I found a pair, black with roses on them. They look pretty cool. Then I went to Waterloo Records to pick up some CDs and a guy from Minnesota who recognized me from the Cinema Bar said that he had been there twice and had seen me there both times. He thought I was from Paris but I hipped him to the fact that I am from Boss Angeles.

I heard that there was a show at the Oaks on the outskirts of town but we decided to shine it on because of our early flight, but we did it eat at Evita’s and they gave us two t-shirts. We have been coming here so long that their kids are now grown and tattooed and pierced. Early flight.

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