SXSW 2011

Southwest flight from Burbank took two stopovers, one in Vegas, another in Lubbock. In that little 8-bay airport I saw a picture of a drive-in restaurant where the Crickets once played on the roof. However, the Crickets were caterpillars at the time of the photo, judging by the 1951 cars.

Got into Austin at 6:30. My friend Kent picked me up at 6:45 for my 22nd stay at his house. (Three houses over time, each bigger and better.) He was going to a movie on his SXSW film pass at 9 but we had time to go to Rudy’s Barbecue, north on 183, and frankly feast, me on the ground mystery meat, ribs and sausage. Then I dropped him at the Arbor Theater (to see “Hesher”) and killed time around this unfamiliar territory, stopping at Sprouts health food to pick up some fridge stock, and goofing til retrieving him at 10:40 . My car-rental contract wasn’t starting til Tues. Got “home” at 11:15, unloaded my traveling gear and felt that I couldn’t sleep but did immediately.


Breakfast at Maudie’s, had a couple of Pete’s Tacos, the best food on earth. But no early registration because the Convention Center had not yet recovered from the swarms at the Interactive convention, which far outnumbered Film and Music combined, spliced between, and on top of, Film/Music. Didn’t get a car because there was a spanner in the works, so I drove Kent to movies again for car privileges. This night though I hied over to Buybacks where they sold used DVDs and bought a couple of things. Saw no music, just a pleasant day of lollygagging.


Picked up a car at noon, $60 cheaper on 35th Street than at the airport. Made it over to the nearby Waterloo Icehouse and for my first Austin music, Songwriters In The Round run by LA promoter Julie Richmond featuring Noel McKay, Ben Reddell, Brian Whelan and Tommy Womack. Afterward, Womack looked puzzled when I recalled our email exchange in 2010. (It wouldn’t be the first time at this fest that someone stared blankly at the mention of my name: See Saturday noon.) I bought a CD and had him autograph it. His “There, I Said It” album is brilliant.

PHOTO Pay As You Go 078

Paid $15 to park not near the Convention Center. It was crush day and parking spaces sold at any price. Went to the CC. It was noon so few first-day flights were yet in and I sailed through the registration line and got my bag of goods. It was a shock. For, oh, 20 years it’s contained “the book” of all events, the pocket guide, hundreds of slips of paper advertising gigs and aspirins, earplugs, combs, buttons, beer-openers, rubbers, a flashlight, a pen - like we’re GI’s in Viet Nam. But after removing the two books and another - zip. “It’s all digital now” someone explained. That makes sense for the absence of promotional CDs, but what about the tacky stuff? I felt it was redundant to bring earplugs and was caught bare-eared. (As for the condoms, these bags went to rock-writers, so their absence was barely felt.) Ran into Michael Des Barres, as I do every year my first day on site. He invited me to a party on Old Lockhart Road on Sunday, after SXSW closed, and I vowed to go. His friend, the party’s host, handed me a card with his name and address. Moved into the interior and ran into Billy Altman with whom I’ve been bonding here the past few years. I had no plans so I drafted along with him to the nearby Canada Rocks tent where he‘d RSVP’d for the VIP (w/food) section, which I’d ignored online, and he said “You can be my guest.” As I don’t recall guests in RSVP lines I waited with trepidation, and while I was assured by someone at the table that I could come as his ‘date’ an Austin publicist waved me in on my own. There we found Charlie McCardle from DC/Virginia and Kent Wolgamott from the Lincoln, Nebraska Journal-Star and formed the ‘team’ that has held well the past couple of years. After listening to a fine set from Imaginary Cities, a great pop/rock band from Winnipeg, me and Billy went to west Sixth to see Syd Straw at the Conqueroo show at the Dogwood, decadently taking a rickshaw, or pedal - pedi? - cab. (There would be plenty of walking to come.) That show was running an hour late and we caught a bit of Ian Moore, the Austin singer-songwriter. Also we ventured across 6th to Annie’s West and saw young pop bands Miniature Tigers, Olin & The Moon, and Brite Futures, all great. Back at Dogwood Syd played at 5, backed by Gurf Morlix and some others, rapping as good as she sang about the paucity of moneymaking opportunities in Vermont, where she now lives. At 6 we walked down Congress nearly to the Radisson Hotel, where Billy stayed (and disliked), running en route into Alligator Records publicist Marc Lipkin (the first of many times for me, we went to the same shows) and David Fricke of Rolling Stone.

At 8:00 I was heading late to meet my comrades on Sixth Street at Maggie May’s to see one of their’s idea of a good act, Withered Hand from Scotland, but was drawn into Nuvola on 5th Street by irresistible rock & roll that I couldn’t identify but loved. The band, 5 guys lined up like the New Christy Minstrels but gyrating like their shoes were made of Flubber was Davila 666, billed as a “punk” band from Puerto Rico. The place was half full, but Chris Morris from L.A., already there, was enjoying it as much as I was. The jumping happy music they propelled was derived from the Ramones, their short songs punctuated with “Hey Hey Heys” and fists pumped in the air. They made me realize how dearly I missed the Ramones and restored my faith in the future of music. Late for my appointment, I enjoyed another song, marked “GREAT!” in my book, and dashed over to Maggie May’s where the solemn, unfunny Mr. Hand was finishing up. I was sorry I missed him, but REAL happy I saw Davila 666. We went next to the Driskill Hotel to see Jimmy Dale Gilmore’s revue in the Victorian Room. The line was long but we finally got in to see a blocked-view show that featured, oddly, financier Warren Hellman, the founder and one-man sponsor of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco, at stage front alongside Gilmore, picking banjo. Hellman was the odd man in that he was a hobbyist among professionals, and the music foundered a bit when he took a solo. But as a friend of Jimmie Dale he has as much a right as anyone on that stage. The crowd loved it.

After that I joined the gang and went to Creekside At The Hilton for the 10 p.m. show by Gudrid Hansdottir, a folk singer from the Faroe Islands who did half her set in English, half in Faroese. It was a charming thing. The next act at this British space (“The Bedford”) was Kill It Kid, from Bath, England. With other things on our agenda we declubbed, but near the exit I spotted Seymour Stein, who was looking for the Creekside. We pointed to it, and then decided to see Kill It Kid since he was. It was young kids doing hard pop rock and we left shortly after it started, but Seymour liked them. He asked what I thought and I said “Beats me.” He gave them thumbs up. The next day I emailed him saying “Nobody ever got rich listening to me.” The much-later 1:00 show at this venue was bannered “Platinum Artist” and I was told it was Charlotte Church, but by 1 a.m. we were far away.

At midnight, nearing Nuvola to see The Baseball Project, the specialized-supergroup of baseball aficionados Scott McCaughey, Peter Buck and Steve Wynn, I walked past Peter Buck, then doubled back to say hello. He said “We were talking about you two days ago, about that tv show we did with Kevyn Kinney.” Ha!

Also recognized Scott, also an acquaintance, after mistaking him for Al Kooper; his hair and demeanor in the AK mold. Scott and Steve swapped vocals in the band, with Mike Mills joining for a couple of songs. Inside the club during the show I talked with Ira Padros, who runs the Ponderosa Stomp, and supplied him with the phone # he needed for Big Jay McNeely.

At 1 am we went, with Holly George-Warren, to the Speakeasy to see the Hobart Brothers Featuring Li’l Sis, a group with John Dee Graham, Susan Cowsill and Freedy Johnston. Each sang, with Susan displaying a strong, soulful voice that I hadn’t appreciated (I don’t think it just sprung up!) the other times I’ve seen her at SXSW. She was a funny, too, saying she’s available to join any extant brother band, and that in her Cowsills days “Marsha Brady taught me to shoplift.” She’s a gem. At the show were many people from the Baseball Project, as well as Vicki Peterson from the Bangles.


Never got to the CC, where all the great panels meet. Drove around a lot. Went up Congress to see Bill Kirchen at the Proper Records party at the Continental Club. Talked to Mojo Nixon, who now helms two Sirius programs, one as deejay the other as political talk-show host. Kirchen played a great lengthy set. He now lives in Austin, having moved with his wife from the Washington DC area..

Visited the adjacent well-stocked and exotic St. Vincent De Paul store right in the center of the real city center, South Congress. Walking to the car I stopped in the alley behind the Yard Dog store corridor and heard (and saw, barely) Alejandro Escovedo performing. Whenever I try and see an act at that non-South-by venue, all I can hear in my head is the refrain from ‘Expressway (To Your Heart)’ by the Soul Survivors, “It’s crowded, much too crowded ..”

Drove down to Threadgills South to have dinner and hear Amy Levere, the rockabillyish gal I’ve loved the past couple of years. I met Charlie McCardle and we shared a table. Mid-dinner I heard music in the back room, not the outdoor stage where I’d expected it, (the Threadgills non-SXSW music schedule is as good as the official one, and Roky Ericksons’s “Ice Cream Social” had just ended) and paid no mind til I realized it was a woman’s voice and I walked over. There was Amy, performing for a room full of people. I missed her show but saw enough to note that she has (le)veered from the stripped-down rootsy stuff I like - and I’m no fan of progress. Charlie gave me $15 for his half of the meal and went on his way, and I went out to my car. There I couldn’t find my camera, and went back to the restaurant. My waitress came up and said “You didn’t pay your bill.” I stood stunned, and then realized what’d happened. I’d planned to pay with a credit card and put five of Charlie’s dollars in the bill-folder for a tip - and left. I apologized and explained that I am very old and senile and paid her. She was very grateful. I was mortified. I drove to the Dog & Duck, the off-book pub on Guadalupe that hosts bands every hour noon to 2 am during the festival. There I encountered my host, Kent, who virtually lives there, and saw - the Baseball Project again. (M. Stipe may have been there. I heard so, but didn’t see him.) I’d hoped to see the Jim Jones Review, having heard they were wild British rockers in the Screamin’ Lord Sutch vein, but they canceled their 11 pm show. I went down to Sixth Street to join Billy at the Bangles show at Cedar Street Courtyard, but saw only Schmillion, an Austin high school ‘girl group’ who won a contest. They were cute and exuberant. Next came Smoosh, a gal group from Seattle, who took a long time to set up and was monotonal and mechanical, as much as I heard. Their delay caused the Bangles to go on late and do a reduced set (3 songs), but I wasn’t there as I went to see another female ensemble, Those Darlins, the randy Murfreesboro Tennessee trio who push the boundaries of taste and decorum. That vemue, the Swan Dive, was a steam bath and the stage front looked like a redwood forest with 6-foot-6 guys blocking the view so thoroughly that the untall girls were effectively, or ineffectively, playing to ten people. Also, or maybe because of this, they seemed restrained and strained as their set started (maybe a backstage fight?) and that irregularity together with the humid heat and the viewless visibility propelled me for the first time (I’d seen every one of their LA shows in 2009) out the door.

As I was far east on Sixth I decided to go to the Creekside again and caught part of the set by Ron Sexsmith. After that I crossed the creek and took the elevator to the 18th floor of the Hilton to see the Rovin’ Gamblers, a country cowboy band who responded to the small turnout by giving everyone in the room the CDs they’d hoped to sell. The bar there is still a loud gathering place that makes the hotel money (Paris needs acting lessons!) and generates loud talk and laughter that interferes with the acoustic acts that play there.

Walking west, music from the Bat Bar beckoned and I went in to see Austin band The Strange Boys’ 1:00 set. They were very good with stage presence that thrilled the hometown crowd. And somewhere at some club that night I saw the frantic Frantics from Chicago, whose jet-propelled lead singer, who sounded not unlike Noddy Holder, literally burst from the club with energy.


Had a fine breakfast with Kent at Kerby Lane somewhere south but not on Lamar. Downtown at 12 I got a good space near CC at a city garage, cheap and handy. Saw Paul and Nancy Body at the Center. Got a phone call from 50s guy Jimmy Angel in Tokyo. His usual request, “Get me some work in the states” carried more urgency because, he said, “I’m sleeping in a tent in center field at Tokyo Stadium.” He has been a rock & roll presence there for 20 years, but was evacuated from his apartment which was damaged in the earthquake. I said I’d do what I could. Went to the press room after running into Billy and Charlie and Kent W and signed with the massage lady. We walked around the CC for 45 minutes til my massage time, 2:15. Kerry worked on my neck. “Am I tight?” I asked her, and she said “Here everyone is tight.” It was supposed to be relaxing of course, but I made it a chatty visit, asked her what she’d seen so far (priority badges are the masseuses’ reward for a day of kneading tight press people) and she said that Dry The River was the first thing she saw “and I didn’t need to see anyone else.” Well that was a tip so I looked them up and learned they were playing Klub Krucial on 6th Street at 2:00 on Saturday. I ran into old/current (he lived many years in L.A. and now lives in his native Detroit) friend Bill Holdship who had just paneled and we walked up Red River to 8th as I wanted to try Stubbs for barbecue but the live music there shook the restaurant so we walked down to Cesar Chavez, aimlessly seeking sustenance. Finally we got in my car and went to Jovita’s, the rustic Mexican restaurant and off-book music spot on First. (I first wrote “south First,” but since east-west First, to the north, is now Cesar Chavez, south 1st is the only First.) The Irish band Rarely Seen Above Ground, from Killarney, was playing, but the volume, again, conflicted with our need for conversation space so we left, though not before noticing on the typed schedule that Bob Geldorf would be playing at this shanty shack at 6. Too much music, we went to Maudie’s on Lamar where I bought a Pete’s Taco for Bill and forced one on myself, even though we would be eating properly in another hour. He seconded my assessment that it is one of the tastiest things ever invented. Heard from Ed Ward, and we promised to get together, but never did, then heard from Billy Altman and met the crew at the Radisson Hotel. Failing to gain entry to TGIFridays in the hotel (loud live music, we want to talk) we went to Laredo Junction, where we were joined by SXSW rep Luann Williams.

Good chow. We all went to the new ACL (Austin City Limits) venue at the Moody Theater and saw Black Joe Lewis’s big R&B revue in a super-modern setting not unlike an indoor scaled-down crisscrossed spotlight version of the Roman Coliseum, with tiered seating stacked to the sky.

Black Joe Lewis

Following Lewis was the less dynamic but hugely popular Americana artist Hays Carll, but we had to move on. We all went to the Driskill to see The Civil Wars, who proved to be very popular so the entry line extended clear across the lobby. Unable to understand that our press passes got us special treatment we waited in line til the act was over and finally got in to hear, not see, their last song. The others left in disgust for places unknown to me but I stuck around the crowded and charming Driskill, enjoying the freestanding act The Carper Family playing in the lobby til the next act, Hotels & Highways from Burlington Vermont, came on in the Victorian room and played a terrific set. I come to SXSW for ‘finds,’ and they were one.

Carper Family

Hotels and Highways


I was so satisfied by this shot in the dark that I stayed on to see Infantree, four young boys from Agoura, California (!!) and enjoyed them immensely. At 11:25 I was at Stephen F’s bar, upstairs at 8th & Congress, to see the always satisfying Dan Bern. The place was packed with charmed people either mouthing the words to his songs or gasping in amazement. He is a unique and brilliant traveling troubadour.

Dan Bern

From there I skedaddled down 6th to Emo’s Jr. to see the Jim Jones revue, their 1 am set already in progress. It was riveting. The lead singer has a pirate stance, screeching, swaggering and hollering the songs, and the band adopts threatening poses to suit the music, which varies between fast and really fast. They reminded me of the Teddy Boy bands I saw in England in 1979: I’m sure they saw them, too.

Jim Jones Revue


At 10:30 got the same good pkg access at a city lot (mid-week SXSW attendance was thinning out) and walked a straight line to the 4 Seasons where the annual BMI breakfast, with musical accompaniment, fed hundreds of people, many qualified to be there, standing in long lines and filling tables. The mass feeding was posh with fine silver and actual 4 Seasons accouterments, not plastic forks and macaroni. Found Billy Altman, we went to the pool area where spacious seating was.

When egress time came I realized I had entirely missed the Yoko Ono interview at the CC (I thought it was noon to 1:00 but it was 11 to noon). Shoot, darn it, I had hoped with little actual hope to catch her for a minute and get reacquainted after the 10 workdays I spent with her and John when I worked for Capitol in 1973. Flummoxed, I trod resignedly to the front door to walk to the nearby CC when at that front door, standing alone with a bodyguard like Princess Leah beamed from R2D2, stood Yoko. I stopped abruptly, swung right, gestured OK? to the bodyguard and reached down with my hand and said “I’m Art Fein. In 1973 I spent two weeks with you and John at the Beverly Hills Hotel and set up phone interviews for you with college radio stations while John and I talked about old records. Do you recall that?” She smiled shyly and said, “I am sorry, no, but it is nice to see you.” So much for that. (It’s almost like our time together 38 years ago meant more to me than her!) Got to the Press room at the CC and asked about the massage ladies. “Not today. People are disappointed.” Well, they did their time. Ran into Paul Body, he summarized his sked thus far and we realized we’d gone to nothing together. Found Bill Holdship again and we walked in the heat to Klub Krucial on 6th to follow up on the masseuse's recommendation of Dry The River. The place was packed with young girls who must have been 21 but looked 16. We watched the lively young British band without getting what the girls did and returned to the CC.

Dry The River

Bill Kirchen w/Cornell Hurd Band

Bill called his friend Robb Patterson and we drove to the Broken Spoke to see Cornell Hurd’s annual off-book hoe-down. It was a wonderful show in that old-time venue. En route back to town we stopped at Half Price Books, Antone’s Records, Dog & Duck, and I parked again at a city lot and went to meet Billy, Charlie, and Kent. From there Bill and I tried to see Eliza Doolittle, who’d been featured the previous week in the NY Times, but the basement club was packed so we looked in the window and heard the music spilling into the street, then wandered over to Antone’s where we caught part of a set by the well-grounded Sons of Bill from Alexandria, Virginia. From there we went to Cedar Street Courtyard to wait for the Nicole Atkins show - I had seen her in L.A. at the Echo, and she had played Wensday night at Antone’s in Austin. This night’s show was very well-received by the SRO audience.

Nicole Atkins

Eli Paperboy Reed

Next we went to the Phoenix to see the surprisingly-white Eli “Paper Boy” Reed front an R&B revue. (Surprising because the mostly-black band playing 60’s R&B before his arrival suggested, at least, a black artist.) I pondered the next move, and Bill expressed interest in seeing Roky Erickson performing with Bubble Puppy at the Austin Music Awards so we hoofed over there. I missed Roky, having seen him several years in a row, but Bill, Detroit-bound, reveled in the opportunity, though he was disappointed that he did only one song. There I reunited with my troupe, increased by one in the person of Dave DiMartino, and we walked back to Sixth Street, me stopping to listen to Paul Eliot singing and playing guitar seated crosslegged on the ground. I bought a CD from him for $3, but the homemade demo was not as good as when he sang a song ‘at my request.’ (“What kind of song do you want me to sing? Country?” I said yes.) He was a talented guy, but his choice of venue, set back in a dark inlet, was not so good. While the guys hung around Spill, a 6th Street club, to see Meta Gruau, a Quebec act that took forever to set up (mike problems) I went to the Driskill to see Eliza Gilkyson charm the packed house, and then to BD Rileys to see the lively and extremely entertaining Pop Up Animal Kids from the Hague, Netherlands.

Eliza Gilkyson

Pop Up Animal Kids

I rejoined my phalanx at Maggie May’s to see Intimate Stranger, a Chilean duo who didn’t interest me, and then went aimlessly to the Creekside, which seemed closed, and watched the Cuban band Groupo Fantismo play far off on the deep-set Habana Calle outdoor stage. Soon we went to the Creekside again, where I ran into Paul Body again, to see, again, Syd Straw, who did plenty of talking and some singing, some of that with her Vermont love interest Boone. Susan Cowsill joined them to round out the cornucopia of characters. To say it was improvised would credit it with too much aforethought. Then some of us stayed for the ultra-eccentric Peter Stampfel (of the Holy Modal Rounders) who rocked and ranted through political and offbeat songs (“Shombolar” by Sheriff & The Ravels was announced as being from 1955 but released in 1958. I recall it on Vee Jay in 1962) accompanied by a circle of banjo pickers. He is an R. Crumb character come to life. It was a salutary way to cap the festival.

Syd Straw and Boone

Syd w/guest Susan Cowsill

Peter Stampfel


Walking miles and crawling into bed every night at 3 didn’t deter me. It was SXSW and I was rockin’. I lolled a bit at Kent’s going through ten years of promo CDs he’s rejected and snagged a few for his approval (for me to take!) and then headed to the barbecue, where I chowed on free food (for press-badge wearers) engulfed by cliques of yakkers. Oldies blared from speakers as two SXSW baseball teams clashed. When I suggested to a couple of South-by heavies that we should be hearing Bob Wills, Doug Sahm, Joe Tex AND “Deep In The Heart Of Texas,” it just got me a frown. The weather was overcast and balmy, the company divine.

Years and years ago I suffered on an unknown-allergy reaction by stuffing my maw with prawns at the taping of the BB King/ Bobby Bland “Live” album at a recording studio in Hollywood. The next morning welts ran down my entire body left right and center (!!!) as my system reacted either to too much shellfish or exceeding my cumulative tolerance.
Whenever I tell people this story I emphasize that I was a music journalist then, so ate as much free food as I could.

I thought of it again in the chow line Sunday. As I reached the final trough I saw a big white bearded Santa Claus guy across me in the parallel line reach in to choose some ribs. I reached in to the bunch on my side, but his tong-hand - “All these are MINE” - swept in my path and turned over several til he chose ... several. I waited for his rampage to cease and looked at his two rejects. “You forgot a couple” I said with a smile. Then to my right - MY SIDE - a lady poured in a new batch, but as they settled the oaf’s same prohibitive hand shot across to “mark” his territory not unlike - but not exactly like, thank goodness - a dog. I tried to grab an attractive rib but he got it. Then, sated, he left. I was a little burned at this astonishing display of terror-toriality, but not a hothead, and no longer a rock writer, I was not about to get in a fracas, verbal or otherwise, at this otherwise cordial gathering.

Later I learned he was Geoff something from Baltimore. “Oh, rock writer” I said, understanding the instinctive corralling of free grub. Though he hardly looked underfed, old habits die hard.

Later that day the week’s pace finally caught up with me and my weary old bones sought comfort at “home” after a trip to another Half Price Books, Antone’s Records to watch a set by Bianca DeLeon’s impressive all-star band, and to Cheapo’s to say hello to Jason. I still had the ‘party’ card from Michael Des Barre’s friend, but thought, well, it’s a long way and what if it’s just me and them? I can’t sing around a campfire. So I relaxed with my shoes off at Kent’s.

photo Bianca DeLeon 208

Early that evening Syd Straw returned an email I’d sent sent congratulating and consoling her on her crazy midnight show. She concurred that it was wacky, but now she was heading to the big party out on Old Lockhart Road - “but I’m sure you’re there already.Everybody’s going.”

Insert here the eternal SXSW mantra:
“Darn it, another cool thing I missed.”

Notes to You

One SXSW band was Dry The River, another was Drag The River, one from Blighty the other from Colorado. What’s going on here? A movie or social network reference?

* Someone said he spoke for 5 minutes to Maria Elena Holly. Instinctively I said “Wasn’t she the Yoko of the Crickets?”

* Austin musician John Maus was on a bill, but at first I thought he might be John Maus of the old Walker Brothers.

* More than one night when leaving downtown at 2 a.m. I saw desperate taxi-seekers waving in vein. I considered giving them rides.

* I recognize the Texas bumper sticker “Keep Texas Wild” as a variation of ten years ago’s “Keep Austin Weird.” Or was the latter based on the former? The “Wild” one is a push for maintaining open spaces.

* Sideways traffic lights make me nervous. When one is red and has a separate green light to its left - where you expect the left turn arrow to be - it means only that you can turn left when it’s safe. I was anxious about this when driving, despite a tersely worded sign explaining it. A green light next to a red light BY COLOR says to my unconscious that I can make a protected left. It’s like driving in England. You know you’re supposed to be on the left side of the road but it seems wrong. (Someone said the sideways/green combo is “common” in America. I think it’s southern regional.)

* I thought that the sign marking the state capital was misspelled as Capitol, but learned that Texas, once and still an independent nation, has claimed this for its domed state house. (“And it’s a couple of feet taller than the one in Washington DC” a Texan said proudly.)

* I didn’t know this, but when you see ‘Aussie’ you should go. My friend went to an Aussie barbecue at SXSW and said one salient feature was bikini girls playing volleyball.

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