I’m back from Austin, Texas, where I tuned in, turned on and …
wait. No, that was 1976. Willie Nelson wasn’t a household name back
then, but I shared a few words with the Texas legend in the back of
the bar while listening to music and sipping on a
Longhorn Lone Star one night.
“Hey, do you know who that was?” the bartender asked when Willie got up and left the building.
“Who’s he?” I said.
That was a long time ago, when I was trying to put the finishing touches on an undergraduate degree, but it didn’t take long to figure out that music was big in Austin. Among other places, I used to frequent the Armadillo, where a lot of local and big-name acts performed.
The Armadillo’s long gone, replaced by a place called Threadgill’s. It’s one of about akazillion places to find live music at in Austin. I was in the college town —its population has more than tripled since I lived there — last week for the festival they call South by Southwest. I was there six years ago and decided it was time for a return trip. Spent this one in a 21-foot Winnebago with John, Becky and Max Wallingford. We didn’t get a lot of sleep, but we ate a lot of breakfast tacos at $1.25 a pop, drank a little (OK, OK, maybe more than a little) and listened to a lot of music.
There were bands in every nook and cranny. Every club, bar, patio, courtyard, restaurant, street corner, parking lot seemed to have live music. There were places with indoor stages and outdoor stages. There was a spot hosting a Seattle showcase, but I never got to it, although on Monday, two days after the festival was officially over, I heard Seattle’s Stacy Jones (of the Stacy Jones Band) sitting in with the Little Elmore Reed Blues Band at The Legendary White Swan in East Austin. They played blues the way the blues are supposed to be played. Coulda been the highlight of the trip.
SXSW started out as a place where unknown bands came to impress the record label’s big shots. Those little-known groups are still coming, by the droves. But now even some of the better known bands and musicians are coming to be rediscovered. They say there were more than 2,000 bands in Austin over the four-day period. By my count, I heard 41 of them, give or take a few, and none of them were what you’d consider “name” bands — although the Waco Brothers, Gourds, Lucero, John Doe, the Punch Brothers, and some of the others I saw have sizeable and loyal fan bases. (The bluegrass Punch Brothers are a little over-hyped in my opinion). They don’t compare to Warren Hood and the Goods.
Glossary (think Thin Lizzy, 30 years later), Honey Honey (think Honey Honey, a hot lead singer who fiddles away some sweet bluegrass), William Elliott Whitmore (“It’s OK to have some fun; it’s OK to have a beer,” said this growling, howling story teller from the Midwest) and Kentucky Knife Fight ( hard to describe, but fun to listen to) were some of the others who left a favorable impression.
Still not sure about Lydia Loveless. Liked her one day, then saw her again and came away wondering if she was all that. Liked the name though. Off the top of my head, I’m gonna give the Waterliars another listen, too. St. Louis group was interesting.
If you wanted big-name bands, you could mortgage your home and buy a wristband that got you into shows to see the likes of Bruce Springsteen (who also delivered the keynote address) and the E Street Band, The Roots, or 50 Cent and Eminem, who shared the stage. Mumford & Sons, Norah Jones and the Little Willies (yes, that Norah Jones), Portland-based Blitzen Trapper and Ben Kweller were also in town. You might have bumped into Bill Murray or Matthew McConaughy, who played bongos with The Cult, on the street.
You might have caught an act by Alabama Shakes, the next Adele if you believe what you read.
Or Austin’s own Gary Clark, Jr., the bluesman who is starting to blow up, drawing comparisons to Jimi Hendrix. Clark’s one of the lucky ones, already signed to a contract with Warner Bros Records.
I passed on the SXSW wrist band, and have no regrets. (The only regret is I never did find that Jalepeno Beer that someone was bragging about).
On my flight home, I sat next to a couple of young musicians from Wasilla, Alaska. Their band is called LaVoy. “We’re sort of like the Rolling Stones meets Coldplay,” one of the guys said.
When they found out I was from Bremerton, they brought up MxPx, the local punk band that rocked the city’s name to fame. And they wondered what was up with Tumbledown, the band formed by former MxPx front man Mike Herrera. Tumbledown played at SXSW a couple years ago.
Don’t know if LaVoy will ever make it big, but I’m pulling for them. I’m pretty sure you can find ’em — and everyone else I mentioned in this post — on YouTube. There’s so much talent out there. A lot of them will never hit it big, but it doesn’t make ’em any less talented. I can’t play a lick or carry a note, but I really enjoyed my week in Austin.
Lots of skinny jeans, punk-types, easy-goin Texans and old geezers like myself — it’s a healthy mix and easy to feel right at home.
Next spring when I wonder if I should go to SXSW or spring training, it’ll be no contest. I’ll take live music in a setting like SXSW every time.
I suppose it’s time to get back to this sports writing business.
I hear the Mariners are headed to Japan, the Seahawks are smack dab in the middle of Flynnsanity, The Peyton Manning is in Denver, the Huskies are going back to Madison Square Garden for the NIT, Washington State’s in the CBI finals, Olympic College’s baseball team is off to its best start in years, the Pumas posted some strange tweet about wanting to build a soccer stadium at Pendergast Park and — guess what? — I’ve still got a shot in the basketball madness pool … providing Syracuse can find a way to win three more games without a guy named Melo.
Hey, it’s great to be back.
What else did I miss while I was gone?