SXSW: Over and Out for 2011!
Despite being on the scene only two days at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, we could already detect the storylines vibrating through the air. Oh, okay, not really. On the other side of the world angry nuclear reactors are threatening to burn their way through the Earth, so who gives a shit about what they’re talking about in Austin?
The thousands and thousands (and more thousands) of people visiting the central Texas city this weekend are here to listen to music. More or less. The occasion is supposed to be about hearing unknown/unsigned/unheard acts and yes, there seem to be an awful lot of established stars around who don’t really need the publicity. Or do they?
So over the past few days we’ve experienced a perfect storm of big name vs. no name, badgeholders vs. nothing-holders, the need to hear music vs. the need to eat and sleep. Some of the usual storylines: who’s gonna play at Perez Hilton’s party? Why couldn’t we get in to see the Foo Fighters? Is R.E.M. gonna play a surprise show? A few people are grumbling again about Austin cops and fire marshals roaming around and strictly enforcing capacity codes and noise restrictions – the theory is that “official” SXSW is somehow leaning on the city to lean, in turn, on places hosting “unofficial” free side parties, or cracking down on noisy establishments hosting outdoor parties. The usual stuff.
Real life gets a little ugly when it nudges its way onto center stage at SXSW. Like on Thursday, the officially sanctioned outdoor show by the Strokes almost ended in disaster as the crowd got unruly. On Friday, a camera boom fell on some spectators during a set at the Stubb’s venue. Minor injuries were sustained in both cases, but residents are starting to ask questions. The usual stuff, including “has this all gotten too big?”
But this SXSW hasn’t been a bummer by any means. We certainly had some laughs – mostly at those side parties. The always excellent South by San Jose event next to Hotel San Jose hosted Alejandro Escovedo, the North Mississippi All Stars and many more on Friday; the night before we were treated to an also-awesome show by the likes of Hacienda, the Cave Singers and rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson. Across South Congress at Home Slice Pizza, a bunch o’ indie bands played the equally excellent Music By the Slice fest. The cops showed up and told Home Slice to turn it down, so they lost some of their bigger names due to the noise restrictions but to their credit they didn’t let that stop the party.
For us, the hero of SXSW has to be Jave Del Rosario, my daughter’s boyfriend, who has shown an uncanny knack for sidling up to the famous, the fortunate and the merely interesting. On the same day we chronicled his adventures with actors Aziz Ansari and Michael Cera, Jave worked his magic to score primo spots for the big Strokes show at Auditorium Shores. Faced with impossibly long lines literally hours before the gates were to open, our hero’s choice was to wait with his party in the hot sun. Or, what he really did: Jave walked into the “volunteers” gate and offered his services to a groundskeeper.
So they rode around on a cart emptying trash cans while the minutes ticked down to gates opening. They swung by the VIP section, and Jave collared Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. for a quick photo. Meanwhile, our Austin correspondent Lily Angelle also managed to get inside before the park’s official opening. She asked to go to a porta-potty and once there, she hid out until the coast was clear. She walked up the empty space to the lip of the stage, where another girl sat and waited. This girl had also snuck in to the grounds early; she made friends with the people working there and they ignored her. When the Strokes played a sound check, she said “it sounded like they were playing just for me.”
We also got off to the antics of rock star Jack White, who unveiled his Third Man Rolling Record Store at SXSW. Wherever the yellow van popped up, fans did too, hoping to catch a glimpse or even an impromptu performance from the White Stripes/Dead Weather/Raconteurs rocker. White did play a two-song set early Wednesday, then turned up to spin and sell records on Thursday at Waterloo Records. Give the guy credit – his clever marketing scheme certainly helped to move some vinyl and generated interest in shows by people he’s associated with, like Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Wanda Jackson, Allison Mosshart of Dead Weather and the Kills, the Greenhornes, and so on.
Thanks to all the bands who paid their own way and slept on floors just to have the chance to play. Thanks to Orange Is In, Times New Viking, Nico Stai, the unnamed pickers at Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant, the Cave Singers, Wild Flag, Two Door Cinema Club, the Foo Fighters, Seasick Steve, Jack White, that guy with the banjo on the street corner, Headcrusher (“from the hills of Colombia”), Albert Hammond Jr., Shiner beer and last but not least, Shit Horse. Thanks also to Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, whose music I hated until I heard you play live (still hate your name, though). And thanks to all the rest of you at SXSW, see you next year. Or not.
YouTube: Jack White’s impromptu acoustic set on March 16 by the Third Man Records van
YouTube: The Strokes play “Taken For A Fool” at Auditorium Shores March 17
YouTube: Orange Is In play “Father’s Day” at Guero’s March 19