SXSW 1997: A Day-By-Day Account by An Austin Newcomer
March 12 - March 16
Austin, Texas

All day Thursday, my ears were still ringing from the volume of the Austin Music Awards the previous night. Great show! But I wish I had remembered ear plugs.

Highlights of Wednesday's show were the TEXAS TORNADOS (unfortunately, Freddy Fender was on solo tour, but the rest of the band was fantabulous, and probably the most responsible for my Thursday morning deafness), 8 1/2 SOUVENIRS (I had heard they were a "lounge" act, so I hadn't bothered to go see them, but whatever they are, I LOVE them; the piano player is covered in tatoos, the lead singer is French, and the sound is smooth and groovy), CHARLIE and WILL SEXTON C, and the tributes to TOWNES VAN ZANDT, which featured KIMMIE ROADES, JIMMIE DALE GILMORE, and JOE ELY (their performances made me want to cry... and that Mr. Ely is one friggin' incredible performer). Nice stuff. Bill Paxton even presented an award! (to KELLY WILLIS, for best EP -- she didn't play, unfortunately. But Bill looked mighty find -- much better than he does on screen).

JUNIOR BROWN was a no show. I was bummed. But only for a moment.

This first night was when I realized that one of the things I love about the Austin music scene is that its rough edges show. All those imperfections make it so much more accessible and personable. Does that make sense? Not that it doesn't have many and mostly moments of perfection. But you also get to see the things that don't work. And you get to laugh about them with everyone else.

On Thursday, it felt so good to experience a morning after a fun night again. I've missed this feeling a lot. I haven't had this feeling in.... more than eight months.

Anyway, on Thursday I got confirmation that Tommy Womack, formerly of GOVERNMENT CHEESE, the band that played during some of my favorite times dancing in college, was going to stay here for the rest of the conference -- he called at 8 a.m. that morning (thank goodness I was already up). He said he was bringing a load of Cheese Chronicles, his book about the glory days of my favorite college band. I picture him selling them on the street or something. Wacky.

Thursday night Mary and I went to the Driskell Crystall Ballroom, a totally inappropriate venue for SXSW (it's a grand wedding-reception kind of room. One of the bands opened by yelling, "Thanks for coming to the prom and go seniors! Number 1!), to see bands at my recommendation (like I know what the hell I'm doing). First one was THE HANGDOGS from New York. Lot of fun. Got the crowd dancing. Would like to hear their CD, but not enough to buy it first. Then the VOLEBEATS, who are on the Bloodshot Records "Insurgent Country Volume 2" CD. Lackluster. One or two good songs, but... Then this really sucky band called SLOBBERBONE from Dallas. Frat boys loved them. We went and sat in the lobby waiting for them to go away. Then BLUE MOUNTAIN from Mississippi. AWESOME!! I'd seen them open for Son Volt in San Francisco, but they'd not really been up to par. They made up for it Thursday! They did a fast folk cover of the Who's "Squeezebox" that left everyone dancing and cheering.

It was a beautiful day and evening, really hot weather. We walked around downtown Austin hearing all the music pouring out of venues and decided that it would be much easier to show hop than what we had been lead to believe (I heard shows got packed early, so it was best to go to one venue and stay there all night). True, we saw some lines, but if you're willing to take chances, venue hopping is possible (and there's no cover with pre-purchase of the SXSW wristband).

Decided to forsake the last show on Thursday in case Tommy was nearing Austin. Got home at 1:30 a.m. and was walking to my front door when I heard the phone ring. Twas Tommy, indeed, here in Austin, just arrived. He got to my house a few minutes later.

Friday was great, despite two big fuck ups on my part and MAJOR COLD WEATHER (not my fault). We both got up late and Tommy proceeded to play fabulous music, both from tapes and CDs he's recently made in the studio (he gave me two CDs and has made me two tapes so far for letting him stay here), then via my own guitar, which he's played pretty much non stop during waking hours. He is really good! He makes up songs on the spot, which are really hilarious. But he played Beatles and Bob Dylan and Ray Davies covers, all really excellent!

The barbeque for the Postcard 2 (alt.country) Internet people was a blast, despite the frigid temps. There were more than 100 people there in this backyard in some Austin neighborhood behind a People's Free Clinic, organized by some woman on the list. Apparently, at one of the official SXSW panel discussions, our Internet activities were discussed, so a lot of musicians and record company people and music writers decided to crash our party and find out more about us! It was trippy. They all liked my potato salad. I'll probably get a record contract now. I wore my Gram Parson's t-shirt for the first time, and met a guy who is going to try to go to Gram Fest II (in October). It was my first bonding experience since my move. My therapist (as soon as I get one) will be thrilled.

There's over 700 bands playing this conference, at around 40 different venues a night, six bands per venue. At the barbeque, we were all talking about how hard it is to go over a SXSW schedule and pick out which shows you are going to see, looking to see how close clubs are that both feature bands you want to see at the same time, trying to come up with some sort of system or something, all at the same time the NCAA tourney is beginning. And this guy said, "Yeah, I'm getting really mixed up. In my NCAA brackets for the championship, I've got Kansas playing Kelly Willis." Ba Dum Bum.

At the barbeque, I also hooked up with Rick Cornell, who I met in Raliegh last year via Postcard2 (the guy I was seeing arranged for him to buy us Michelle Shocked tickets, and we all ended up going to the show together). I hung out with him and his two friends, Shannon (a guy) and Jennifer (Shannon's wife), this couple from Madison, Wisconsin (they are moving back to Dean Smith land, however, in April). They were SO nice. I left the barbeque around 5, and wouldn't you know it, five minutes after I left, this band I had been wanting to see, the WACO BROTHERS (also from the Bloodshot CD) showed up and played! I'm sure the neighbors freaked. So, that was my fuckup #1.

For the next three hours, I stayed here at my house, talking with Tommy and listening to his mini concert in my living room. It was awesome!! Did I mention that he is really good? He plays harmonica too, which scared Wiley for a while. He got used to it, though. Government Cheese never played SXSW -- Tommy says it's because of the band's manager from hell. Read his book for more details. I totally grooved. It was an experience I'll cherish.

Then I went to the Waterloo Brewing Company. Mary met me there, and we ran into Rick and his friends. We decided to stay there and see the five bands that were playing -- it was outside, but we had all dressed warmly, and the crowd all huddled together to keep warm. I have a new discovery -- THE PICKETTS. Awesome, wonderful band!! They are from Seattle. Female co-lead singer. They were fun, fun, fun. They did a fast folk cover of the Who's "Teenage Wasteland" and had the crowd totally dancing. First band I've seen at SXSW that I am totally hooked on and am rushing out to buy their CD asap. They are on that "No Depression" tour I told you about earlier! Another good band was THE HAYNES BOYS from Columbus Ohio. Not sure I would buy their CD, but they were good and fun live.

WHISKEY TOWN sucked!! This is the second time I've seen them, and both times they would not get their shit together. They only played six songs -- they spent most of the time giggling because they were too fucked up. I wanted to smack them. Their CD remains one of my favorites of all time, but live, they just don't cut it. Rick, who has seen them many many times, said it was one of their BETTER shows. Yeesh. Alejandro Escovedo sang one song with them, which was wonderful, but in a way it made me even madder -- when singing with a legend, shouldn't one honor that legend by TRYING to put on a decent show?

My #2 fuckup was that I LOST MY FRIGGIN WRISTBAND!! I didn't have it on my wrist tight enough, and when I took off my coat inside the bar, it must have came off and fallen on the floor. That means I couldn't club hop anymore -- I would have to pay $10 - $15 to get into a club and I would have to stay there. I got into Waterloo for free -- they felt sorry for me. But I didn't feel like I could try it again for the rest of the festival.

Saturday I crashed a record showcase! It was at an art gallery/antique store called Yard Dog (they have these really cool $15 shrines to dead music stars, including Elvis). It was the Bloodshot Records showcase, and it was hopping. As luck would have it, I walked into an alley looking for a shortcut and, hey! There was the crowded unfenced and unmonitored back yard of Yard Dog!

This was kind of a kick off for Bloodshot's "No Depression" tour which I emailed you about earlier, with each band -- THE PICKETTS (still really good), WHISKEYTOWN (better than Friday night, but still not really trying) and HAZELDINE (from New Mexico) playing only four or five songs eacg. It also featured LONESOME BOB, who had Tommy Womack playing lead guitar. I still don't know how he got to play at this thing -- Tommy's still in bed, so I haven't been able to ask him. Lonesome Bob played right after Whiskeytown, and people loved it! Then as the last song, he asked Tommy to sing something. So, Tommy played "Skinny and Small" and HE BROUGHT THE HOUSE DOWN!! And I was there to see it happen. It was coolness. He even managed to plug his book. Some guys behind me were going, "Who was that? Lonesome who?" So I turned around and started explaining things and about four people around me started TAKING NOTES. It was trippy. He gave away two books after the show, but didn't sell any. I'm surprised; if I'd had books in hand, I could have sold at least five just from where I was standing. But, then, I'm a shameless public relations person at heart.

I had to leave after his set and rush downtown to plead for a new wristband from SXSW. And, would you believe it... I got one!! They were so nice about. However, I probably missed some great suprise guest at the showcase because I left. I missed Little Steven, who was apparently standing right behind me during The Picketts; I got to hear everyone else who saw him talking about it. My timing really sucks sometimes. Victoria Williams was also there walking around, as were numerous band members I'd seen play over the last three days.

Saturday night I met up with another friend of mine, Kim, as well as Mary, at the Texas Union Ballroom on the UT campus, a venue far from walking distance of the other SXSW venues. Mary wanted to see a band from New Orleans, CARL NUCCIO. Was expecting an accordian, but there was none. It was a poorly attended show, but I was impressed that the band really kept their energy up. Kim didn't have a wristband, and she and Mary decided to hang out at the ballroom (there was another show downstairs they could get into as well). I stayed for part of the next show, GARY HEFFERN of Seattle (heavy meaningful lyrics, and a lap steel). But I wasn't in the mood for slow music, so I dashed back downtown to catch the shows at the famous Stubb's barbeque.

I had to park eight blocks away, and for the first time, had to stand in line. They let people with wristbands in first. It was the largest venue I'd been in except for the Austin Music Hall. It's all outside, which is fun and made for a great sound system. Miraculously, once there, I found Rick, Shannon and Jennifer. Saw all Austin-based bands: THE DAMNATIONS (definitely buying their CD; they left the crowd buzzing), THE GOURDS (*best set* of my SXSW experience and definitely buying their CD asap), and KELLY WILLIS (already own her CD). The Gourds did the Louvin's "In the Pines". I came close to crying. On a related note, Charlie Louvin was supposed to play SXSW, but is ill and couldn't make it.

I left around 1 a.m., skipping the JAYHAWKS performance, because I was sick of the Frat boys who had become the majority of the crowd after the Gourds' set. Stubb's is near Sixth Street and, therefore, it had a high attendance of Frat boy assholes (a redundancy, I know) as the evening went on, displacing the laid back, friendly SXSW people. It wasn't hard to tell who was who. I couldn't get into Kelly Willis, really, because of all the conversations around me about beer, women's breasts, and "Who is this playing again? Is she any good?" (um, perhaps if you listened, you would know....).

Read in the paper that the lead singer for the COWBOY JUNKIES joined ROBERT EARL KEEN for his 1 a.m. set at La Zona Rosa Saturday. Wish I'd seen that.... There were poetry slams on Thursday and Saturday in conjunction with the conference -- maybe I'll do that next year. And I had to miss NURF HERDER because there were just too many other shows to see. Besides, I don't know anything about their music.... I just love the name!!

I have seen the best this town can be during SXSW, and I LOVE IT!! Everyone is so laid back. Everyone is dressed really comfortably and casually. Everyone is totally nice and cool -- it's easy to strike up conversations with people anywhere. There's more men than women, and the guys all my age or older, and really attractive.... and all visiting from places far away. Sigh.

The articles in the newspaper about the conference have been educational. They had a special edition every day covering SXSW events -- panel discussions, shows, things happening on the street. Star watching has turned up former members of the Talking Heads, Forrest Whittiker (sp?), Uma Thurman, and Sandra Bullock. They also had a columnist who did nothing but gate crash and write about it. His columns were hilarious!

SXSW officially continued through Sunday -- there are a smattering of shows, as well as the infamous SXSW softball game, this year hosted by DOUG SAHM and MOJO NIXON. But not for me. I'm tired. My feet hurt. I'm ready to be home with my dogs all day. I thought about going to Alejandro Escovedo, which is the official last show of the festival. But I was exhausted.

I'm still astounded at how many people I kept seeing over and over again at concerts. There are a lot of people out there who have the exact same musical taste as me. Scary.

I had to wake Tommy up on Sunday at 12:30, as Lonesome Bob had already called three times, and three other people had also called, and they were starting to panic. They were playing a private party on Sunday, and needed directions from Tommy. They all showed up at my place at 7:30 p.m. after their gig to gather up Tommy's stuff for the trip home. Lonesome Bob enjoyed my collection of Star Wars cards while waiting.

So now I'm broke, and will be waiting impatiently for my paycheck this week. And I have four CDs to buy (that recap again: The Picketts, The Gourds, The Damnations and Blue Mountain). Maybe five, as I read about this woman named Sarah Evans in the paper today, who played during SXSW and has been proclaimed a musical genius in the style of Loretta Lynn. Sounds like my kind of gal.


For more information about SXSW, visit http://www.sxsw.com


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