If you’re not down in Austin yourself participating in the biggest music festival / music conference / music convention in the world known as South by Southwest (SXSW), it can almost seem like social media is working to taunt you for not participating as the event transpires between Tuesday and Saturday. Here at Saving Country Music, we don’t want to revel in what you’re missing, we want to make it an opportunity to discover new music, reaffirm or repudiate opinions about artists already on our radar, and make you feel like you are on this journey with us.
As SXSW transpires, we’ll be regularly updating this post. Updates may only be a few times a day since most of the time is spent out in the field.
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Day 5 Saturday 3-16 – The Revival Tour Showcase
Saturday night at SXSW is usually the time the best memories are made. You’ve spent the whole week fighting through crowds, traffic, fatigue, and general sensory overload, yet when you know it is all about to end and you may not see members of your musical family for a long time, you begin to cherish the whole experience that much more.
The best Saturday night showcases are the ones that facilitate collaboration and memory building, and when looking at the SXSW schedule, I saw that The Revival Tour showcase at the Cedar Street Courtyard may be the best opportunity to experience a tight scene of musicians and friends and that would facilitate some end-of-SXSW magic. Some of the performers I was familiar with, many I wasn’t, which was good because you can’t have the proper SXSW experience without discovery.
The event fulfilled all expectations. Collaboration was everywhere on the night. After the first act The Drowning Men, the remaining performers were mostly asked to get on stage just with their guitar and wow a capacity crowd. For artists used to this context like Possessed by Paul James and Austin Lucas, they were right in their element. But even the artists who found it second nature like Glossary, they rallied to the task.
Along with masterful performances by both Possessed by Paul James and Austin Lucas, headliners Chuck Ragan and Frank Turner put on remarkable sets. Frank Turner’s songs are like a brain teaser. Before you’ve even had a chance to digest the profundity of the last line, he’s thrown two more at you to make your mind reel. Though Chuck Ragan officially is the man in charge, you could never see a more unassuming, selfless musician.
Other solid takeaways from the night were the breathtaking Valerie June with her fiercely-authentic Southern style, the spunky and entertaining Jenny Owen Youngs, and Twin Falls who seem to be destined for big things as they fit right into the Mumford/Lumineers cheerful roots revival that is all the rage right now.
Whether you were playing on stage or hanging out in the crowd, it was hard to not feel the music fellowship in the air.
Possessed By Paul James:
Jenny Owen Youngs:
Austin Lucas w/ Chuck Ragan:
Day 4 Friday 3-15 – Part 2 – XSXSW 6 Hillgrass Bluebilly Showcase
XSXSW6 at the Frontier Bar in gentrifying east Austin sponsored by Hillgrass Bluebilly Records offered one of the most boss lineups for fans of independent roots music at SXSW 2013. Along with label performers The Boomswagglers and Possessed by Paul James, one of the longest-running underground roots bands The Pine Hill Haints lent their talents to the evening.
One of the highlights of the showcase was the explosive Lee Bains & The Glory Fires from Alabama. As the room was still filling up with patrons, Lee Bains played like he was feeding of the energy of a packed house. This man sings with as much soul as anyone in rock & roll right now, and this was never evidenced more clearer then when he sang the title track of their latest album There’s A Bomb in Gilliead. For SXSW’s most acrobatic moment of 2013, at one point lead guitarist got on the shoulders of Lee Bains as they both walked out into the crowd with guitars blazing. This set was sick.
If the rest of the “underground roots” world picks up on what The Whiskey Shivers are doing down here in Austin, half the bands in that scene are doomed. Though they lean mostly on covers, The Whiskey Shivers bring an energy, a tempo, and a camaraderie that is unmatched since the glory days of the .357 String Band. You will be hearing more from these fellas soon. Trust me.
Austin Lucas put on the most inspired, and inspiring sets of SXSW 2013. Such amazing soul and songwriting, conveyed with such great singing and sense of dynamics. The first time I ever heard Austin Lucas was at The Frontier bar two years ago at a ninebullets.net day showcase.
Left Lane Cruiser, who boast a couple of songs that commemorate the hard work and dedication of Keith of Hillgrass Bluebilly lit up The Frontier Bar with their raucous and dirty deep punk blues.
Day 4 Friday 3-15 – Part 1 – Bloodshot Yard Dog Party
One of the long-standing staples for an independent/underground/insurgent country fan who attends SXSW is Bloodshot Records‘ long-running day party behind the Yard Dog art studio on south Congress. The event outgrew the small space years ago, but it would be a shame to move it from the history and memories the event has created over the years. This is one place you almost welcome the crowd. Other obligations kept me from attending the entire showcase, but I arrived just in time to see The Deadstring Brothers finishing their set. Their new album Cannery Row is coming out on Bloodshot April 9th.
Bobby Bare Jr. was next. Seeing Bobby Bare Jr. live is essential to understanding his music. He’s such a character–so animated with his curly, floppy hair and manic movements and his delightful, yet crass humor. He’s like a Muppet you can’t help but love. Understanding his personality is key to understanding the nature of his cosmic approach to music.
Next was Lydia Loveless and her off-the-straight-and-narrow country punk princess approach to alt-country, not caring what her hair looks like of if she’s taking proper care of her skin. Those things aren’t Lydia’s bag if you listen to her music. She’s here to squeeze every last drop of juice out of her life.
The 2013 SXSW “Spirit Award” goes to her bass player (and husband) Ben Lamb and his long curly hair. This photo montage does no justice to the show his hair put on.
Day 3 Thursday 3-14
Thursday was spent doing lots of walking back and forth from two events put on primarily by American Songwriter. The “Nashville Day Party” at the Austin Ale House on West 6th was the place to be seen if you’re part of the rising quasi country scene centered around east Nashville these days. The room was a little too loud and open for the ideal music experience, but was a good, intimate setting nonetheless. During the set of Caitlin Rose, Jonny Fritz and his band, and Nashville indie-rocker Tristen could be seen milling about. With only a 30-minute set, Caitlin featured all the big songs off of her new album The Stand-In. Nikki Lane, Escondido, and Ryland Baxter all played as well. Below is a picture of the up-and-coming Escondido.
After that it was a hike way across town to east Nashville to check out the heart of American Songwriter’s Billy Reid Showcase that for the last few previous years was located at The Swan Dive right downtown that was always too small, too hot, and too hard to get to. The new spot outside in a setting with ample space was ideal. The trend of moving outside of the downtown corridor is only going to continue as the size of SXSW gets out of hand and promoters flee to more comfortable settings. The trend will probably also see the expansion of SXSW itself until it begins to consume every sector of the city proper.
American Songwriter and Billy Reid put together an excellent lineup. I arrived just in time to see Jason Isbell and new wife Amanda Shires prove that two people, stellar songs, and purposeful harmonies can can trump anything a full band can lay down. The two have such good instincts with each other.
Having never heard Lilly Hiatt, who was billed to be performing with her father John Hiatt, it was easy to think that maybe this was the booking of a name instead of someone who could live up to the showcase’s large lineup. Lilly Hyatt ended up being one of the biggest takeaways from SXSW 2013 so far. She put on an excellent set with great songs and a really sensational female guitar player named Beth Finney who could downright shred with the best of them. When John took the stage for a couple of songs, it became downright magical.
The showcased was capped by Ray Wylie Hubbard who delivered like always. It is impossible to grow tired of watching Ray Wylie live because he has such a breadth of material and each time you see him play a song, he brings a new, fresh perspective to it–some funny anecdote or twist. The guy is an amazing poet and performer, one of the best out there living.
Day 2 Wednesday 3-13
As anticipated, Wednesday at SXSW had little chance of living up to Tuesday night and the now legendary showcase at the White Horse Saloon (see below), but it had it’s moments, while also showcasing some of the things that are so very wrong with the event.
It started off great though when I caught a set from Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band performing at Club DeVille on upper Red River. Rev. Peyton continues to refine his show, studying human behavior and finding out what crowds respond to. As cheese ball as “audience participation” sounds in print, by working so hard to engage the crowd, coupled with his spellbinding abilities with slide guitar, it’s hard not to walk away from a Reverend Peyton set without feeling like your hair is on fire. Rev. Peyton has the quote of the week so far when he said, “If I catch any of you hipster sumbitches not yelling ‘Two bottles of wine’ I’m gonna come out there and get ya!”
After that I trekked to 6th Street and voluntarily entered what amounted to a glorified dog cage set up on burning asphalt at Red Bull’s “Sound Select 120 Hours of Music” setup. The whole thing illustrated the trappings of corporate sponsorship. I was there to see bands like Those Darlin’s and Jonny Fritz, but before the show and during the set breaks, they were playing gangster rap riddled with ‘N’ and ‘MF’ bombs, cut with the occasional 90’s Paula Abdul hit. Clearly none of the organizers and workers had any idea what music the day was catering to.
The event was very moderately attended at the beginning when bands played to a mostly empty field of asphalt while the line to get into the event stretched for two city blocks. Apparently they couldn’t pull the 7 security guards off of stage duty to help clear people for entry quicker, because you know how rowdy a crowd of 30 people can get at a concert featuring Deer Tick.
The Black Cadillacs started the set off. They are one of these new rock bands that put out tremendous energy and have good songs, but nothing really defines their sound enough to pick them out of the crowd.
After that was Those Darlin’s. They were announced to be a mix of punk and country with a sound very similar to Wanda Jackson, but these days Those Darlin’s are just as much akin to The Cramps as anyone. The set started off very mild. They messed up the beginning of one song and struggled through others as the sun was screaming in their faces on the poorly-aligned Red Bull stage. As the sun set and the band could actually see, Those Darlin’s rallied, and after playing one of their hits “Be Your Bro,” they really began to feel it and rebounded from any previous miscues.
Jonny Fritz (prev. Corndawg) delivered a solid set that featured a full band and his now long-term touring mate Josh Hedley. He played multiple new songs that will be featured on his new record Dad Country coming out on ATO Records on April 16th. As always Jonny garnered strange reactions from his sarcasm-laden lyrics set to classic country. As I overheard one crowd member say, “This is like really bad country music that you can’t help but love.” That pretty much sums it up.
I spent most of the rest of the night meandering downtown Austin and being denied at the door of various “official” showcases, including the official showcase of Bloodshot Records at the Continental Club on south Congress. But I did check out a set from Glossary on west 6th Street. The Southern rockers always put on an excellent set.
Also here is video from Tuesday night at The White Horse of Lincoln Durham playing the one string diddley bo.
Day 1 Tuesday 3-12
I’m going to have to live with the idea that 2013 SXSW might have started off with it’s best moment, as The White Horse Saloon in gentrifying east Austin hosted an official showcase for the Red 11 booking/management company that featured a jaw-drooping roster of talent. Granted it was Tuesday, but The White Horse created one of the most pleasant SXSW experiences I’ve ever had. The crowds weren’t too bad, parking was fine, the staff was friendly, and most importantly, they kept everything on time and the band changeovers down to 15 minutes tops. It was a good, smooth showcase.
Right before it started, some guys in cowboy duds walked their horses down Comal St. out front and tied their horses up right beside the bike rack. If you’ve never been to Texas, you may think this was a regular occurrence. But in the middle of the city where inner city projects meet hipster town, it was a strange site, but a good omen for the night.
The set started out with Lincoln Durham from Austin, TX. I’m blown away why there’s not more chatter about this guy in the Deep Blues / Muddy Roots world. A one man band with a dirty, soulful approach, switching from old Gibson arch top and resonator guitars, to banjo, to finishing the set with a cigar box one-stringed diddley bow. He started off the set playing his bass drum and beating on an old suitcase and singing a capella. The dude put on a spectacular set to start off the night. If you like the dirty, low down approach to music, it doesn’t get much better than Lincoln Durham.
The Crooks are another band from Austin, TX that are garnering huge buzz around town that is beginning to spill out regionally and nationally. They’re a honky tonk band a heart, but with a decidedly Tejano flavor, featuring a full time percussionist/trumpet player, an accordion player, and at times the lead guitar player will pick up a trumpet too. They’re a good-time who could find wide appeal with their unique sound full of influences from the border region. Great idea for a band. Few have done this before, and being able to appeal to both traditional country crowds and Hispanic crowds is a great asset when you’re based in Texas.
From on the border, the Dirty River Boys from El Paso put on one hell of a high energy show that was filled with both a lot of stripped-down, high energy, roots punk attitude, and some really sincere and accessible moments of great composition and songwriting. Judging from the amount of people singing along in the crowd, this band is garnering a loyal following from their dynamic and engaging live shows. This is definitely a band to watch.
The Turnpike Troubadours were responsible for one of those once in a lifetime musical experiences. The White Horse that had hovered around 3/4 capacity up to that point in the night swelled to where there was no elbow room, and a strong majority of the people there knew every word to the Troubadours songs and proved it by belting them out at every chance. When the band broke into their most popular tunes like “Every Girl,” “7&7” and “Good Lord, Lorrie,” the crowd would erupt. During the choruses, the singing of the crowd could become deafening, drowning out the band itself. Their high-energy, inspired performance was great in itself, but the camaraderie created by the crowd made it one of those moments hard to forget. The Turnpike Troubadours have no business playing a venue this small these days, and that is the type of unique experience SXSW can create. Their set was one for the record books.
After The Turnpike Troubadours, the crowd thinned out pretty good. It was probably unfair to have American Aquarium follow Turnpike, and may have been the night’s only misstep. As the only band that was more rock than roots, they were sort of the odd men out, while still fitting perfectly for the folks who knew them despite being the only band on the night not from the immediate region. Nonetheless, American Aquarium gave it their all and put on a great show to the appreciative fans who were smart enough to stick around. There’s a lot of sincerity and heart in American Aquarium, and their riffs and grooves are hard to not fall prey to.
When Jason Eady took the stage at 1 AM, The White Horse finally felt like The White Horse you’re used to sans SXSW, with a dance floor full of Texas two-steppers and good, straight-laced country music coming from the stage. “I heard this was the last place you could play country music in Austin,” Jason said as he started his set. It was the perfect, laid-back way to end an excellent night of music.