Recap – South by Southwest 2011
South by Southwest last year was my first full on experience with the event that brings over 8,000 bands from all over the world to Austin for 5 days of musical mayhem, and it went great. With proper pacing and maybe a little luck, I got everything out of the experience I could ever want. 2011 was one of those experiences you hear many people talk about that is proceeded by “…and I will never go back.” But now that I live near Austin, SXSW comes to me whether I want it to or not. I can’t fool myself into thinking those lineups will not tempt me back, and overall, there was more good than bad.
It started Wednesday at noon with a brief stop to watch Ruby Jane with her duo lineup, and then I headed to the “American Songwriter” showcase at Swan Dive, where I would spend the majority of the day. I got there just in time to catch the last two songs of Jessica Lea Mayfield, and then see an unfortunate incident between her and the guitarist for Apache Relay where some spit was swapped, but not in an affectionate manner. It was pretty appropriate to how the week would go. By happenstance I found myself sharing a couch in the back with Hayes Carll, who i’d just recently written a mixed album review for.
Triggerman: Hey, my name’s The Triggerman from savingcountrymusic.com
Hayes: Oh yeah, I just heard about that site the other day. That article.
But Hayes was a really cool guy. His set was just like I asserted in my review: fun with good songs and worth hearing. But Townes Van Zandt, he is not. I was also able to speak at length with Caitlin Rose, though unfortunately that interview might be lost. She was a highlight of the American Songwriter showcase, and of SXSW in general, and will likely get her own live review coming soon.
Next was Jason Isbell, who I just found hard to get into without a band and in such a big, crowded room. I was glad to see Amanda Shires with him on fiddle; that was a treat. Jason may have some good songs, but he is no Justin Townes Earle. He needs a band. The Civil Wars were an unexpected treat as well, though just like I tweeted afterwards, I have serious reservations that a duo that spends their whole set lovingly gazing into each other’s eyes has any staying power or deep appeal. It’s just too hokey, effeminate, and in the end inaccessible by most for admittedly bias and unfair reasons. Their vocal antics cannot be denied though. They were the best two singers I saw all week, and paired up they were better than the sum of their parts, but I walked away with question marks about their songwriting as they covered a nursery rhyme, and Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean”. They smacked of a trend.
Later that night found me out of the downtown corridor, and north at Spider House where I saw Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. I couldn’t add more accolades that what I gave them last year at SXSW, but putting aside the Austin bands I see frequently like Ruby Jane and Possessed by Paul James, they were the best performance I saw all week. Unfortunately I was only able to catch the last few songs of Otis Gibbs after Slim Cessna. What I saw was good, and reminded me a lot of a road warrior version of Roger Alan Wade.
Thursday I had to take a breather if I was to make it through the weekend, and so the only show I caught was Trampled by Turtles in the early evening. The showcase at Homeslice Pizza was running an hour late, and an over-served hipster dumped two full glasses on beer down the from of me as I stood in the packed parking lot. The Turtles were great, but not appreciably better than their albums, if that makes sense. Their albums are great, and their live set is great, but seeing some bands live raises their value.
Friday morning I tried to juggle too much, going back and forth from The Bloodshot Records Day Party, to Opal Divine’s for the TeXchromosome showcase for women artists. I did bump into Izzy Cox, and got to see Ted Russel Kamp perform with Robin Wiley, and Ted Russel gave me a copy of his new CD out in May. A morning blown in commuting back and forth was made up for by the Hillgrass Bluebilly XSXSW Showcase at Hole in the Wall north of downtown. The Harmed Brothers kicked the show off with a really cool unmiked, unplugged set in the middle of the bar. Soda and Shake It Like a Caveman brought two version of amazing muddy blues, and not particularly bluesy or country, but very good was Drag The River, who I had honestly never heard of until then. Very good, honest songwriting and good energy from Drag The River.
Possessed by Paul James headlined, and folks, Possessed is honestly becoming a top tier performer in the underground movement. I mean it is time to start including his name with people like Hank III, Wayne “The Train” Hancock, and Scott Biram. His set was dogged by technical problems, which seems to be common with him, and this resulted in him singing three songs a capella, but like always, the problems almost lend to the show, and create cool scenarios and moments that would have never been if everything went perfect. The Hillgrass showcase was also the first place I got to meet Jason and Anthony Galaz of The Muddy Roots Festival, and Autopsy IV of ninebullets.net.
And speaking of, Saturday started with a ninebullets.net showcase in east Austin, where I got to see the great Austin Lucas with his sister on banjo perform (video coming), and one of the best highlights of SXSW, Two Car Garage. Because there were logistics issues at the beginning of the showcase, Two Cow played an unplugged, acoustic set. It is not really country, but folks, this was some of the best, soulful songwriting I heard all week. You will be hearing more about Two Car from me soon.
Then it was on to the madness of downtown and Hellbound Glory at the Rusty Knuckles showcase. Hellbound was as spectacular as I could expect. Excellent energy, amazing songs, and they played a lot of new ones as well (video coming). I can’t emphasize enough that Hellbound Glory deserves top billing. They should be huge. Leroy Virgil is a genius country songwriter, and Chico is the best full-on drummer in country music right now.
Then I had to hike on foot all the way across town to the roof of the Whole Foods headquarters for a Ruby Jane show. It was worth the walk. Then it was back to downtown for the Bloodshot Records official showcase at Red Eye Fly. The night was dogged with sound issues, especially during the legendary Waco Brothers’ set, though they are so good and so fun, they can power through anything. Luckily they got the sound problems resolved before Ha Ha Tonka took the stage; one band that I swore I would spend more time with after last year’s Bloodshot showcase, and I will swear I will again. Excellent harmonies, fun energy, good songs, and a new album coming out next week.
Then Whitey Morgan & The 78’s capped SXSW 2011 off shortly after 1 AM, with a ball-crushing set of real deal, honky-tonk Outlaw country that included Eddie Spaghetti joining them on stage for Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried”. Last year right before SXSW is when it was announced that Whitey had signed with Bloodshot. A year later, they have arrived, and in a huge fashion, headlining the whole event.
If I were to take four big things from SXSW, that would be one of them: the arrival of Whitey Morgan & The 78’s as a premier, accepted, and loved honky tonk band. The other three would be the songwriting of Two Cow Garage, the continued badassedry of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club live, and the potential of Caitlin Rose.
(stay tuned for an upcoming video recap as well)
March 21, 2011 @ 3:43 pm
Thanks…and damn good times.
Its fun as hell to see all our friends down here every year.
March 21, 2011 @ 4:55 pm
Man, I felt like I was hanging out with you and Autopsy from ninebullets.net all week. It was good times.
March 21, 2011 @ 3:56 pm
Phew! I’m exhausted just reading that Trigger. I’m disappointed to hear that something this year was a little ‘off’ and left you shaking your head promising to never return! Luckily, you have a whole year to forget why you ever uttered those words. You’ll be back. Yes, last year (my first time also) was amazing. Everything about the experience, not just SXSW but the whole Austin thing was very generous to me. Isn’t it funny how things can inexplicably shift and create a whole other dynamic? After SXSW last year I went to Viva Las Vegas, that rockabilly festival and I left it saying I would never return. I hated pretty much every minute of it. Had I gone another year it may have gone differently. Maybe not. I’m sure I will see you back at SXSW some day. Hey, I’ll even chuck a couple of glasses down the front of you to remind you of the good times!
March 21, 2011 @ 4:40 pm
I want to take some time to soak it all in, Triggerman, but I do have to say right quick since you brought up meeting him that I saw that infamous Carl Hayes sweater today on a commercial for some IPhone or somethin or other today . . . I know, just a lil tidbit but I was like, hey! There’s that sweater! Ha!
I’ll comment later.
March 21, 2011 @ 4:45 pm
Sounds like an exhausting good time Triggerman. I don’t think I could handle it. I don’t do well in crowds, and I don’t like hipsters. On the other hand, you saw (and hung out with) some of my favorite bands! Can’t wait for the Hellbound Glory video, and the Caitlin Rose live review.
March 21, 2011 @ 4:58 pm
I didn’t include Sunday because officially this wasn’t part of SXSW, but hanging out at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon where Dale Watson hosts “Chicken Shit Bingo”, with Hellbound Glory, Whitey Morgan & The 78’s and Ha Ha Tonka will be one of those moments I’ll remember for a long time.
And I didn’t mention this in the article either, but it was very weird about the hipsters. On Wednesday they were everywhere, in droves, and I mean the textbook hipsters with the v-neck T-shirts, ironic mustaches, thick rim glass, and fixed-wheel bikes. But by Friday they had completely disappeared, for a quite pleasant diversity of people that if was dominated by anything, it was the Affliction T-Shirt MMA crowd.
Here is an excellent article about SXSW Archetypes, including the “hipster” and the “Hedonic Inverted Centaur” who I actually saw.
March 21, 2011 @ 5:43 pm
Did you get a picture of a hipster? I’m still not sure what one is..
March 21, 2011 @ 7:46 pm
March 22, 2011 @ 8:27 am
total fucking hipster: http://bit.ly/fzeeLf
March 21, 2011 @ 7:43 pm
I too saw Horse Man last year! I am trying to work out which stereotype I am. I think a cross between ‘Celebrity Chaser’, the fat film geek and one they forgot to include: the hapless foreigner walking around getting lost every 5 minutes who drinks too much Lone Star and ends up spewing in the gutter.
March 21, 2011 @ 8:36 pm
You are none of them. That is how you know you are not a joiner.
I love how horse man has an ironic hipster mustache as well.
March 21, 2011 @ 8:47 pm
Wonder where he was this year. In a can of dog food?
March 24, 2011 @ 10:57 am
HEy i got a moustache and I ain’t no damn hipster lol, fuckin hipsters ruin everything
March 21, 2011 @ 5:21 pm
Thanks for breakin’ it down for us Triggerman. Can’t wait to hear Ted Russel Kamp’s new one. I hope you’ll be reviewing soon. Sounds like you had a great time, like you said, more good than bad. I am gonna see Dale Watson one of these days. It’s gonna happen! And then Ruby Jane.
And then Possessed by Paul James. And then Drag the River. And then Whitey Morgan and the 78’s. And then Hellbound Glory. And who’s this Ha Ha Tonka? And then . . . well. You get the idea.
Can’t wait for the video review either. 😉
March 21, 2011 @ 5:41 pm
I’ve only heard one Ha Ha Tonka song, “Hold My Feet to the Fire”, but I really like it! Kinda southern rock with cool harmonies.
March 21, 2011 @ 6:13 pm
I guess you missed Brent Amaker and the Rodeo? They got a review in the last Rolling Stone as “a band you probably didn’t. See at sxsw, but should have.”
March 21, 2011 @ 7:49 pm
No Rodeo for me. Man, I really tried. That is all I can do. Too much music to see in too short a period. I also missed O’Death. Twice.
March 21, 2011 @ 7:34 pm
Thanks so much for bringing us all the news. You’re our Ambassador.
No, Your Product
March 21, 2011 @ 8:27 pm
Although I didn’t run into you, I’m sure I must have bumped into you…
March 22, 2011 @ 6:00 am
It would be really neat if country music proper could embrace Micah and Two Cow Garage. Those kids are the very embodiment of everything that is good about the underground music scene.
March 22, 2011 @ 6:09 am
You cool man! Hey I think I’ll start figuring out why the hell something always breaks!!! Every damn time as if the gods and rain deers have cursed the show…ha ha. But yer right, it always plagued and thus ya go with it…ha ha ha.
Thanks for the references pal and all the best man.
March 22, 2011 @ 6:26 am
Nice review!! Sounds like a good time was had!!
March 22, 2011 @ 8:53 am
Sounds exhausting and thrilling. Wish I had been there instead of writing my dissertation. Good times seem to be had by all!
Interview – Whitey Morgan & Jeremy Mackinder « Saving Country Music
April 19, 2011 @ 12:26 pm
[…] The Pickathon Fesival out in Portland, OR has just announced the rest of their 2011 lineup, including the very cool addition of Kentucky’s Sunday Valley. Pickathon likes to say they don’t have headliners in the traditional sense: huge super-names that grab people’s attention. I guess this just proves how much of an independent music nerd I am, because I look at their lineup and see headliners up and down it, people like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Pokey LaFarge, and Michigan’s Whitey Morgan & The 78′s. In fact “headliners” is exactly what I called Whitey & the boys in my South by Southwest recap. […]