Aloha from SXSW: Just wow, Austin
BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / firstname.lastname@example.org
March 18: Just wow, Austin
Well, I made it this far; it’s Monday, my last full day in Austin. Boy am I tired! I was feeling a little shaky at the prospect of getting up and doing it all over again for the annual, Alejandro Escovedo-hosted SXSW wrap party at the Continental Club on Sunday, March 17, but heavens, I’m so glad I did.
I hadn’t stopped in at the Continental Club on this visit yet. As soon as I walked in, though, I was home.
The Continental Club is a temple of honky tonk, hillbilly fusion, rock and soul, and all of that was in evidence on Sunday. This club never disappoints — it’s a bit like going to church, because I always meet like-minded souls there, and come out feeling the spirit.
Escovedo was there for all 10 hours of this marathon rock fiesta, looking sharp in a snakeskin (for real) jacket. Good lord!
He personally introduced each band, sitting in with a few. Escovedo was pretty punch-drunk by the end of the night, but never lost his essential intensity and inclusiveness, taking time to talk to people in the audience and making sure that every performer got a share of appreciation. When he stopped to say hello to me, I shook his hand and thanked him for all the good music.
Turns out Escovedo is a surfer, did you know that? While born in San Antonio, Texas, son of an immigrant from Mexico, he grew up in Huntington Beach, Calif.
He stepped up to the mike with New York singer-songwriter Willie Nile, longtime friends with fellow road-warriors such as Escovedo and and Bruce Springsteen, to sing Nile’s anthem, “One Guitar” — “about how one guitar and one voice can change the world,” as Nile explained.
With its “na na na” refrain, and lyric that goes, “when you get knocked down, you need to take a stand, for all the outcasts, dead last, who need a helping hand,” the song bridges the gap between Springsteen and the Ramones.
I guess you could say the same thing about Escovedo. For me, this beautiful moment was the heart of the night.
Escovedo’s reunited Austin punk-rock band from the ’80s, True Believers, was the headliner, so you know there were plenty of punk-rock moments. Escovedo often calls out Velvet Underground as a seminal influence, and his band covered VU’s “Foggy Notion” as a blissed-out, revved-up raveup on Sunday night. That was another highlight!
The crowd was a mix of fellow musicians, SXSW holdouts and Texas locals, some of whom had driven from Houston or other points to catch this show. For many, the draw was the knowledge that the room would be sprinkled with rock celebrities.
This year, Peter Buck (R.E.M.) brought his band, which also included Mike Mills and Young Fresh Fellows’ Scott McCaughey. The band played Mills’ song for R.E.M., “Don’t Go Back (to Rockville),” and that was really sweet; then sweetness was thrown by the wayside for an increasingly aggro, punk-inspired set. I liked that!
Other well-knowns in the room: Robyn Hitchcock, Keith Streng (Fleshtones) and David Fricke of Rolling Stone — and, of course, all the members of the various bands playing that night.
ON SATURDAY, March 16, I was able to stop in and watch rock legend John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival) at Moody Theater after I filed my blog. Talk about artists who changed the world. Much respect for this songwriter.
Today at dinner, I heard “Who’ll Stop the Rain” on the radio as part of a set of American music, and it reminded me of Fogerty’s great body of work, and the way it represented the times so well.
Then I pushed on to a venue called Empire Automotive — yeah, it was pretty much like a gravel lot where you’d park cars, with a tented area for a stage, so that’s an appropriate name.
It had been on my agenda all week to see Grammy winner Robert Glasper, an extremely talented musician who melds jazz and hip-hop. (His 2012 album “Black Radio” won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album this year.)
The bonus: When I checked the schedule on my SXSW app, I saw that Erykah Badu had been added to the lineup with Glasper!
This shouldn’t have been a surprise, since Badu recorded with Glasper and is fond of appearing at SXSW, but it was a treat for me to see and hear Badu again, after watching her headline a massive SXSW concert last year.
Couldn’t get close enough to get a good pic, but let me assure you that she was beautiful as always, wearing her trademark, oversized Western hat.
“Peace and love y’all,” Badu said, after finishing up. “I love Austin. … This is where I got my start, right here at SXSW.”
Then she led the crowd in a verse from “Deep in the Heart of Texas”: “The stars at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.” Of course hundreds of admirers sang long. I’ve had that song going though my mind now for two days.
My official SXSW experience ended with a crazy, funky late set by George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic, backup singers and all. This music shook the ground and might have blown the roof off the mutha — if Empire Automotive had a roof! Prince was playing across town, and Smashing Pumpkins was down the block, but this was an crowded, sweaty party that floated souls and held down the beat; I wasn’t missing anything.
I pretty much danced down Sixth St., never mind the crazy crowds. Getting on a 2 a.m. bus was a challenge, just like last year, with a drunken crowd desperate to get home after a wild night, but I got a seat after waiting for a second bus to come around. A young woman who works for the Dallas Cowboys sat next to me, and we talked about the music we’d seen.
And then I was home, and it was over. It will be days before I recover, though — and I may never get the music out of my head.
I’ll have some more observations for you in an upcoming blog, but this is the last daily report from Texas. Thanks for following along.
Postscript: If you’re a fan of classic soul with a contemporary edge, you might want to check out James Hunter just as quick as you can. His new album, “Minute by Minute,” should appeal to fans of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and that should mean just about everybody.
I’ve played his 2008 album “The Hard Way” constantly since its release; it goes down easy, but has a wise and sharp sensibility. And with the James Hunter 6, he did not disappoint at his showcase performance Saturday at Auditorium Shores, playing to a swelling crowd with a set that showed traces of Chuck Berry and James Brown.
Go to the University of Texas radio station, KUT.org, for background on Hunter and a free download of one of his new songs.