Aloha from SXSW: Just wow, Austin

Mar. 18, 2013 | 8 Comments

BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com

March 18: Just wow, Austin

Alejandro Escovedo stepping up to the mike; at left with Brooklyn songwriter Willie Nile. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

Alejandro Escovedo stepping up to the mike; at left with Brooklyn songwriter Willie Nile. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

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.

I'd like to show you pics of Erykah Badu, George Clinton and Robert Glasper at Empire Automotive for a SXSW showcase, but I could not get anywhere near the stage at this packed house.

I’d like to show you pics of Erykah Badu, George Clinton and Robert Glasper at Empire Automotive for a SXSW showcase, but I could not get anywhere near the stage at this packed house. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

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.

And this is how it ended: On the

And this is how it ended: On the bus. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

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.

I'm still thrilling to the energy of Green Day's concert on Friday. Glad I won the lottery! (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

I’m still thrilling to the energy of Green Day’s concert on Friday. Glad I won the lottery! (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

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.

March 16: It’s a celebration

<em>Fans get excited during a MySpace Secret Show presented by Chevrolet during SXSW 2013. (Associated Press/Austin American-Statesman, Rodolfo Gonzalez)</em>

Fans get excited during a MySpace Secret Show presented by Chevrolet during SXSW 2013. (Associated Press/Austin American-Statesman, Rodolfo Gonzalez)

As I write this, I’m sitting against the wall at Austin’s Moody Theater, one of my favorite venues for South by Southwest. My phone is plugged in — one of the constant worries during a frenetic event like this, where you may need to walk cumulative miles between venues and spend hours in “venues” that are more like unpaved parking lots.

I walked across the Congress Street bridge today, famous for its swarms of bats at sundown, to reach Auditorium Shores, where I saw and heard sublime sets by folk-rocker Nicki Bluhm and R&B revivalist James Hunter.

No pics, though, and you haven’t heard from me on Twitter because, you guessed it, my phone was dead!

<em>Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performs at the SXSW Music Festival on Friday, March 15. (Associated Press)</em>

Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performs at the SXSW Music Festival on Friday, March 15. (Associated Press)

It was fairly hot today too, reminding me of Texas’ extremes in weather. When I got here, highs were in the 60s, and there was a booming thunderstorm last weekend. Today, the high was in the 80s, with a dry wind that whipped dust into the performers’ faces at Auditorium Shores.

It was worth the sunburn and the sneezing, though, to hear this music. In fact, any “hardships” I’ve experienced have most definitely been outweighed by this amazing experience, true heaven for someone who loves music.

GREEN DAY’S “comeback” show in Austin is great proof of that.

The band hit the stage Friday night with plenty of punk power, and Billie Joe Armstrong looked to have more energy than ever. exhorting the audience, “I want you to get up … and have a (expletive) good time right now!”

This was the first live show for the band since Armstrong underwent rehab, so of course everyone was watching to see how he’s doing. The answer: good!

Playing guitar behind his head, racing from one end if the stage to another, telling the audience to “come closer” and “love each other” — who did he think he was, Bruce Springsteen?

I’d never seen Green Day before and I wasn’t sure if I’d find the music simplistic or overblown; instead, it was uplifting, and I might venture to say in some aspects, timeless.

Like, say, Irish music or R&B (and I heard echoes of both in the set Friday night), Green Day’s music inspires — maybe just to get up on our feet, but that’s a start!

<em>Green Day performs during the 2013 South by Southwest Music Festival on Friday, March 15. (Associated Press)</em>

Green Day performs during the 2013 South by Southwest Music Festival on Friday, March 15. (Associated Press)

Green Day is also in a line from seminal punk band The Clash, which folded American blues, reggae and protest music into its high-powered rush; and that means there was plenty of righteous energy on display Friday night.

The younger band has gone its own way, practicing a brand of pop-punk that rises above most others in the field, and now collaborating with Broadway creators on “Broadway Idiot.” It didn’t get this far by dumb luck, either. What this show proved to me was that Green Day has immense charisma, stage savvy and musical instinct that has earned it success.

“I want you to stand up!” Armstrong said. “This isn’t a party … it’s a celebration!”

The audience responded with palpable love for Armstrong and the band, waving arms high and dancing throughout the night. There was plenty to celebrate.

There’s plenty to celebrate about South by Southwest, too. I’ll be back later with some more of that.

March 16, 2013: Amazing Austin

I have so much to tell you about Friday night! I caught Green Day at Austin’s Moody Theatre, and the band was charismatic and confident, playing to a nearly full theatre and a sea of fans.

There’s much more. I’ll be back with a full lowdown in the morning. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some photos from my Friday.

Hipsters and music lovers were everywhere, listening to music.

Hipsters and music lovers were everywhere, listening to music on sidewalks, patios, converted houses, bars and warehouses. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

Caught Divine Fits at its daytime showcase right inside the Austin Convention Center. The band really went for it! (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

Caught Divine Fits at its daytime showcase right inside the Austin Convention Center. The band really went for it! (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

Rock 'n' roll at noon? Why yes, thank you. Divine Fits at SXSW. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

Rock ‘n’ roll at noon? Why yes, thank you. Divine Fits at SXSW. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

It was an extremely sunny day on Friday, and it's only getting hotter on Saturday. Time to put the jackets away for the rest of this visit.

It was an extremely sunny day on Friday, March 15, and it’s only getting hotter. Time to put the jackets away for the rest of this visit. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

Green Day appeared in Austin for SXSW on Friday, March 15. Billie Joe Armstrong called out the audience: "This isn't a party," he said. "This is a celebration!" (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

Green Day appeared in Austin for South by Southwest on Friday, March 15. Billie Joe Armstrong called out the audience: “This isn’t a party,” he said. “This is a celebration!” (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

If rehab was a trial for Billie Joe Armstrong, it wasn’t apparent on Friday, March 15, in Austin. The band was exuberant and tireless, playing for more than two hours. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

The Green Day concert was about coming together and having fun, with musical instruments and other toys. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.).

The Green Day concert was about coming together and having fun, with musical instruments and other toys. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

March 15, 2013: Making the rounds

<em>Green Day. (Courtesy photo)</em>

Green Day. (Courtesy photo)

Good news on Thursday: I learned that I won the lottery for Green Day tickets!

This is a big deal because tonight is the first concert the band has played since Billie Joe Armstrong checked himself into rehab and “Broadway Idiot,” a documentary about Green Day’s involvement in adapting the band’s “American Idiot” for the stage, had its world premiere at SXSW.

Seeing Green Day means I’ll have to miss a free concert by Flaming Lips at Auditorium Shores, but there’s always something you’re missing here. I’m excited to see Green Day!

I was trying not to do too much on Thursday, so that I could stay standing throughout the weekend. Despite my vow, I still got a lot done — and I calculate that I walked about five miles between venues. My feet are reminding me of that now.

A few minutes after I landed in downtown Austin on Thursday morning, I got a text advising me that a band I’ve only just discovered, Devil Makes Three, was playing at a bar on the east side of Austin. Hearing them, I was immediately drawn to the music, which is heavier on storytelling than most outfits these days. The band describes its music as a “slightly punky perspective on vintage American blues.”

That’s right up my alley. So I tried my best to get to the gig, speed-walking across town and looking to flag down a pedicab. It took a while, with such crowds milling about for SXSW, but I did find a guy, but only after walking completely across town.

The backyard of the Weather Up was far enough off track that even the pedicab driver wasn’t sure how to get there — but I have Google maps, so no worries. By the time I arrived a couple of miles later, I knew my driver pretty well (he’s in a punk-rock band himself), but the band was done. Oh well!

Erika Wennerstrom of Heartless Bastards. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

Erika Wennerstrom of the Heartless Bastards. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

Heartless Bastards rocking out on a SXSW stage in Austin.

The Heartless Bastards rocking out on a SXSW stage in Austin. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

MY CONSOLATION prize was catching fave Austin band the Heartless Bastards, a guitar-rock group with a woman up front as singer. I’m a big fan for the literate lyrics and for the band’s original music. Today, standing right in front of the stage, I was even more impressed, hearing elements of acoustic appalachian music, swamp-rock and heavy riffs.

It was nice to find a pedicab to get to this out-of-the-way spot, but I felt guilty about having someone haul me around. So I walked the 10 blocks or so — just over a mile, in the sun — back toward the Austin Convention Center for my next stop.

Good thing I had my Red Hook trucker hat with me. (It was swag, handed out from the Sennheiser/Paste house on Monday.) Think I got a little sunburned.

Back in town, I spent a good part of the day at the Sonos studio, where I could keep my phone plugged in. I’d had this day on my agenda since before I left Hawaii; as I’d hoped, Sonos provides a comfortable, convenient place to see music. And it’s just a block away from the Convention Center.

Rising star Robert Delong at Sonos Studio. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

Rising star Robert Delong at Sonos Studio. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

Chali 2na getting on the good foot at a Thursday house party in Austin. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

Chali 2na getting on the good foot at a Thursday house party in Austin. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

California's Poolside finding a sunny groove at Sonos studio on Thursday. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

California’s Poolside finding a sunny groove at Sonos studio on Thursday. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

Robert Delong, Chali 2na (formerly of hip-hop group Jurassic 5) and rising buzz band Poolside played live sets at Sonos. These acts boasted varying degrees of funkiness, but the musicians are all truly talented.

I had a sublime moment during Poolside’s performance as the sun started turning golden. The band was playing a champagne set of romantic, sophisticated songs, girls were dancing, and the afternoon rays bounced off people’s smiling faces — including the bands’. Their music has been described as “daytime disco,” and that works for me. With live bass and drums, and tasty keyboards, I’d call it champagne funk.

After one false start at a club on Congress, I made my way over to the last stop on my list: Hotel Vegas for a psych-rock band from San Francisco, Thee Oh Sees.

This outdoor block party was packed, but I climbed up on a bench to dance and watch the show, giving me a view of the band despite the crowd.

I was cold and it was after midnight by the time I got home, but the day itself was warm and full of light.

Walking around, I saw skaters flying off the lip of a half-pipe at the house Thrasher magazine took over for its “Death Match” series of bands at SXSW, heard hip-hop booming from a massive outdoor stage near the Convention Center, and stopped in at a small club for a minute to watch a band playing music inspired by ’60s psychedelic soul. On another side of the city, country-rock legend Emmy Lou Harris was picking and singing. Also in town: John Hiatt and Wylie Ray Hubbard, two heroes of Americana.

SXSW is like a Disneyland for music-lovers. I can’t wait to hear what I find today!

March 14, 2013: Music matters

<em>Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on stage in Austin, Texas. (Courtesy National Public Radio)</em>

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on stage in Austin, Texas. (Courtesy National Public Radio)

I’m striking out as far as the concerts with big buzz go: I didn’t win the lottery for Nick Cave (Wednesday) or Dave Grohl (Thursday) tickets. But as a consolation, I was able to catch some of Cave’s concert on live streaming video on Wednesday, March 13.

Here’s a word to the wise: If you’re a fan, it’s worth looking up, when it is archived. Check sxsw.com and npr.org for this dramatic and often macabre performance. Cave sings of “spiritual catharsis,” but his songs are full of hints of dark entanglements and absurdity. I have chickenskin just thinking about it.

Haven’t seen the Yeah Yeah Yeahs footage yet, but I’m going to guess that is also worth your time.

Andy Stott performed in Hawaii last week, and now made his way to Austin for SXSW. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

Andy Stott performed in Hawaii last week, and now made his way to Austin for SXSW. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

As for live shows, I didn’t do so badly with that on Wednesday, either. One true highlight was a set by Andy Stott, who is a musician in his own right, even if he works with a computer on stage. Stott’s music is hypnotic, with flashes of its own gothic sensibitilies. I’ll be looking forward to hearing more from him!

I don’t think I’ll ever feel “relaxed” during SXSW — there’s too much, and whatever you choose to do, you know that something else is going on down the road.

But I did my best to go with the flow today/tonight, and that paid off in some good music.

I’ve got a few intriguing things on the agenda for tomorrow, too. One prime show: ACL Live at the Moody Theater, with Charles Bradley, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and more. Stay tuned!

March 13, 2013: Listen up

Yeah Yeah Yeahs. (Courtesy photo.)

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. (Courtesy photo)

Here’s a tip if you’re a superfan of Nick Cave and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs like I am: While the NPR-sponsored SXSW showcase with these two major post-punk artists is completely booked up, you can watch or listen online via NPR.org.

Get details here. Demand for this event was high even before details were announced, and Stubb’s, the venue where the concert will take place, is not all that large; it’s somewhat comparable to The Republik. I may be listening along with you — I could not get in, even as press.

Here’s the lineup direct from NPR, with times adjusted for Hawaii:

» 2:45 p.m – Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds
» 4:10 p.m – Waxahatchee
» 5 p.m. – Cafe Tecvba
» 5:40 p.m. – Youth Lagoon
» 6:00 p.m. – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

March 13, 2013: Balancing act

As close as I got to Rob Zombie — the artist did not show up for a scheduled appearance. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

As close as I got to Rob Zombie — the artist did not show up for a scheduled appearance. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

I’ve been to Austin a handful of times, and I always make it a point to see live music. But it has been a year since my last visit, and I’d forgotten a few things about what it’s like to ramble around this city. For one thing, a lot of shows are outdoors or in warehouse-like clubs, and they involve a lot of standing around on hard concrete, or loose gravel — or worst of all, loose gravel over broken patches of hard concrete.

The Japandroids played a standing-room-only block party, Vice, at SXSW on Tuesday, March 12. (Courtesy photo.)

The Japandroids played a standing-room-only block party at SXSW on Tuesday, March 12. (Courtesy photo)

That’s how I spent my last couple of hours tonight. I was at a major block party just a few blocks from the Austin Convention Center, thrown by Jansport and pop-culture magazine Vice. On stage: Team Spirit, Wavves, Japandroids and Divine Fits.

There was a cost involved in pinballing around the tight crowd on cold, hard rock, but the heat of the music and the genuinely high spirits of the crowd on this first day of SXSW’s Music Festival (and last day of Interactive) balanced it out.

This was a high-energy show. The block was completely full of people by 10 p.m., with a line down the street. And joy, it was free!

I’m sorry you couldn’t be there with me, but I have some omiyage: Here’s a link to some free music by new artists from Jansport (you’ll have to “like” the backpack-making company on Facebook to qualify).

Cruising one of the exceptional food trucks at South Bites. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

Cruising one of the exceptional food trucks at South Bites. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

MY DAY was all about balancing the good and the bad on Tuesday. I saw some great creative people, and got to hang out with people I admire. I also got knocked into more than a couple of times by oblivious people pushing their way through the crowds; got hot; got tired; and ran out of juice for my phone.

At the “South Bites” block of rolling kitchens curated by “Top Chef: Seattle” winner Paul Qui of Austin and SXSW, I ate some great food, including the best lime meringue tarts I have ever tasted — with an amazing, flaky crust — from the Foreign & Domestic food truck.

Nick Cave

Nick Cave. (Courtesy photo)

At the Sonos studio, along with at least 100 others, I was stood up by Rob Zombie, who was supposed to be there to plug his new movie, “Lords of Salem.”

I was there at the Austin Convention Center for a sharp, sometimes dark conversation with Nick Cave, one of my musical idols, who described his invented musical world as “magical, transformative” with its own logic. (Check my Twitter feed for quotes from this groundbreaking musician and songwriter.) I’m still hoping to get into the show by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on March 13, but don’t know yet whether I’ve won the “lottery” for SXSW tickets. (Update: I didn’t get tickets!)

And I was there at the Sennheiser-Paste studio space for an appearance by Fred Armisen (“Saturday Night Live,” “Portlandia”), but while Armisen was friendly and engaging, not much of substance was discussed. I can hardly remember one thing he said.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stories and photos.

March 12, 2013: Exploring Austin

Thurston Moore, right, and band Chelsea Light Moving. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

Thurston Moore, right, and band Chelsea Light Moving. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

Today was a good day, even though I hardly spent any time at all in the Austin Convention Center.

I’d been invited to two studios operated by sound-equipment makers, Sennheiser and Sonos, and these locations turned out to be quite attractive. Each had its own niche, but combined, they provided a great spectrum of experience.

The Sennheiser location was set up as an interview studio, with Paste magazine editors on hand to draw out comments.

Edward James Olmos at the Sennheiser/Paste interview studio. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

Edward James Olmos at the Sennheiser/Paste interview studio. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

I was able to sit just a few feet away while veteran director John Sayles talked about making music videos with Bruce Springsteen (“Born to Run”!) and his new movie, “Go For Sisters,” starring Edward James Olmos.

Then Olmos followed Sayles on the small stage, praising Sayles as “calm and completely in control of what he’s doing. … He doesn’t give you many takes,” Olmos said.

I ran across town to check out a DJ set on a rooftop, but that was hard work — trucking up crowded streets, waiting in a long line, and climbing a lot of stairs only to find the scene pretty dull inside. There were snacks, though: peanut butter and jelly and granola bars.

The experience validated my suspicion that waiting in line is rarely a good thing. But there was a bright side: On my way out of the dud event, I spotted signs for a Fandango filmmakers’ lounge across the street, and it turned out to be a godsend.

This was a haven — out of the cold, with free drinks and chips, guacamole and salsa — but best of all, equipped with charging stations so I could keep my phone on.

I hung out in the lounge for more than an hour, checking out my schedule (and charging up), then booked down Red River street toward the Sonos studio, where patrons could check Sonos’ new Playbar, a speaker system specially designed to look and sound good with a flat-screen TV, make their own speakers, or just drink beer.

Skinny Lister busking on Sixth Street in Austin.

Skinny Lister busking on Sixth Street in Austin. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

Another happy surprise: On the way, I ran into Skinny Lister again, busking in the street!

I couldn’t stick around for long, though. I was determined to make it to Sonos Studio.

My agenda: To see Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), playing with a new band, Chelsea Light Moving.

Moore did not disappoint. He still surprises on the guitar, still makes art-rock that plays with jittery notes and repetition.

By the time I arrived at the Sonos Studio, the food was running out. But my luck got better when Pig & The Lady Chef Andrew Le and food-crew member Ginger Gohier, here in Austin for a pop-up at the Alamo Drafthouse, turned up.

Le and Gohier had a plan to hit downtown Austin restaurant Mai Thai; that sounded good to me.

The crew from Pig & The Lady with friends at an Austin restaurant.

From left: Chef Andrew Le of The Pig & The Lady, HIFF film programmer Anderson Le, crew member Ginger Gohier, Alex Le and reps for the film “Linsanity” at Mai Thai restaurant in Austin. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

Andrew’s brother Alex Le, also here for Pig & The Lady, soon joined us, with film friends in tow. We walked over to Mai Thai, where we met Le brother Anderson, film programmer for the Hawaii International Film Festival. Then we ordered, and ordered more.

Soon our table was covered with plates of larb, pad thai, tom yum soup and curry. I ate until I couldn’t eat any more, then had a bite or two of Mai Thai’s delicious mango and sticky rice dessert.

By this time, we’d befriended our server, Tracy — who turned out to be Vietnamese, like the Le brothers, and a Houstonite — and we were all making joking plans for more Austin adventures.

It was a night to remember. I’d like to tell you more, but I need some sleep!

March 11, 2013: Breaking out

Thunderstorms Saturday night gave way to blue skies and blooming trees in Austin on Sunday. It was a good day to walk in the park and regroup for the coming week at SXSW.

Thunderstorms Saturday night gave way to blue skies and blooming trees in Austin on Sunday. It was a good day to walk in the park and regroup for the coming week at SXSW. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

On Sunday, with my ear infection still in full effect, I took a break from Austin’s downtown and South by Southwest. The festival continues through Saturday, March 16, and I figured if I didn’t take one day off, I might not survive it.

<em>Sean Fanning and Sean Parker, founders of Napster. (Courtesy SXSW)</em>

Sean Fanning and Sean Parker, founders of Napster. (Courtesy SXSW)

Instead, I hung out with my host family north of the city, taking in a sunny, almost-spring day at a local park and playground for a birthday party and eating tacos from food truck-turned citywide success story Torchy’s. (My favorites: a Fried Avocado taco and the “Trailer Park,” made with fried chicken. Oh, yeah.)

As I write, I’m listening to “Downloaded,” a Spotify playlist inspired by SXSW, with music from the ’90s “Napster era.”

“Downloaded” is also a documentary by Alex Winter (“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and its sequels), examining the rise and fall of Napster, and the major disruption caused by this downloading service coded by two college-aged programmers.

ON TUESDAY, Napster originators Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker are appearing at SXSW to talk about the world-changing shift they helped initiate. Musician/co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation JP Barlow and Winter will join them, in a talk moderated by Eugene Hernandez, Film Society of Lincoln Center. This promises to be an intense discussion, and I hope to be there.

Billie Joe Armstrong in 'American Idiot.' (Courtesy photo.)

Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. (Courtesy photo)

I’m transitioning over to a musical mindset, and I can hardly wait for the SXSW Music fest to kick off officially on Tuesday. There are a few other music-oriented films I hope to see, including “Muscle Shoals,” a documentary about the Alabama studio musicians who played backup on some of the ’70s best soul music (Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett), as well as monster hits by the Rolling Stones and Paul Simon.

GREEN DAY will be here on the red carpet Friday for the world premiere of “Broadway Idiot,” a music-filled documentary that tracks singer Billie Joe Armstrong from a punk rock concert at Madison Square Garden to the opening of Broadway musical “American Idiot” just 10 blocks away.

Armstrong was closely involved in the development of “American Idiot,” a glam, jubilant production infused with righteous music, connected to Armstrong’s opposition to the war in Iraq.

An Austin toy store created this shrine to Nick Cave. I can dig it. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

An Austin toy store created this shrine to Nick Cave. I can dig it. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

After the premiere on Friday, Green Day will play a highly anticipated showcase at Austin’s beautiful Moody Theater. This will be the first show for the band since Armstrong sought out rehab for a drinking problem, and it’s causing a lot of buzz. The show expected to be so hot that SXSW is holding a lottery, as it did with Bruce Springsteen, for tickets.

Nick Cave is the other frenzy-inspiring act at SXSW this year. I’m a big fan, but with both the Green Day and Nick Cave shows, I’m not getting worked up about getting in. I’m not willing to wait hours in line, so if the venues are completely full, I’ll probably scout out another location.

For me, SXSW is more about wandering into a club and discovering a great band you didn’t know that well before, and if I can’t attend these hyped-up showcases, I’ll be hoping to do just that.

March 10, 2013: Future shock

It's going to be a rainy weekend in Austin, Texas. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

It’s going to be a rainy weekend in Austin. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

It’s almost midnight in Austin as I write this on Saturday, March 9, safely home in the dining room of a North Loop home. Outside, the streets are wet and shining, and the wind is picking up. I can hear thunder rolling in.

A few minutes ago, my phone lit up with an alert from the SXSW app.

“Heads up: There’s a thunderstorm headed to Austin,” it said. “Be careful out there.”

That made me feel better about my decision to come home, skipping a couple of parties in favor of taking care of an ear infection I picked up just before this trip. My ear was throbbing today — maybe as an indicator of incoming bad weather. I’m hoping that a good night’s sleep will help clear this thing up, so I can hear all of the music that’s coming my way!

The quantity of music that’s about to wash over Austin is almost incomprehensible for a single spectator, but you can have a free taste: NPR is giving away 100 tracks by bands playing SXSW. Click here to download the “Austin 100.”

<em>Danny Boyle. (Courtesy photo)</em>

Danny Boyle. (Courtesy photo)

ISN’T IT amazing how easy it is to “share” online? The Internet, like nature, doesn’t care about you one way or the other, but we human beings, on the other hand, have a choice in how we treat each other.

That concept was reinforced over and over today in a series of discussions I attended Saturday, soaking up as much as I could absorb of South by Southwest.

First up: the remarkable Danny Boyle, a highly accomplished film director (“Trainspotting,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “127 Hours”), who appeared in conversation with New York Times journalist David Carr. Boyle’s mindbending new thriller, “Trance,” opens April 5.

While Boyle says he tries “never to make the same film twice,” the insight he gave was that in his films, whether about a child as in “Millions” or a solo hiker as in “127 Hours,” the pivotal issue is often a character’s need to make a life-changing choice.

“Trance” revolves around three characters, hypnotism and a stolen work of art. At his talk, Boyle dropped a teaser, revealing that identifying the “good guy” and bad guy in the film may not be as simple as one thinks.

What makes Boyle’s films intriguing — like life, I suppose — is that his characters don’t always make the “moral” choice. Therefore, you can’t predict the outcome in advance.

Keep that in mind as you consider the other topics I covered Saturday: philanthropy and porn.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OCNT9By214

PHILANTHROPY, or perhaps more accurately, altruism, was the overriding concern at the talk, “Do Great Things: Your Role in the Human Project.” Speaker Justin Rosenstein, a former leader at Facebook who co-founded Asana, a company that promotes techniques to improve productivity, used a key word that’s rarely heard in a conference or business setting: “love.”

Justin Rosenstein

Justin Rosenstein. (Courtesy photo)

Rosenstein said he’d had an epiphany, realizing that his needs and desires were no more privileged than others’. And he’s made it a personal mission to promote business practices that aren’t based on damaging other people, or the world we all live in.

He argued that businesses can prosper while sharing a “common vision for a thriving, sustaining society.”

Rosenstein’s talk was part of a greater effort to build a network of people and businesses who want to advance that vision, at the web site oneproject.org/.

“We are the ones driving this bus,” he said. “We must attempt to do great things.”

I found Rosenstein more convincing than Seth Priebatsch, whose “Consumerization of Revolutions” I heard on Friday — perhaps because Rosenstein specified that teamwork and common goals are a foundation for change. Both Rosenstein and Priebatsch stake plenty of hope in technology, but instinct tells me that a business owner who feels “love” for his community is less likely to engage in harmful practices.

Cindy Gallop

Cindy Gallop. (Courtesy photo)

WHICH BRINGS ME to Cindy Gallop, her talk, “The Future of Porn,” and her startup venture, Make Love Not Porn.

Gallop, an intriguing, outspoken New Yorker who is half-Chinese and speaks with a British accent, has established a site for broadcasting video of “real sex,” as her company calls it — user-submitted videos, rather than staged commercial product. Users pay to upload a video, and they are paid for each time other users view it.

While she labels herself and her company “pro porn,” Gallop said frankly that standard portrayals of sex in the porn industry are misleading and often sexist, if not violent.

These portrayals warp the understanding of sex for young men and women, Gallop said. And she offered her company’s model as a revolutionary alternative that could alter the sex-industry’s culture and economy — in the process “change the world.”

Gallop is grabbing attention on a worldwide basis for her venture, despite the difficulties in bringing a sex-oriented business into mainstream discussion. She was successful before launching Make Love Not Porn, with a career in advertising and marketing, and she labels herself a pro-sex feminist. Meanwhile, her Twitter profile says she likes to “blow sh*t up.”

“Money is a secondary consideration,” Gallop said, during her Austin talk. “Our contributors want a more open, more realistic dialogue about sex.”

She’s certainly open to putting the topic on blast: At her talk, she challenged members of the audiences to upload their own videos from Austin.

Can the wide exchange of “real sex” imagery “lead to world peace,” as Gallop half-jokingly claimed? I guess we’ll find out.

March 9, 2013: Searching out inspiration

It was wet and gray on Friday in Austin, but crowds converged on the city anyway. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

It was wet and gray on Friday in Austin, but crowds converged on the city anyway. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

SXSW started up in Austin on Friday. For me, the first hours were anti-climactic, with no strong interactive conference event to draw me downtown and a cold rain drizzling steadily throughout the first half of the day. It was also a bummer that I couldn’t ride my borrowed bike!

Even without the rain, there was no “big idea” that drew me in to the Interactive or Film streams early in the day. Event planners seem to have acknowledged they would be easing into the conference, with meet-up parties and how-to panels focused on first-timers in the forefront.

Seth Priebatsch

Seth Priebatsch. (Courtesy photo)

Mid-afternoon, I was intrigued by a “Consumerization of Revolutions” session. This was a talk about the theory that individual users and small companies can now drive technology and the economy forward, because web-based information and low-cost “maker bots” level the playing field between powerful, consolidated forces and the rest of us.

Speaker Seth Priebatsch, a Princeton dropout and digital entrepreneur, had one big insight: namely, that problems with the environment and education are building because population grows exponentially, while innovation has been growing linearly. That’s leading to bigger gaps between the problems and available solutions.

Priebatsch projected confidence that people will step up to solve the major problems of our generation, including global warming and economic disparity, but he was fuzzy on the details of how that would come to pass, other than the accessibility of digital technology.

Heavy? Sorry. These are the big questions of our day, and I come to SXSW early on to get a feel for what influential thinkers are saying. I’m still waiting for my “wow” moment with Interactive, but it’s only the first day!

Skinny Lister at the BBC America tent for SXSW, Friday, March 8, 2013. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

Skinny Lister at the BBC America tent for SXSW on Friday, March 8. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

WHILE WAITING for Preibatsch to talk, I wandered around near the convention center, and made a great discovery: Hawaii’s Michael Camino and the Brit band that’s adopted him, Skinny Lister, were playing right across the street, at the BBC America tent.

The day’s only glimpse of sun revealed itself for a few minutes just as I learned this, poking about on my phone to see what BBC had to offer at its “Roadhouse”-styled tent, strewn with hay and with livestock troughs for ice buckets. I took that for a good sign, and it was.

I left the giant ballroom and approached the tent, but there was a long line. Here’s where digital technology comes into play: I tweeted at Camino that I was in line, not really expecting him to see it, but more to get the word out to you all. He did see it, though, and found me on the sidewalk! Nice trick, Twitter.

Delightful discoveries like Skinny Lister at the BBC American tent can give SXSW the feel of a treasure hunt. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

Delightful discoveries like Skinny Lister at the BBC American tent can give SXSW the feel of a treasure hunt. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

It seemed more special considering that Camino’s been on the road with the band throughout Europe and the U.S., and even detoured in Hawaii recently, while I did not know the band would be in this location until just hours earlier. This meet-up would never have happened before the days of mobile phones.

BETTER YET, Skinny Lister was a delight — a five-piece band with genuine spark and a rootsy, punk-folk feel, a font of constant energy. It was cool to meet the members before the show, and find that they were all quite friendly. Perhaps the copious amounts of Shiner Bock that had been made available by BBC America had something to do with that, but there were smiles to go around.

There was also rum to go around along with the free beer and wine that BBC America was handing out. At most shows, Skinny Lister members pass a bottle around to the audience, helping get everyone in the mood. This time, it was in a Texas-sized jug, and considering that there was no liquor in the tent otherwise, several fans seemed happy to get their hands on it.

Frank Turner's solo set was a big-hearted, acoustic pean to rock 'n' roll. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski.)

Frank Turner’s solo set was a big-hearted, acoustic pean to rock ‘n’ roll. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

The band was in fine form, breaking a sweat and leaning into the music. Camino told me after the set the band has a pact to play every show as if it were its last. As you may have seen him do in Honolulu, Camino manhandled his stand-up bass during the show, thrusting it up above his head and twirling it around as if it were as light as cotton candy.

Nice work, Skinny Lister!

The U.K. solo artist Frank Turner followed, and true to his tradition, had us all singing, “I still believe,” preceded by his refrain, “Who’d have thought that after all, something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all?”

His one-man ode to “guitars and drums and desperate poetry” was enough to make me think that maybe people would find it in their hearts to solve the world’s problems.

At SXSW, music of all kinds, movies and technology constantly bump up against each other. It can take some searching out to find what inspires you. I’m happy that I found it right across the street today.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKkIysX2Bow

  • Phil Tripp

    Great blog on this event.   You’ve pretty much captured the essence of Southby in this and the article you did.  Look forward to sharing your immersion in the baptismal pool of SXSW.

    • http://twitter.com/StarTGIF ElizabethKieszkowski

       Thanks Phil, your advice on “South by” goes a long way!

      • Phil Tripp

        MIGAS!!!  You got baptised in queso girl.  Kinda like having Poke for the first time in Hawai’i.  Now you need to immerse yourself in some good prickly pear margaritas (no lilikoi or Mai Tais) and a Shiner Bock Beer.

        • http://twitter.com/StarTGIF ElizabethKieszkowski

          Aloha, Phil. I’ve tried Shiner, but I think I’m more partial to Austin’s Real Ale and Fireman’s 4. Cheers!

  • http://www.twitter.com/GenePark Gene Park

    Elizabeth when it’s archived could you direct me to the link? I worship Bruce. 

    • http://twitter.com/StarTGIF ElizabethKieszkowski

      Hi Gene, it was released today. I’m adding this info to my blog post too: Hear Springsteen’s talk on doo wop, Dylan, Woody and the spirit of rock n roll via NPR streaming audio here: http://n.pr/wwuJJL

  • Embla

    Hi Elizabeth, please convince Andrew to bring his Spirited Away-inspired menu back to Hawaii. :) Hope you have a blast at SXSW!

    • http://twitter.com/StarTGIF ElizabethKieszkowski

      If the menu is a success (and why wouldn’t it be), let’s hope to experience it in Hawaii too! This crossing-over of chefs could be the start of a trend.