Monday, September 29, 2008

Americana Music Conference 08 Nashville TN Edit

I caught my flight out of Laguardia heading into Nashville to cover the Americana Music Conference again this year with every expectation of having a great time and checking out a lot of bands. As I sat there at the gate gazing across the runways I couldn't help but feel fortunate in being sent off to cover such an event. I wondered if there was some poor bastard peering back at me in the distance through one of the windows of Riker's Island wishing he was catching a flight to anywhere. I'm sure there was.

After landing in Nashville, I picked up my bags and joked with the rental car guy that I would like to be upgraded to the yellow Corvette that was parked outside the office. He replied that he would be happy to do that for an additional $150.oo per day. "Ha!" I proclaimed and asked him for the coolest car he could give me at my regular rate. Dude came through for me I have to say.

I never really got why they built an exact replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, but it makes a great backdrop for a meaningless rental car photo shot such as this. As I drove to the hotel I was reminded again that Nashville is sometimes referred to as the belt buckle of the Bible belt. God-fearing mostly Christians go to church weekly and give some of their earnings to help pay for the infrastructure of the corporate Jesus machine that it seems to have turned into. I've never been too big on religion but have no problem with those who are. Live and let live I say. As a child I would hide from my mom when it was time to go to church and then kick and scream all the way after she finally found me. She gave up on it by the time I turned four which made my dad happy because he didn't really want to go either. We would watch wrestling instead. I always feel weird when I'm in a church. Like the statues are staring right at me and about to start bleeding from the eyes. Luckily I'll be spending most of my four days here in bars watching bands and not talking about religion thereby exposing myself as the godless New York boy that I am.

I'm reminded of the lyrics to a Metallica song "Leper Messiah":

Time for lust, time for lie
Time to kiss your life goodbye
Send me money, send me green
Heaven you will meet
Make a contribution and you'll get a better seat
Bow to Leper Messiah

Billy Graham is arguably the king of evangelicals and has made a shitload of money over the years. Not a dime from me.

As it turns out, hurricane Ike messed up the supply chain for gasoline here in the south and there are tremendous lineups to get some. Sometimes the people in the lines don't get along so well and the cops are called in.

Since getting a gun here is so easy, I can understand why the police might be nervous about gas line violence.

The first show I checked out was at the famous Ryman Auditorium, which is known as the first church of country music. It actually used to be a church and then was the home to the Grand Ole Opry for decades. They moved the Grand Ole Opry to the outskirts of Nashvile into a shiny new soulless venue that if personified would resemble the love child of Michael Eisner (Disney CEO) and Dolly Parton. Surrounded by a giant mall with every sort of crap available in souvenir form, this is nothing short of a corporate monolith in the form of a shameless money grab. I liked it better at the Ryman.

Levon Helm is the headliner. Levon was the drummer and vocalist for the legendary group The Band who were Bob Dylan's backup band for a while. They had a string of hits of their own including "The Weight" and "Up on Cripple Creek". Apparently Levon got really screwed by Robbie Robertson on all of the royalties for those songs. I was told that when I interview him there are to be no questions about The Band. He was awesome.

It was a fantastic show with some big time surprise guests.

Billy Bob Thornton.

Sheryl Crow.

Robert Plant.

Ross Gordon Rylance, the security guard who watched my equipment bag while I was taking pictures. He is also a realtor if you are looking to buy in Nashville.

Steve Earle was there but didn't play, sadly. I lined up an interview with him back in New York sometime soon.

The next day there was some serious music watching to get done so I got right at it bright and early, checking out various local and conference sponsored bands. There are a lot of bars in Nashville and almost all of em' have a band playing at all times. So how can you hang out in bars all day and not get totally sloshed? Well you have to be a professional like me. My extensive road experience and Canadian drinking lineage ensure that I never have too much blood in my alcohol system or vice versa. Really I just love music and it energizes me.

These local boys were quite good I thought, with wicked telecaster riffs and a smartass front man hitting on the ladies while hustling rounds for the band. I bought them one after they attempted a Hellecasters song that I requested. Next I went to a rooftop party that I was invited to where they had a cool band playing with a pretty girl in it. It was there that I cast my eyes on one of the most peculiar creatures I've ever seen. It was Beatle Bob.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:Beatle Bob (born 1953) is a well-known figure in the St. Louis, Missouri music scene. He has been seen doing his characteristic dancing at a wide range of concerts including Ani DiFranco, Less Than Jake and Chuck Berry, both in the crowd and onstage with the performers. He is known for his arrhythmic dance moves and Beatle-inspired "mop top" hairstyle and '60s attire. His constant presence and dancing is welcomed by some concertgoers and an aggravation to others, but even his detractors admit that his presence signals that one is seeing the best music event in town on that particular night. He has allegedly been to at least one live show every night since Christmas Eve 1996, and seen over 10,000 bands over the last decade.
I cannot over-emphasize the extreme dorktitude of the moves this guy makes. He waves his arms in a fashion that might be useful while directing a symphony of drunken village idiots on exstacy. I felt tremendous shame on that terrace, horrified at the sight of someone who works in my profession carrying on like this in full public view. I resisted the urge to push him over the edge, downed my beer and moved on to a bunch more bars. Little did I know, I would be witnessing a lot more awkward dance moves by uncoordinated white folks before the night was through.

Who knew that Billy Bob Thornton had a band? I wondered why he was at the Ryman the other night and now I know. They had a gig at the Cannery Ballroom so I hopped the shuttle and checked them out. They are the Boxmasters and really sounded great. Dude is naturally photogenic and this may be the best live band shot I’ve ever taken.

Now it was time to do my interview with living legend Glen Campbell.

The interview went pretty well I thought.

There was a tribute performance for Glen later that night that was really terrific. The man himself showed up and did a few from his new record "Meet Glen Campbell" where he does cover versions of contemporary bands like Travis and Green Day.

That was a fun night. That's it for this year's Americana Music Conference. See you next year Nashville. Watch for this year’s South by Southwest blog entry coming in March. Thanks for reading. Comments and suggestions welcome.

*Photos by Paul Goguen.

*Paul and Glen Campbell photo by Dave Sollenberger.

*The views on this posting are entirely those of the author and are in no way associated with any other entity or organization.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

South by Southwest 2008 Music & Media Conference

March 15, 2008
By Paul Goguen

I made my connecting flight from Laguardia at Durum NC and boarded with a curious bunch, made up of mostly twenty- something hipster types sporting black converse runners and straight-leg jeans for the flight to Austin Texas and the South by Southwest Music Conference 08. Nerdy Weezer types counterbalance Goth rockers and indie granola singer-songwriter types, the best of whom are mostly unshaven and a little ripe. Art school poster child girl asks the flight attendant if she would help lift an awkward-looking road case into the overhead compartment. I deduce that it must enshrine some precious musical instrument that cruelly enables naive dreams of fame and fortune at the Big Daddy of all music festivals. “No” replies the flight attendant. “But aren’t there any dudes that could help me?” she protests. “There are no dudes,” replied the unsympathetic attendant. The “normals” can be uncooperative.

South by Southwest Music (March 12 - 16) is a for profit operation that showcases over seventeen hundred acts on over eighty stages in five days. There are also seminars and information sessions designed to educate artists and other industry types. “SXSW” as it is known is one of three festivals put on by the same folks. “SXSW Film” for movie buffs and “SXSW Interactive” for tech nerds are the other two.

We chased the sunset westward for the first hour or so over Birmingham, Shreveport and countless tiny southern mystery clusters of street light municipalities, until the sun hid behind the horizon just past LA I can only assume. As I’m learning, there is something wonderfully askew about Austin Texas as evidenced by some grafitti that I noticed on a No Parking sign: “Keep Austin Weird” it proclaimed. I later learned that this is one of Austin’s official slogans. It is a little weird to stroll down 6th street at 11am and hear very loud band noises coming from all directions. There are bars and clubs everywhere in the downtown area and many of the streets are blocked off.

While this fellow may have nowhere to live, he does have an ample supply of drum sticks to rock a kick-ass set given the opportunity:

Yes, it is all about the music. This guy looks just slightly less kempt than many of the festival registrants I have seen so far. Even the moms get into the spirit:

“Rocker Mom” indeed.

Even in the ultra-modern convention center there seems to be a compromised sense of order as you can see here in the neatly organized flyer area:

With so many bands attending this year’s SXSW, it is kind of tough to get your head around what to check out. I decided that wandering aimlessly would be the best approach to discovering the coolest new bands here. These are some that I saw:
-Hardcore Girl Band from LA. I didn’t catch the name because it was indistinguishable when the lead singer screamed it into the microphone.
Pros: Cute lefty guitar player and lots of goth she-tatts.
Cons: Poor drumming and inaudible lyrics.

- Mike Farris the former lead singer from Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies has a new band. I checked these guys out at the Americana Music Association showcase at historic Antone’s. Once escorted to the VIP area, I was treated to copious amounts of aged tequila by a lovely waitress who herself was aged to perfection approximately twenty four years.

Pros: A great horn section, gospel background singers and an all around tight band, this was one great show. It made me feel like going to church with George Clinton.

Cons: Stevie Ray Vaughn doesn’t play at this bar any more like he used to back in the day.
Here I am in the VIP area:

I got invited to a reception at a local TV station and decided to check it out. With lots of beer and hard cider to wash down yummy tomales and other local fare, this was worth checking out. This is Sara Fox with Joel Guzman on accordion and keys performing a song from their new record “Latinology”.

Pros: Straight ahead great music and vocals. This girl can really sing. She is sending me a CD and I think we’ll do a radio piece on her sometime soon.

Cons: TV station was kind of far from downtown area. They wouldn’t let me run one of the cameras or push any buttons in the control room.

Now taking in all of this music can be hard on one’s constitution with free booze everywhere I go and taco stands every ten feet (I can’t help myself I have taco dependency issues). If only there were some form of alternative musical first responders that could give me a cold drink and some earplugs. Well look no farther my friend, for this is Austin baby.

I have a fever and the only cure is an old ambulance turned into a radio station vehicle. Speaking of alternative medicine, there was one distinct smell that was not in the air at SXSW 08. It’s that smell you remember your hippie older brother’s jean jacket had or perhaps the art teachers office and just about anywhere in Jamaica. Yes I did not smell any weed. I though for sure this place would be lit up like Willie Nelson’s tour bus but not so. Maybe everyone was on E and I’m too much of an old fart to have thought of that.
Substance abuse was on the menu at the convention center as I noticed when I picked up my badge. This is the last place you want to be with a drinking problem because booze flows like a Jesus miracle at a water treatment plant.

On day three I have an interview scheduled with pop mega star Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates. My noon appointment is at the Four Season Hotel which is where all of the big artists stay. I arrived about an hour early to find that there is a reception going on in the back of the hotel overlooking Town Lake (it’s more like a river but that is what they call it).

Yes it is a beautiful day for a soiree under the high tension wires where I wait in a sixty person lineup for a breakfast taco with a tingly scalp and no blackberry service. It was astonishing how much vodka was consumed at eleven am on a Friday morning.

Yes it was all very pleasant and dignified until a strong gust of wind blew over the backdrop to the stage with a huge crash, triggering an unpleasant sonic jolt in the PA system. I washed my taco down with a bloody Mary and proceeded to my interview.

I’ve been doing these interviews for a time now and find that I still get a little nervous before interviewing a really big name. Seven number one hits and countless top forty chartings put Darryl Hall in an elite category of musician. The monthly royalty checks must be super fat for Daryl, who penned most of Hall & Oates’ songs and of course performed on all of them as well. I’m sure all of that good fortune makes his ex wife Sara….smile.

SXSW 08 was a blast for me and I can’t wait till next year. Austin Texas is a wonderful city that opens its arms for the SXSW series for a few weeks every year to salute creativity and individualism in all of its forms. It is a city that knows who it is and doesn’t really give a shit if you approve or not. Whether it is natural beauty:

Hardcore kick-ass wake-up-in-a-dumpster half-naked debauchery:

Historic stately architecture:

Or good old-fashioned municipal infrastructure jingoism:

To this fair city of Austin I say “Keep Austin Weird” and I’ll see you next year.