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.