SXSW Day 4; March 20, 2010; Austin TX
The weather when I’d left Madison had been unseasonably warm, but it had still been a treat to arrive in Austin where the weather was a perfect 70 degrees and sunny every day. That is, until today. Saturday dawned gloomy and rainy, puddles dotting the roads as far as I could see from our sixteenth floor hotel window. It wasn’t until I walked out the front door that I realized how much less nice it really was. The temperature couldn’t have been any more than fifty and a bone chilling wind whipped round the corner. I’d have been tempted to duck back to the room and put on pants and a coat, except, well, I hadn’t packed either.
Suburban Home Recordings added their party late in my schedule making. A true all day affair, Two Cow Garage was scheduled for a closing set at 4:45 while that band’s Micah Schnabel was kicking things off at 10:45. That looked to be a long day of drinking for band that seldom gets up this early in the morning. Though I’m guessing that’s no longer true ever since Shane Sweeney became a father. We were running late and I was a little worried we’d miss part of Micah’s set, but never fear, he was outside smoking when we arrived. It was more like 11 when he got on stage but that just gave me time to say hi to everyone. His solo release is an honest, soul-barring affair, full of songs about life on the road, drinking too much and playing shows. Micah’s gravely voice and acoustic guitar convey the loneliness and add up to instant heartbreak.
I was hoping to get back in time to see Two Cow, but it didn’t seem likely as I’d planned to spend most of the day south of the river, splitting my time between Mojo’s (Nixon of course) Mayhem party at the Continental, the Twangfest party at Jovita’s and yet another party at Yard Dog. The wait at the ridiculously delicious Magnolia Café was more than twice as long as it had been the day before (but still totally worth it), and my plan to see the Waco Brothers at the Twangfest party was replaced by a more sensible one that involved me actually getting to the Continental with enough time to get in the door before Jon Dee started. It was a good one. After a short wait, we were let in just in time to catch the end of the Stone Creek Boys who I am now convinced live at the Continental. The light went on today when he mentioned that he used to be in a band called the Hollisters and I was happy to have that mystery sorted out.
Jon Dee’s set for his favorite party at SXSW wasn’t all that much different than the one the night before, even down to the part where he told the same Alex Chilton story. Today however he reached into a different bag and came out with “Don’t Lie to Me” as his tribute. The song turned into a completely different beast in his hands. His rumbling voice and throat full of gravel has nothing in common with Chilton’s sometimes surprisingly high wail, but it was still absolutely killer. Jon Dee was out the back door quicker than I could back there, but I gave bass player Andrew DuPlantis a kiss on the cheek, told him how great it was to see him, and headed out the back door myself. When I decided to see Chuck Prophet in Chicago, I wasn’t sure I’d see him at all Austin, yet here I was at the Twangfest party, waiting at the back of a capacity crowd as he set up for another amazing show. Following that, I caught the second half of Joe Pug’s set on the patio. Despite the fact that it was cold out there, a good number of people had huddled together for his affecting singer-songwriter tunes. He seemed surprised and even humbled by the response. He shouldn’t have been, that kid is going places.
It was much different scene that greeted me at Yard Dog today compared to yesterday’s sun-baked Bloodshot party Folks huddled under the tent, scarves wrapped tight, gloved hands holding their $2 pale ales. For this set, Jon Langford had called on the Waco’s rhythm section, drummer Joe Camarillo and bassist Alan Doughty as well as a few other friends to help him out. Yard Dog’s Randy Franklin and his mandolin were on stage again today, as was Jean Cook, fingerless gloves holding her fiddle. The truly new face belonged to Elvis Costello dead-ringer Billy Bob Anderson of the Meat Purveyors, one of the best dressed men I’d seen all week. He was so fantastic that I kinda forgot that I hate the Meat Purveyors ever since they stood in front of the stage and talked through Jon Dee Graham’s set at Twangfest years ago. The Waco Brothers set is always a party, high energy and high kicks come first and songs come second. For this set he concentrated on his solo material, playing several selections from his next release which was recorded with a men’s Welsh choir.
Chuck Prophet was loading in to play next at Yard Dog, but by this point I was chilled to the bone. That combined with the inevitable exhaustion of SXSW sent me back to the hotel for a quick nap and a warm-up to insure that I would be able t o make it through the Bloodshot showcase tonight.
Jon Dee Graham