10. My effort to see new bands. While I didn’t make any discoveries on the scale of the Features or Tristen, I did see some good new music, on purpose. I downloaded NPR’s 100 bands to see in Austin and listened to it several times, weeding it down to less than half almost immediately. It resulted in me seeing Air Traffic Controller, Fierce Bad Rabbit and the adorable Ivan and Alyosha. Plus there are a few bands that even though I didn’t see them in Austin I will be on the lookout for them here. I already marked my calendar to see Canadians Said the Whale with Stars in Milwaukee.
9. The Bloodshot Yard Dog party. Not only is it a ton of fun, but it’s the one day I don’t have to worry about schedules because I know where I will be all day. This year’s line-up was solid enough with old friends the Waco Brothers finishing the day with their typical fiery set. The Deadstring Brothers and Lydia Loveless were back, as well as intriguing newcomer Luke Winslow King, who’s one to watch. Perhaps the best set of the day came from former and apparently future Bloodshot artist Bobby Bare Jr who brought along a band and fired up the classic Bare Jr song “You Blew Me Off” with a record store owner on backing vocals.
8. Anders and Kendall. The former Varnaline leader and the current Mascot leader team up for what may be this year’s prettiest record, Wild Chorus. Live they look an odd couple but once they start singing they are obviously a perfect match. Bonus- a backing band featuring Konrad Meisner, who unfortunately will probably not be with them on tour this spring. They were the first thing I saw and it was a great way to start this year’s fest.
7. The Hilton Garden Inn. After two years staying further away from Sixth Street, it was good to be back “home.” My futile attempt to catch a cab on Sixth Street a couple years ago to get back to our hotel three miles outside of downtown made it clear I did not want to stay that far out ever again. Not only is the location more convenient, the beds are super comfy.
6. Tacorrido. The drive through taco stand gets Jon Dee Graham’s seal of approval, and not just because the name is a pun. He ordered me three tacos, my favorite was the carnitas- pork marinated in orange juice and Coke. That explains the bright orange color, I’m just glad I didn’t have to drink it.
5. Ian Moore. I didn’t get to see Ian play at all last year, his showcase was on Tuesday and I didn’t get in till Wednesday, though I did run into him on the street which only made me feel worse. It had been a year and a half since I’d seen him play last, and that is far too long. His showcase at the Continental was stunning, and his too short set earlier in the day at Yard Dog was terrific (and included a guest spot from Scott McCaughey on “Muswell Hillbillies”). He also returned the favor by sitting in with Ken Stringfellow who played after him, talk about having a ringer on guitar. The songs from the Posies co-leader made me want to buy the new record. Best of all, Ian said he would love to get back to the basement this year. Not as much as I would love it.
4. The Continental Club. The venerable Austin venue was my showcase headquarters this year. I was there four out of five nights, and I would have been there the fifth if I hadn’t been too tired to see Josh Rouse at midnight on Thursday. Bloodshot switched their showcase from Saturday to Wednesday and moved it here from the Red Eyed Fly. Friday after the Yard Dog party I headed across the street for killer sets from Jon Langford and Jon Dee Graham (who hadn’t even registered for a showcase but got one anyway). The latter dedicated “Airplane” to me, and it made me cry. Saturday the door guy recognized me when I showed up for Ian Moore, Bobby Bare Jr and a recommended set from the very entertaining Split Squad which features members of the Plimsouls and Fleshtones. I was back on Sunday for a double dose of Jon Dee.
3. Josh Rouse. I wish I would have seen him more than once, but his set at the Paste party proved that the Yep Roc show back in October was not just a one night stand for me. I am officially back in love with him after many years. The new record Happiness Waltz has all the qualities that made his 2003 release 1972 so great, and none of what made the records that followed that so boring. I already have a ticket to see him June at the City Winery in Chicago. Swoon.
2. Jon Dee Graham. Last year he said he felt like he didn’t see me much, and that was true. I made up for it this year. I caught his set at the Guitartown party (which he claims made him play extra hard) on Wednesday, and his showcase on Friday. Sunday was all about Jon Dee. There was the gospel brunch at Strange Brew, which had just been voted best new venue and best acoustic venue at the Austin Music Awards. The two hour set also featured the always great Scrappy Jud, Seela, and Guy Forsythe. That night it was Jon Dee and Friends at the Continental Gallery, which could have also been called Jon Dee & people who have played in my basement. Walter Salas Humara, Beaver Nelson, Steve Poltz, Mike June, Freedy Johnston, and Matt the Electrician all took the stage. I wasn’t planning on seeing Jon Dee with the True Believers downstairs at midnight, but I did.
1. Chris Mills. This was my fifth year at SXSW and the first time that Mills has also been there. I only got to see him play twice, but pleasantly I kept running into him. His Wednesday showcase was in a conference room at my hotel. Despite the sterile surroundings, it was a pretty great set, thanks to a terrific bunch of new songs and a killer band which featured Clint Newman on guitar, Justin from Okkervil River on keyboards, and of course the rhythm section of Ryan Hembrey and Konrad Meisner. And Anders Parker showed up to see him. The second was a short duo set with Clint at Gingerman for a day of music curated by Jon Langford. Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor provided lovely backing vocals on the classic “Signal to Noise” one of the only old songs he played. Awesome.
Honorable mention to the Goo Goo Cluster 100th Birthday Party at the Cedar Street Courtyard for not only booking the terrific Features to play, but also for feeding me my only meal between 6 am and 8 pm that day. Yes, Goo Goo Clusters are a well balanced meal as long as you have one of each kind, original, supreme and peanut butter.