SXSW is calling and Blue Rose follows that call for the 17th time in a row. This festival has grown ever bigger (and harder to navigate) and is now undoubtedly the world's biggest live music event. All the world and his brother meet for a week in the Lone Star capital to make music, hear music, take care of business and enjoy the city's atmosphere which is markedly different from other American cities. Roughly 2500 artists and bands perform in only four (official) festival days.
The first time we visited SXSW in 1995 there may have been 30 clubs hosting circa 500 acts each night between 8 pm and 2 am. In the last 16 years those numbers have multiplied. There must be about 150 venues hosting live music from 11 a.m. till 2 p.m. - all of this in a city with - I think - 800.000 citizens.
In addition to the official evening showcases "day parties" have been added - with the distinct advantage they're for free (although some require an invitation). For the evening shows you either need a 600$-badge or a 160$ wrist band. None of which ensures entry if the club in question is at capacity - in that case you may have to wait for other people to leave the venue, badge holders have the prerogative to get in first. While you can buy the badges online, wristbands can only be purchased at the Waterloo Record Store in Austin. Equipped with badge or wristband, you're ready for music overkill. You do however have to draw yourself a schedule to know who is playing where at what time
and who else you might see at any given time if you need an alternative. The evening shows rotate on an hourly schedule - which gives every act about 40 minutes playing time and 20 for setup and sound check. This show is run by professionals, folks.
There's a list of all artists at www.sxsw.com and an (almost) complete schedule at http://sxsw2011.sched.org/.
Many music fans from Germany have been traveling to SXSW for many years - quite possibly we're partly to blame for that. And once you've been there, it's hard not to come back. If only it wasn't so expensive with air fare, hotel, rental car, wrist band, food & shopping - it easily amounts to a 2500-Euro-week. Then again, you'll get an overwhelming overdose of live music and thankfully, the roots rock/Americana/singer-songwriter factor is still very high - you'll most probably get a chance to see your favorite act from that genre. There's also always a high number of Blue Rose acts in the running - no surprise, many of them live in Austin after all. And Austinites get special treatment from the SXSW organizational team. Jon Dee Graham, James McMurtry, Micky & The Motorcars, Reckless Kelly, die Resentments, Band Of Heathens and Tom Gillam, as well as non-Austinites Steve Wynn, Rich Hopkins, Todd Thibaud, the Silos, Susan Cowsill, Sons Of Bill, Tim Easton and Jason Isbell are the Blue Rose acts on this year's Wednesday through Saturday schedule. Plus other artists our core audience is likely to enjoy: Lucinda Williams, Hayes Carll, Robert Earl Keen, The Bangles, Cody Canada (Cross Canadian Ragweed) and Bleu Edmondson, to name but a few.
Writing from Austin, Tx. are Blue Rose label manager Edgar Heckmann and Thomas "Chill Music" Dewers.
John Chipman, Bruce Hughes, Scrappy Jud Newcomb und Jeff Blankenhorn
(Edgar) Unbelievable, Sunday nights at the Saxon Pub used to always be a set date – and this year I had to go see THE RESENTMENTS all by my lonesome. Be that as it may, to me the band is still a highlight of my SXSW week even though they have changed significantly since Stephen Bruton’s passing and Jon Dee Graham’s departure. It’s a revolving cast of characters now because John Chipman travels a lot with the Band Of Heathens, Scrappy Jud Newcomb and Bruce Hughes also miss a Sunday here and there. Tonight, the band was a quartet with Scrappy (the new ringmaster), Bruce, John and one of two new members, Jeff Plankenhorn. Jeff is a young singer-songwriter with a bluesy, weather-worn voice, mandolin and slide guitar chops and a style somewhere between Jon Dee and Stephen. His 2004 solo album Plank was produced by Gurf Morlix. The new fifth member Miles Zuniga of the power pop outfit Fastball couldn’t be here tonight.
The Saxon Pub is not as crowded as it used to be when Jon Dee & Stephen were part of the attraction. Still, the set list consists of many well-known song starting with Bruce earning well-deserved applause for singing Stephen Bruton’s “Nobody Gets Hurt”. Bruton is still highly revered artist among musicians and the knowledgable Austin audience. Plankenhorn’s songs fit in nicely and even John Chipman takes over two lead vocals on “Just A Step” and “Struttin’ Yer Stuff”. As always, the minuscule dance floor in front of the stage is packed, mostly with women swinging their heads and hips.
The band plans to record a new album this summer. The songs we heard by Newcomb, Hughes and Plankenhorn give us hope for a strong result!
JP & The Gilberts
(Thomas) While Edgar went to the Saxon Pub I was over at Momo’s for some „test listening“. Three acts I didn’t know were on the bill, starting with JP & THE GILBERTS. The Brooklyn, NY-based five-piece with Acoustic Guitar/Lead Vocals (JP Gilbert), Accordion, Electric Lead Guitar, Bass/Harmony Vocals und Drums plays a driving mix of alt.country, folk rock, indie folk, fast-and-furious stringband, cajun, gypsy and country rock with strong harmony vocals and fine accordion and guitar solos. And you don’t often see a woman (Lily Maase) in a guy band delivering the instrumental highlights instead of singing. I enjoyed the band and bought their debut CD.
Warren Hood & The Goods
The main act was Sunday night staple and Austin legend WARREN HOOD & THE GOODS. Warren Hood is a fiddle player and just any fiddle player but quite possibly the best, most certainly the currently most renowned one in town. His Dad was the legendary Champ Hood (Uncle Walt's Band, Walter Hyatt, Lyle Lovett, Toni Price, Jerry Jeff Walker…). Warren looks like he’s not even twenty, is in fact not even 30 and has been around the block. After studying classical violin he played in the South Austin Jug Band, in San Francisco with Blue Light Special, the Waybacks, with Warren Hood & His Allstar Band, … & The Hoodlums and now with The Goods in which keyboardist/singer Emily Gimble plays a crucial part. She takes over a good part of the lead vocals with an incredibly powerful voice (for example on ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’) can play anything between classical and blues’n’boogie on organ or piano and makes this show shine. Warren Hood while being an amazing instrumentalist and generous with his soloing has a voice that is, shall we say, a little on the thin side for two extended sets between Texas blues, gypsy rock, fusion, western swing, stringband, country rock, jazz, southern boogie, rock meets classic, cajun, R&B, jam rock and God knows what else. Guitarist Willie Pipkin is also worth noting. While not being an innovator he certainly knows all the licks and tricks that you need to know in a city like Austin.
As the new day broke, Momo’s emptied out quickly and left behind only a few folks for SHAWN NELSON & THE RAMBLERS to play for. While not entirely sober, they put on a professional show for a practically non-existent audience. A real good quartet with fine instrumentalists. I enjoyed frontman Shawn Nelson’s songs but I doubt I’d recognize them if I heard them again. They profited greatly from the Westcoast-style interplay between electric guitar and electric mando-guitar. Still, after about se4ven or eight songs I headed back to the hotel.
Gary, Willie, Cody, Muzzie und Micky Braun
(Thomas) Luckenbach, Texas. There’s no way getting around this tiny historical town in the middle of Texas Hill Country next to Fredericksburg. There’s at least one must-see event there every year and this year it’s the Braun family reunion show. The Brauns are from Idaho but their best-known family members are staples of the Austin music scene – Willy & Cody Braun in Reckless Kelly, Mickey & Gary in Micky & The Motorcars. Their dad MUZZIE starts the proceedings with Muzzie Braun & The Boys, backed by his four sons (Willy on drums, Micky on bass, Gary on fiddle and Cody on lead guitar). Between 1988 and ’93 they played around Idaho and recorded – as we find out at the merch stand – numerous family albums with Western & Hillbilly music, yodels included! On Saturday they play some originals and plenty of honkytonk, country and western swing. The dance floor gets crowded during “Mr. Bojangles“, „Rose Of San Antone“, „Heartaches By The Number“, „King Of The Road“, „Texas Cookin’“ and others.
Micky & The Motorcars
Next up on stage were MICKY & THE MOTORCARS who we’ve seen a lot of in the past few months (for example when they rocked the Blue Rose Christmas Party!). We’re almost able to sing along throughout their entire set, a great part of their surprisingly young audience certainly does as well.
There’s a lot of energy in front of the stage and some cool two-stepping a little ways back while the band play their powerful brand of country rock with Micky, Gary, lead guitarist Kris Farrow, bassist Mark McCoy and drummer Shane Vannerson.
The deserved headliners are RECKLESS KELLY. Willy & Cody are the eldest sons. There’s no denying that their musical identity and stage presence is further developed, their instrumental mastery is a notch higher. Tonight they present a very varied set (reminiscent of their double live album “Reckless Kelly Was Here” from 2006) with some newer songs like 'American Blood', 'Ragged As The Road' and 'You Don't Have To Stay Forever' off 'Bulletproof' as well as a great duet with Micky on “I hold The Bottle, You Hold The Wheel” from their latest (Blue Rose) record Somewhere In Time. While Willy Braun is an experienced frontman, David Abeyta amazes with searing guitar solos and Cody Braun’s fiddle & mandolin part are integral to Reckless Kelly’s sound. You’d have a hard time finding another Texas roadhouse band to play a tricky tune like Richard Thompson’s '1952 Vincent Black Lightning' as fluently!
(Thomas) Ah, this is as good as it gets: What a first night in Austin with wonderful weather and a great atmosphere. Threadgill’s South was my first musical stop this year – it’s easy to get to from our hotel and the night’s musical program was unrivaled: Shinyribs opening for Joe Ely. SHINYRIBS is the side project of Gourds co-leader Kevin Russell. Whenever the Gourds – an Austin roots and Americana institution for over 15 years - take a break, Russell focuses on the Shinyribs which are now also firmly established on the Austin scene. Frontman Russell (lead vocal, guitar, songwriting), Gourds drummer Keith Langford, bassist Jeff Brown and keyboarder Winfield Cheeks played a satisfying, hour-long set, straighter and more rock-oriented than the Gourds. The audience ate it up, I recognized a whole bunch of songs from their debut – always a good sign: 'Who Built The Moon', 'Devilsong', 'Shores Of Galilee', 'East TX Rust', 'Fisherman's Friend'…
Because Edgar’s plane landed a little ahead of time and he must’ve broken a few speed records between baggage claim and hotel check-in, he showed up in time for JOE ELY’s gig, two Shiner bottles in his hands. Joe Ely & Band meant that he reunited with the most formidable electric formation of his entire 40-year career – Jimmy Pettit on bass, Davis McLarty on drums and, yes, the amazing David Grissom on lead guitar (the same band that recorded the seminal Live At Liberty Lunch album in 1990). Ely played mostly electric rhythm and was in fine voice, the band was at the top of their game and delivered a rousing, rocking set including the classics 'Me And Billy The Kid', 'Boxcars', 'Dallas', 'If You Were A Bluebird', 'Settle For Love' über 'Lord Of The Highway', 'Are Your Listenin' Lucky?', 'Dig All Night' and culminating in a wild jammy rock’n’roll take on ‘Cool Rockin’ Loretta’ – Dave Grissom was on fire! Wow, that’ll be hard to top in the coming week.