Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Finally, my SXSW blog

I had to clear my desk for some other writing before I could get to this, but here is the beginning of my episodic account of SXSW 2009:

Every SXSW takes on its own contour, but for me as the years go by
the center has drifted inexorably southward as I've concentrated my
stays more and more in South Austin. The joy of arriving in Austin on
an 82 degree day and being able to wear shorts and a light shirt was
mitigated by the sense of encroaching development that is slowly
choking this beautiful city to death. It sure didn't look like there
was a housing crisis in Austin as both commercial skyscrapers and
condos were getting being built left and right, but for the flora and
nonhuman fauna it's looking tough. Nice to see that the scores of
creekbeds running through town are now not only dried up from
overdevelopment but being used as dump sites for trash and who knows
what other kind of waste.

It was hard not to think about all this because this year's SXSW had
a kind of subtext, at least for some of us, in that it marks the
tenth year of Doug Sahm's passing. Sahm, from just about two hours
down the road in San Antonio, lived in Austin when even though it was
the state capitol it was still a sleepy college town, a place where
you could swim in some of those now dry creeks and music mattered
more than just about anything else. Sahm called it "Groover's
Paradise," wrote an album by the same name with the Creedence
Clearwater Revival rhythm section backing him up, and pretty much set
the template for Austin as a musician's enclave. More than one
person described him during the week as a kind of psychological
centerpiece for Austin life back in the late 20th century.

SXSW had a number of special events geared up to remember Sahm
including a panel discussion on the 40th anniversary of the Mendocino
album by the band Doug led with sidekick Augie Myers on organ, the
Sir Douglas Quintet. Author Bill Bentley, who moderated the panel and
who edits the great website sonicboomers.com, produced a Doug Sahm
tribute album for Vanguard records that was released during SXSW and
Vanguard sponsored a listening party for the release. Then there was
a multi-band tribute to Doug's music at Antone's, and several
performances by Augie Myers and Doug's son Shawn Sahm.

I arrived in Austin on March 17, St. Patrick's Day, with the melody
from Joe Hurley's great song "Amsterdam Mistress" still running
through my head after his epochal Irish music revue at Le Poisson
Rouge in New York the Saturday before. My main objective was to see
Ian McLagan play the St. Patrick's Day party at the Dog and Duck.
Last year McLagan's awesome set, totally in the spirit of his magic
days with the Faces, was one of the highlights of my SXSW, and Ian
has just released a great new album to boot. This free show was as I
say my main objective but first I had to stop by the annual BMI
"Howdy Texas" party and get my first plateful of Texas barbecue at
Stubbs. Within seven days I would not want to see another slice of
brisket or anything resembling Mexican food either until the next
SXSW but that first smoky, tender, greasy bite was a piece of heaven.

There's always good music at that BMI bash as well and Those Darlins
fit the bill this year, a trio of cowgirl Tennessee country punk rockers
backed by a guy drummer. Their singing was just imperfect enough to
be great and they slammed away on a nifty combination of originals
and deep country/hillbilly covers.

Though I walked out of Stubbs thinking I'd be going to the Dog and Duck SXSW was ready with one of its eternal cosmic twists and I was redirected to a rare opportunity to catch the great Jimmie Vaughan at Antone's. Though I regretted passing on Mac I knew I had to see Jimmie and boy was I not disappointed. He played a lengthy set backed by a band which included old favorite George Rains on drums, a three piece horn section including Kaz Kazanoff and Greg Piccolo, but
mostly Jimmie playing dirty, slightly distorted blues guitar and
singing in a natural, relaxed voice. Vaughan played blues
instrumentals, T Bone Walker shuffles, San Antonio treasures and
debuted the song he contributed to the Doug Sahm tribute album, "Why
Why Why." Later in the set Lou Ann Barton joined in and sang several
great numbers, including a sensational, smouldering "In the Middle of
the Night." Well, that was the end of the night for me.


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