Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Radiators get lifetime achievement award

It was an auspicious night at the Gambit Awards for the Radiators, who were the big winners at the show. In addition to receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award, the band won the award for Best Rock Band. Thanks for the feedback on my cover story on the Radiators in the current issue of OffBeat. Congrats to all those who fought so hard to make it the cover story.

You can read the story at www.offbeat.com

I have a book on New Orleans music coming out, New Atlantis, Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans. that has a lot of Radiators content. Here's a link to the publisher's blog.


Edna Gunderson wrote a lengthy piece on the recovery of New Orleans music in today's USA Today. The story includes some of my observations on the city's music.

Friday, April 8, 2011

French Quarter Fest in full swing

Happy French Quarter Fest!
To read my cover story in OffBeat about Pete Fountain, who will play at French Quarter Fest, go to:


To hear live broadcasts from French Quarter Fest, go to:


Here's the scheduled lineup of performances (subject to change). Make sure you check out Aurora Nealand today.

2:15 - 3:00 p.m. - New Orleans Moon Shiners
3:15 - 4:15 p.m. - Aurora Nealand & the Royal Roses
4:30 - 5:30 p.m. - Coot
6:00 - 7:00 p.m. - Some Like It Hot

2:15 - 3:45 p.m. - A Celebration of Modern Jazz Masters Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste and James Black with performances by Victor Atkins, Ed Peterson and Steve Masakowski
4:00 - 5:15 p.m. - Iris May Tango

12:15 - 1:15 p.m - Tornado Brass Band featuring Darryl Adams
1:30 - 2:30 p.m - New Bumpers Revival Band
2:45 - 4:00 p.m - Mas Mamones
4:15 - 5:45 p.m - Kora Konnection

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

More on SXSW, including Mojo Nixon

Another couple of attempts to crack through the downtown circles of hell convinced me it was in my best interest to retreat to South Austin for the rest of the event. The decision was immediately rewarded on Friday with a succession of great shows up and down South Congress. The parties stretched up and down the avenue -- the Continental Club, the backyards at the San Jose Hotel, Guerros, and the Triumph among other places. Highlights included eating crawfish at the back of the Continental before hearing a great set from Susan Cowsill's band followed by an even greater set from my pick hit of this year's fest, the Hobart Brothers. This is a band consisting of Cowsill, Jon Dee Graham and Freedy Johnston. They sound like they've been playing together forever, and they rocked really hard. Johnston and Cowsill are great ensemble singers, and Graham is a one-of-a-kind frontman. The three of them worked magic together with Cowsill in particular shining through. Her remarkable voice can be one of the great female instruments in rock history when she's in the right setting, and she was supremely confident in this context. Cowsill is something of a late bloomer but continues to bring her flamethrowing talent up to another level. This is a perfect vehicle for her. South Congress rocked nonstop that day. While the Hobarts were finishing up at the Continental the North Mississippi All Stars were smoking across the street at San Jose and the Waco Brothers were rocking the back alley at Yard Dog. The greatest moment was yet to come however,
when the Alejandro Escovedo Orchetra played to an absolutely jam packed audience at San Jose.
Saturday brought Mojo Nixon day to the Continental Club, a riotous frenzy beginning with the Allen Oldies Band and featuring great sets from Sarah Petite, the Stone River Boys and Jon Dee Graham before the ridiculous finale of Mojo-Oke, in which Mojo brought up members of the audience to try their hand at some of his more infamous compositions. The concept was fraught with peril, but turned into a wild romp with some truly impressive performances that proved Mojo Is Everyboby, Mojo Is Everywhere!

Monday, April 4, 2011

French Quarter Fest should be great

The French Quarter Festival has really come into its own this year, adding a fourth day on Thursday and featuring many of the city's best musicians in a wide array of styles. What began as a modest celebration of the city's traditional jazz played literally on the streets of the French Quarter has now became a massive showcase of local talent on 17 stages in the Quarter and along the bans of the Mississippi. The organizers' claim that French Quarter Fest has become bigger than Jazz Fest is open to some degree of scrutiny -- it's impossible to accurately count the number of people who actually attend because it's a free festival and people come and go as they please so there's got to be a lot of multi-counting or as they say at the racetrack "spinners" -- people who pass through the venue's entrances multiple times in a day. But whether or not French Quarter Fest is bigger than Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras is an argument best left to the Donald Trumps of the world. The important thing is that Bon Jovi will be nowhere near it. This is the only festival even remotely as big that features nothing but Local talent (the few ringers have local ties to account for their presence but none of them are in featured spots). Once again the great Lillian Boutte will open the proceedings on Thursday afternoon with a set that will hopefully include an appearance by John Boutte and other members of that superb musical family.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Rocky and Billy at SXSW

Billy Gibbons climbs into the John Lennon "Imagine" bus behind the stage at Threadgill's. The bus is totally tricked out with cameras and wall-sized video feedback screens. It travels around the country teaching kids to play Beatles songs and has been volunteered as Billy's backstage area for his jam session with Roky Erickson at the end of Roky's annual "Ice Cream Social" benefit. Billy gets a little tour of the facilities from the onboard techs, hefts his guitar and heads out into the parking lot to walk the 100 yards to the backstage entrance. His trip quickly becomes a gauntlet of fans. "Billybillybillybilly pleezpleez," a guy runs up to him wants him to sign a poster, another guy wants him to sign the inside of his belt. Billy pulls out a pen, signs, and keeps walking. "Guy kept my pen," he says as the guy yells "Billllleeeee! Keep Rawkin' forever!" Billy turns his head with a wink and says "Now that's a fan." Inside it's mayhem. Roky is grinning sheepishly. He told his manager after Billy played with him two years ago: "I liked that red haired guy." Billy straps it on and they launch into "I Walked With a Zombie." The crowd is singing the chorus. Billy sings the chorus too. They roll into "Two Headed Dog" and Billy plays a totally weird solo part. The crowd is going mad. Two kids with false Z Z Top beards cheer from the side of the stage. It's time for the encore and they launch into "You're Gonna Miss Me." It's all over in a flash and Billy hops into a van, raving about Roky. Back when Roky's band and Billy's Moving Sidewalks were the apogee of Texas psychedelia Billy credits Roky with a blinding piece of inspiration. "I was trying to put together a horn band," says Billy, "then I saw
Roky and I realized, this is how I want to do it!"

Friday, April 1, 2011

SXSW 25: The old school strikes back

One great thing about SXSW is that the conversation will take place even if it's not pleasant. Jim Caligiuri took it right to the Millenials with his controversial panel "I’m Not Old, Your Music Does Suck." The title is catchy but not an equation; even if J.C. and a lot of us along with him are old it doesn't mean that today's music doesn't suck. Of course that accusation is as subjective as the term used to define quality: "suck" is about as relative a qualifier as they come, and well enough if you consider that it was brought into the language by Bevis and Butthead to judge the aesthetic merit of MTV rock videos. Whateve stance you take on Caligiuri's panel, the premise is powerful -- the old school isn't going down without a fight. No less than that Irish bareknuckle champion himself Bob Geldof added his own proof to the premise with an artful Marc Anthony eulogy on American rock as his keynote speech. Geldof came not to bury the music but to praise it -- up until the punk era (N.B.: MTV was the beginning of the end in this reading of history). Geldof's point was forcefully brought home. American rock was a beacon for freedom around the world, he argued, a liberating force. It was a very effective political weapon that certainly helped bring about the end of the Vietnam War. Geldof implicitly chided contemporary songwriters for their self-involvement and detachment from an establishment that is bent on keeping them quiet, co-opting them at every turn. And I have to agree with him. Corporate greed and the political hegemony of the super rich is crushing the life out of America. If young people don't stand up to that hegemony they are doomed. It's their lives on the line, and very much their battle. If they allow the Republicans to get away with the argument that the threat to America's future comes from schoolteachers and union members rather than international bankers and the super rich they will suffer the consequences with a lifetime of true poverty. Maybe they won't even be able to afford that hot new video game one day. Geldof was even more strident in his press conference after his keynote speech, placing the blame squarely on the back of the bankers, but noting that the artists have to draw attention to these issues or surrender their legitimacy.

Glen David Andrews at Sullivan Hall

Glen David Andrews abolutely torched the audience at Sullivan Hall in New York Tuesday night. The performance was more of a revival meeting than a concert, and by the time it was over GDA had a personal relationship with everyone who'd walked in the door. It was a dramatically different show from his regular Monday night gigs at d.b.a. in New Orleans. At Sullivan Hall GDA performed with his three-piece rhythm section (piano, bass and drums) and made up the front line himself, singing, playing trombone, whistling, leading a second line etc. He opened and closed with the John Boutte's "Treme" theme. After a lengthy introduction he played "Autumn Leaves," walked off the stage and improvised a gospel vocal solo as he walked through the audience, gesturing with his trombone (most of his vocals were off the microphone). He ended up in front of the stage, softly whistling the melody. The audience, which had been jumping and screaming moments before, fell into a dead silence, hanging onto his every move. He went into his Armstrong vocal flourish, finishing by singing "My name is Glen David Andrews and I plan to have a good time tonight." A version of "Feel Like Funkin' It Up" became a sing-along, with GDA urging the crowd on: "Sing it for Trombone Shorty!" "Sing it for John Boutte!" From that moment on the show was an extended series of encores as he took the crowd through "Saints," formed another second line, gave his goodbyes but always switching up. At one point he stood in front of the bar and the crowd pressed around him as he sang a softer chorus of "Saints." With Jamal Watson framing his vocals on drums GDA organized the show like a hip-hop concert, frenetically shifting to the next thing and prompting the audience to respond. At the end he delivered an advertisement for his Jazz Fest appearances. New Orleans couldn't get a better promotion for the fest.

SXSW 25: Thorazine in my Tecate

A short walk around he trade show offered full confirmation of my thoughts about how dramatically SXSW had changed over its 25 years. What started out as a kind of national community gathering of alternative weekly newspapers and independent music labels had transformed into a slick corporate trade show. I made many new friends in the first few years here at the trade show, either locals offering their warm version of Texas hospitality or people who had traveled great distances at their own expense to share ideas and meet like minded peers. This year the music content of the trade show was almost nonexistent. The showroom floor was dominated by interactive companies fronted by fast talking pitchmen. I passed more than one setup fronted by multiple hucksters delivering word-for-word sales pitches to anyone passing by. The evaporation of the music and alternative press aspects of the trade show is the most telling way SXSW has changed. The event hs morphed along with American entertainment. Although there's lots of music on hand, music is now a throwaway commodity. The presence of more bands than ever actually underscores how less important the music has become. It's now essentially wallpaper, lifestyle enhancement that underscores the real value of millennial life in America -- the cult of celebrity and fashion. The trade show, which used to go on for three days, was scaled back to two this year to accomodate a fashion trade show. It's not surprising to hear that the interactive part of SXSW now draws more registrants than the music festival. Millennials expect music to be a free commodity -- it's the hardware and killer aps that they're willing to pay for, and the nature of celebrity is not measured by signing a record contract but by being bought out by Google. The interative geeks are on the make for corporate copulation in ways the music delegates never dreamed of. One of these smooth talkers actually argued that spending your life playing video games can help save the world. I'll skip the dubious specifics of his argument, which was delivered with the zeal of a Glen Beck fan. Hard not to see the dollar signs lurking behind such proseletizing. It's a different world.
One aspect of the conference that remains as good or better than ever is the panel program. Right at the beginning there was a thoughtful and revealing panel about the late Capt. Beefheart, moderated by his old friend John Morthland with particularly inciteful commentary from guitarist Gary Lucas, his musical director in later years. After I left the panel I crossed the street to Brush Square Park where the Canadian government was providing free barbecue while a series of undistinguished rock bands played in the background to a large and disinterested audience. Thank you, Canada! There I met a number of friends, including Holger Peterson of Stony Plains records. He gave me a terrific new record by Rory Block, the woman guitarist who has done a series of fascinating tributes to country blues masters. Her Robert Johnson and Son House tributes were both excellent, and this time around Shake 'Em On Down does similar justice to Mississippi Fred McDowell. Block is a skilled instrumentalist, but many guitarists have mastered the old bluesmen. What makes her tributes so riveting is that these songs, always heard from the male perspective, take on additional nuance when a woman sings them. "Mississippi Man," "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," "Worried Mind" and "Woke Up This Morning" are especially effective in this context.
While enjoying the kindness of Canadians I ran into one of my favorite Austinites, Jim Yanaway. I first met Jim in the early days when he gave me cassette tapes of some of the best music I heard back then, released on his own Amazing Records label. Yes, it was all that many formats ago. Early SXSW goody bags were stuffed with cassette tapes. Jim always has a hot tip or two about who to check out in town (he introduced me to the great Black Joe Louis and the Honeybears a couple of years back), and this year he pointed me to a private party, "two blocks past the Convention Center on Red River. You can't miss it, they'll be a band on the front porch."
After another depressing pass through the trade show I made my way down Red River and passed a parking lot that had been coverted into what looked like a giant kid's playpark. It was an installation from Hewlett Packard for SXSW registrants, a circle of trailers promoting interactive gear on a bed of synthetic grass with tables and beanbag chairs, a DJ/pitchman and free beer and soda. I sat down at a table to read my Austin Chronicle and drink a free Tecate. The young people around me were networking furiously while the DJ massaged them with inoffensive, mildly undulating background music guaranteed not to upset the conversation. He made one mistake when he played a Lil Wayne track, which crackled with such actual feeling I thought he might clear the garden. Mostly we got the dubious pleasures of a mashup that made "Smells Like Team Spirit" sound like a shampoo commercial and ventured into such dangerous territory as Wilson Picket singing "Sugar Sugar." I think somebody slipped thorazine into my beer when I went to take a piss.
Safe to say I got out of there alive and proceeded a mere block down the road when the sound of a real party with live music offered its smiling invitation. People were sitting on folding chairs or standing up and tapping their feet to the music of the Nortons, a popular local band that has no ambitions beyond playing the Saxon Pub once in a while. The band was indeed playing on the front porch. There was the great bassist Speedy Sparks, who'd played with just about every important band in Austin history, grinning and pushing the music along with long, vibrant lines that made the music breath. There was a keg of beer and barbecued ribs. The great Lissa Hattersley, vocalist along with her brother Cleve and his wife Mary in the legendary Texas band Greezy Wheels, was on hand. Lissa got up and sang an impossibly wonderful version of "Be My Baby" while the beer poured sweet from the tap and the sun went down. I felt like crying tears of joy. No amount of disappointment at what SXSW had become could overcome the sense of wonder that this simple, beautiful scene infused in me. People stopped in the street to listen. Speedy, who played with Roky Erickson, sang one of Roky's best songs, "Starry Eyes." No corporate tie-in, no badge required. Just a two minute walk away from the maelstrom. This moment is what SXSW has always meant to me.