the good times are killing me: sxsw 2010
You know that feeling at a festival when your two favorite bands are playing at the same time on different stages and you have to decide what to do? SXSW is like that, all the time. To the millionth degree. I thought I had done my homework. I had lists for every day of parties, panels, and bands I wanted to see. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men… There’s just so damn much going on, it’s impossible to see everything you want to. And no matter where you are, or what you’re seeing it’s guaranteed that there’s something happening at the same time, 4 blocks away that someone is going to tell you about later with the ubiquitous axiom “Man, you really missed out.”
This being my first SXSW I decided to enter through the back door and volunteer to earn my Music Badge. I worked Stage Crew at that venerable South Austin institution The Continental Club. My job was to keep the bands on time, not the simplest of tasks with anywhere from 6 to 9 bands playing each night and a strict noise ordinance kicking in at 2am. Keeping time allowed me to watch almost every set at the Continental, which was fantastic. It also allowed me to soberly watch the crowd each night deteriorate into drunken lunacy, a phenomenon I’m generally much more comfortable being on the other side of… Forget harried set changes, broken bass drums, or schelpping a billion pound Hammond B3 - driving home at 2:30 in the morning was the most stressful part of each night. The streets reminded me of that scene in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas when everyone at the bar turns into blood thirsty dinosaurs. Downtown was a nightmare circus of the first order – dudes vomiting, girls crying, troops of middle-aged adults stumbling blindly across 4 lanes of traffic with a green light. Throngs of people trying to score a taxi home, many of them mistaking my blue Civic for one and using some choice expletives in an attempt to flag me down. Really, the streets themselves are probably the best late night entertainment in town.
But beyond the general insanity of SX there were some really amazing moments. I had the opportunity to attend panels with some of the best music journalists out there. Chris Weingarten was hilarious and insightful at what easily could have been an uber-depressing panel on Music Journalism in the Post-Print Era. And it was my absolute privilege to hear rock-writing legends Holly George-Warren and Jaan Uhelzski at the Women Write Women’s Experiences in Music panel. Favorite daystage shows included Jakob Dylan with Kelly Hogan & Neko Case, and the newly formed Court Yard Hounds. My Music Badge scored me free paella and sangria at the rockin’ Taste of Spain party. Guitar legend James Burton showed up backstage at the Continental one night. And throughout the week I met tons of wonderful people.
And now, rather than roll out a laundry list of all the great music I heard, here are my Top 3 Bands from my three nights at The Continental Club. If any of them come to play in your town, go.
Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles: The first night at Continental was presented by Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country station. So there were a lot of great Alt Country bands taking the stage. But Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles really just blew me away. Their stage show was full of energy and the band was totally solid. They remind me of what country music really should sound like, a rockin’ lineage from the great country bands of yesteryear.
Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcom: Okay, these two guys just about burned the Continental Club down. Cedric Burnside, grandson of the legendary R.L. Burnside, is one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen. He attacked the show so hard he broke the bass drum pedal on the first song. And Lightnin’ Malcom took us all to the Delta with his soulful guitar and lead vocals. Their music is more than the blues, with elements of funk and soul it’s the kind of sound that makes it just about impossible to stand still. Definitely left the crowd and the other artists that night with their jaws on the floor.
The Ugly Beats: With their classic 60’s garage rock sound the Austin-based Ugly Beats threw it back old school on Saturday night. The evening’s lineup of 9 bands was hosted by Texas Monthly and featured Texas garage rock from the 60’s through the present. While the older bands definitely still rocked, The Ugly Beats laid down a 60’s sound with a modern twist, and an insanely high-energy show. Their melodies were catchy, their rhythms were infectious, and they seemed like they were just having a great time out there.
Another notable band from Saturday was fellow young, Austin-based group, Shapes Have Fangs. Their sound is also 60′s garage rock, but less pop oriented than The Ugly Beats, more of a Kinks influence. Their killer set whipped the crowd into a serious frenzy.
For music lovers SXSW is like being a kid in a candy store. I’ll probably be quietly sipping tea and listening to Chopin sonatas for most of this week to recover, but it was absolutely worth it. SXSW is a one of a kind experience and with all that I know now I can’t wait to do it again next year!
“The Good Times Are Killing Me” by Modest Mouse. Pretty appropriate for the general grueling awesomeness of SXSW.