A Final Day @ South By Southwest: Breakfast in a Ballroom, Emmylou & Taylor Hanson 4 Japan
South by Southwest
Breakfast in a Ballroom
Like dinosaurs roaming the earth, the footsteps fall tired and heavy. The final day of South by Southwest cracks open as it has every other morning… KGSR is broadcasting live, an eclectic mix of alt-everything, progressive post-country and Andy Langer directing traffic and making jokes to gorut the gaps.
Taylor Hanson is on hand, still looking movie star handsome, though grown. In his trio’s quest to transition to meaningful adulthood, he’s not here to play, but to talk about a benefit they’re spearheading for Japan – not just for money, but for hope, to “show people the music business wasn’t just drunk and asleep for the last 5 days. And not to point fingers, because I was drunk and asleep for the past 5 days… Just I think it’s important for people to know we’ve not forgotten about them.”
Michael Stipe has already signed, the apex of cool and social awareness. It is about coalition building, reaching across genres and labels – and it appears to be working. Emmylou Harris reaches into her purse, pulls out her wallet and reaches for some folding green – having Hanson a donation as the photo op shooters snap and flash away.
Emmylou Harris is no stranger to coalition building and charitable endeavours.
Long an advocate of Campaign for a Landmine Free World, Farm Aid and even her own Bonaparte’s Retreat…
Getting onstage to “sing a few songs from my new album,” explaining her history of being an activist for animals who have short lives at shelters. “This is about one of my dogs…” and gently strums “Big Black Dog.” Childlike in its chord structure, the lyric takes something available to all and offers the notion that they “offer a whole lotta love and sometimes redemption…”
Like sometime collaborator Neil Young, the simplicity offers a strength of conviction. Small details, big returns. Songs carved from things most people don’t view as insignificant, truths stepped over in the rush of things that don’t matter in the end.
The interview punctuates the music. Langer raises the notion of Harris’ upcoming Hard Bargain, produced by Jay Joyce – known to the station’s listeners for his wonderful Patty Griffin record Flaming Red. Harris explains that’s where she met the reclusive rocker – singing on Griffin’s jaw-dropping love song to the Blessed Virgin. They talk about old friends seen and missed.
“Lucinda, you’re just on too late,” Harris laughs with a sweet smile.
“Either too late or too early,” jokes Langer. “That’s the story of South by…”
Harris will, literally, leave from the Ballroom to the airport. A noon flight, four whirlwind days over. She is 63. She has a new record out she loves. She came to support her music. She understands what needs to be done.
Looking into the audience of people, she knows they came for the music. It’s heartening. Then she sets up “Darlin’ Kate,” a song for her dear friend Kate McGarrigle, who died of a rare form of cancer last year. It is an elegy, but also a lullabye for a friend loved and no longer suffering… It reminds us that love doesn’t die just because the body surrenders its life.
Noah & the Whale is up next. All the way from England. Middle Brother coming up, Ozymotl. Ryan Bingham. More, more, more.
There’s more to come. They’re halfway there. The Bryan Beck, the other radio host says, “We’ve been advised we’re at capacity. From this point, it’s one out, one in… just like at a bar… And I like saying that on the radio.”
Noah & the Whale are a bucolic quartet that look tiny bits mod, slightly urchin, definitely hip, young. They have that overly-tired nervousness that shoots through their sweetness. Acoustic guitar parts are bulked up, finger-picking as a way that texturizes the melody.
The talk between songs is funny. The lead singer has sidestepped the party to sit in his room and edit a video. “It’s for a song called ‘Tonight’s the Night, the Night,’ which we’re gonna play next,” he says hopefully. This is the dance of getting one’s song on the radio… play it where you can, where tastemakers might hear it.
With a rumbling bass part, rushing piano that cascades into punctuating chords and staccato bits of rhythm dividing up the chorus, the song feels like a hit. The harmonies spiraling skyward, a sense of exultance that is engaging. The audience responds: the radio players present have the validation that this is something to pay attention to. And so the shuffle continues.
Just as importantly, the livestream telethon for Japan is looming.
Hanson in partnership with South By Southwest to benefit the American Red Cross Relief Efforts in Japan. If crisis exhaustion is settling in – so much has happened all over the world – Michael Stipe, Widespread Panic’s John JoJo Hermann, the North Mississippi All-Stars, Boxer Rebellion, Andy Grammer, Stephen Kellogg, Anna Nalick, Bowling for Soup, Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr and so many more will be live on the stream from noon today to midnight tonight. Playing, talking, figuring out how to keep the need alive, and create hope.
American red cross 12 sat- 12 am Sunday
The songs from the stream will be made available as part of a benefit project.
The bowls have been passed in the ballroom – and there are plenty of ways to join in and make a difference. For more information, one just needs to hit the internet & type in:
www.sxsw4japan.org or twitter @sxsw4japan