Hello Stranger from Issue #44
Our March-April issue inevitably tends to be at least tangentially focused on South By Southwest, the behemoth music confab held every mid-March down in Austin, Texas. To borrow the tired but true adage, SXSW is spring break for the music industry, and we at ND be there again this year, as always (though we’ve preferred to bequeath the party-hosting traumas to other folks in recent years).
No surprise that many of the artists who figure prominently in this issue are playing the conference — the Be Good Tanyas, Tim Easton, David Olney, the Jayhawks, and Lucinda Williams among them. Our cover subject Rosanne Cash isn’t on the schedule at press time, but she does have a history with SXSW — she delivered the keynote speech at one of the very first conferences, circa 1990.
I remember those days well. When SXSW started back in 1987, I’d yet to begin my career as a music journalist, but my career as a nightclub junkie was in full swing, and I went to many of the evening showcases at now-defunct venues such as Liberty Lunch and Hole In The Wall. In 1988 I attended some of the daytime panels, covering them for the Austin American-Statesman in my new role as a contributor to the daily paper’s entertainment section.
By the third year, SXSW had decided they needed to give registrants more than the dozen or so xeroxed-and-stapled sheets that had previously sufficed as a “program guide. Among the primary points of expansion was a roundup of all the showcases, with short descriptions of every artist performing. I don’t quite recall how I got hired for this daunting task, but I went willingly, as the SXSW folks were a good lot, people I enjoyed being around for a few weeks during the buildup to mid-March.
I reprised my “archivist” role in 1990 and ’91, but when I moved to Seattle in the fall of ’91, it stood to reason they’d find someone else to take over the job. Much to my surprise, they asked if I’d fly back down in early ’92 and spend a month in Austin to continue my program-guide duties. They covered the travel costs, and my lodging was covered by my parents (who still live there), so it all worked out.
Well enough, in fact, that we continued this charade for five more years. Every February I’d take leave of my newspaper job in Seattle for a month-long Austin sabbatical, which was an ideal scenario in several ways. It allowed me to keep in touch with the friends and family I’d left behind when I moved to the Northwest, plus a chance to get a thorough fix of Mexican food and barbecue (for the latter, see p. 34), and to soak up some of that Texas winter warmth (though I got a little out-of-hand one day in February 1997 when the temperature reached — I’m not kidding — 99 degrees).
After ’97, though, the model was no longer plausible. This magazine reared its head in 1995, and within two years we had grown to the point that made such extended outside endeavors unrealistic. I still go down to Austin every year for the conference, but just for the same long-weekend trip that everyone else makes. (Actually a little longer the last couple years, as Butch Hancock’s annual Townes Van Zandt birthday tribute at the Cactus Cafe on March 7 is proving to be an ideal reason for arriving a few days early.)
I don’t know if I’ve ever formally expressed my appreciation to the SXSW crew for allowing me such a rewarding experience all those years. To Roland, Louis, Nick, and Brent (and the erstwhile Louis Jay), and the rest of the folks who’ve filled the office at 1000 West 40th Street (lest we forget the old one on West 28th Street) — thanks for the opportunity. To quote the T Bone Burnett song that just happens to be playing on the stereo right now, “I remember all the good times…”