I had made no plans, set no schedule, and established no expectations when I first hit 6th Street in Austin this past Wednesday evening. I arrived around dinner time (which would come to mean lunchtime in the days ahead), and wandered into the fray to find some street food. It was already going. Drum kits could be heard, getting smacked by unforgiving sticks, guitars griding against their various distortion pedals, hipsters drunk and walking, drunk and standing, talking, yelling, on a mission. So this is how it’s going to be, I figured. Okay. Let’s do this.
That first night, I caught what would prove to be one of the best showcases I saw all week. I had to hike a bit up West 6th to a place called Momo’s, but it was well worth it. Bettysoo was in the middle of her set by the time I got there, singing her sad, dark and quiet tunes about dark and sad things. The last time I saw her, she was solo and acoustic. The band was a welcome change – all tight and intuitive, with their easy solos and harmonies. It was lovely and heartbreaking, and over too soon.
I’d received an enthusiastic recommendation from folks back home to see Carolyn Wonderland, if possible. At 5’3″, Wonderland is an unassuming powerhouse. Her soundcheck alone was enough to tear my attention away from anything and everything else. She sings like Janis, by which I mean with as much power and conviction, and plays guitar like almost no woman I’ve seen. Her set was outstanding. I stayed for the whole thing – a feat considering there were eight bazillion other bands to see at the same time.
Thursday night held the Americana Music Association’s showcase at Antone’s – another notable evening, with performances from Jim Lauderdale, Elizabeth Cook, Hayes Carll, and the Court Yard Hounds. (I skipped Grace Potter & the Nocturnals to catch Delta Spirit rock another showcase.)
I came into that show feeling slightly cynical about the Court Yard Hounds. Don’t get me wrong – I’m well aware of the Dixie Chicks’ background, that the sisters Erwin were a bluegrass band before Maines came along. Some part of me expected the Hounds to be a watered down version of the Chicks, but no. Both sisters are excellent instrumentalists, and there’s something about the harmonies a pair of siblings can churn up. Add to that a tight and artful backing band and songs which ranged from contemporary to classic country, stringband tunes, and whatever else they felt like pulling out.
The AMA showcase was a fitting precursor to the ND showcase the following night. I enjoyed every single set – from Vandaveer’s lovely sibling harmonies (there that is again) which managed to hush the entire room, to the Maldives and Deadstring Brothers’ sheer rocking out. The Belleville Outfit and Elliott Brood both won plenty of new fans, no doubt, and the whole thing closed down with Chatham County Line around 2 a.m. They left the stage and set up shop in the middle of the room, a circle formed around them, and they led a singalong to the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle Me With Care.” It was the perfect way to end a showcase for the No Depression Community. But, there was still one more day of SXSW ahead, if you could believe it (I hardly could).
Indeed, by the time I entered Saturday, I no longer had the capacity to make decisions or think ahead. But, if you’re going to be braindead from over-stimulation, wandering the streets looking for something to do, may as well be at SXSW. I wandered into performances by Two Cow Garage and Hey Marseilles. Spent some quality time at the Seattle party, reconnecting with folks I know back home in reality, and enjoyed sets from the Moodoggies and Grand Hallway. After catching Street Sweeper Social Club and Estelle at the Billboard.com Bungalow, I drew my entire SXSW experience to a close at the Red Eyed Fly with the fine folks from Bloodshot Records. Specifically the one-two knockout punch from the Waco Brothers and Ha Ha Tonka. Sufficiently rocked (in more ways than two), I headed back to the hotel and crashed like a baby on a log.
site lay in my bed in a quiet house in quiet Seattle, it’s hard to imagine the noise, trash, and mayhem blanketing 6th St. back in Austin has yet been quite cleared away. But, I imagine the streets are open again, cars are once again using them – as they should – and that most folks like me are somewhere back in New York, LA, Nashville, or some other farflung place getting back to their typical Monday routines. (I don’t usually work from bed; post-SXSW is an exception. You’ll pardon me.) At any rate, thanks Austin. It was dang fun.