Recollections of a Journey Through the Deep South
Part II - SxSW CONFERENCE - AUSTIN, TEXAS '93
copyright 1995 by Monte Nordstrom
from issue # 19 - Cosmic Debris Musicians Magazine - July '95
The Convention: TEXAS Style
Every year in the month of March there is
a music conference akin to a tornado touch-down
in the picturesque college town of Austin Texas.
The fact that it occurs during spring-break and
St. Patrick's Day only add to the experience. Up
to 400 bands are showcased in 25 venues
over 5 nights in a downtown area about the
size of Victoria's.
At the convention centre there is a musical
trade show featuring state of the art equipment,
vintage gear and related music business kiosks. Upstairs are
a dozen rooms featuring panel discussions, demo critiquing,
seminars on publishing, recording contracts, D.I.Y. tips and
other related information sessions. On the main floor is a
stage hosted by BMI, featuring acoustic groups and solos. A
concession stand selling all the CD's and tapes of the
showcase acts is set up next to a bar and food fair beside the
stage. This is where you come to pick up your passes, goody
bag, wrist band and name tags. You immediately get the
impression that the SxSW people know what they're doing.
3000 to 4000 delegates bent on inhaling a heady mix of
information and cutting edge music over a five day period
I had booked a room 2 blocks away at the Radisson On
Town Lake. I knew that I would be walking a great deal so
a central location was crucial. Even so I wore out my boots
(and feet) over the next week of extreme conventioneering in
the land of the blue yodel.
I arrived the day before the conference to the sight of
thousands of students converging on the Sixth Avenue
nightclub district. Many of them looked a little green and a
few were wobbling in doorways or snoring on curbs. You
might say the attitude was intensely relaxed. As I wandered
down 6th I stepped into the various clubs sampling the rich
and diverse musical offerings of the cool Texas night.
The majority of the bars are small - 50 to 100 seats. Some
resemble a kind of honky tonk theatre with tacky, frayed
curtains fringing dusty stages while others have the ambience
of a rural garage. Tube steak vendors on the street are selling
beer between the bars and some of the bars are not much
larger than a phone booth. The thing you notice is that there
are bands everywhere. Rockin Texas Blues, cowboy thrash,
acid yodel, tejano ensembles and soulful singer/songwriters
all pour their wares out into the chaos of the street where
between the vendors are the buskers. Did I say intense?
Most clubs have a normal cover charge (if you don't have
a festival wristband) and I noticed that the bands all had tip
jars prominently displayed on stage . Yes that's right.
They're playing for tips. Of course show-casing acts get an
honorarium but the locals are scuffling for beer money and
the competition is fierce.
The conference opened with the Austin Music Awards,
highlights of which were performances by a lubricated
Lucinda Williams, Alejandro Escovedo's beautiful
orchestra, an 89-year-old pianist called The Grey Ghost
backed by the BAD LIVERS with Steve James; SOULHAT
featuring Frosty on drums (of Lee Michaels fame), and
Gibby Haynes of the BUTTHOLE SURFERS in a truly
awful thrown-together band but the crowning moment of the
evening was a successful set by 13TH FLOOR
ELEVATORS' lead vocailist Roky Erickson. He, in years
past, had shuffled up to the mic, yawned and walked away.
This year with the aid of a very quick vocal spotter (the
bassist), he was carried through a stunning set of his hits
showing a clear powerful voice capable of transcendance.
This was a long awaited performance from a home town hero
and drug casualty of the 60's which brought the house to it's
feet. Then he yawned and shuffled off the stage in his sweat
pants and institutional slippers. Don't try this at home kids!
Other highlights of the festival: "Bad Girls Upset By The
Truth" written by Jo Carol Pierce. A truly hilarious 2-hour
musical that I hope has been videoed. This heartful
performer is going to hell for her humour. Wow...
At one point, hungry and footsore I decided to try a club
called the Liberty Lunch where I thought I'd arrive early, get
a good table, eat and stay put for the evening's show. Wrong.
I arrived to find a rough concrete floor, no kitchen, no tables
or chairs and one wall was hinged up to the stars. The lineup
was promising so I dined on Rolling Rock at two dollars a
A local band, THE BEAT-O-SONICS opened with a jet
propelled set of surf music. I was in Mosrite heaven. This
was followed by a band from Tucson that had just got off the
road with LYNRD SKYNRD. It was a family band with the
dad sitting in an easychair to the side playing rhythm guitar.
His boys did the rest. A 13-year-old front man wailed strat
licks and sang well beyond his youthful years. His 11-year-old brother rocked on bass and backup vox. A 9-year-old
drummer laid down the fatback with confidence and fills that
proved his chops were offical, and rounding out the
ensemble was a 7-year-old on keyboards (who traversed the
stage to the front mike to announce that "This band is called
"Lil'Willie" cuz it's named after our baby sister, Lil'Willie,
thainkyew"). This band was so good that I saw bikers
weeping through my own astonished tears of joy. Southern
DASH RIPROCK from New Orleans followed. A high
energy rocking trio. The guitarist threw a half-full beer can
at the bassist's cowboy hat to signal his solo. The bassist
responded with a powerslide on his back across the frothy
stage where the guitarist grabbed the slider's up-stretched
foot and scorched a howling solo using the prone'n'pumping
bassist's bootheel for a slide. Didn't miss a frantic beat. Try
this at home kids!
SOULHAT closed with their masterful drummer, the
beatific Frosty. This was just one show in one club. At any
time there were twenty-four more shows going and probably
twenty more in town that were not part of the festival!
- Favourite band names: RUN C&W, THE JEHOVAH
WAITRESSES and THE CAN'T HARDLY PLAYBOYS.
- Best cover tune heard: a bluegrass version of PINK
FLOYD'S "Brain Damage", tapping in 2/4..."the lunatic is
in the grass... Yee Haw!"
- Best panelists: Robin Hitchcock, Giggy Haynes and
Mojo Nixon, SARDONIC TWITS.
- Best club: La Zona Rosa.
- Worst Representation in the Exihibition: Gasp! Canada...
Intrepid Records and the Canadian contingent from
Toronto were the most arrogant, poorly presented exhibitor
in the show. Bad form boys and girls. This mindless mob
also organised a "game" of floor hockey against an American
side and proceeded to draw blood and win at all costs against
a bewildered U.S. team. "The Ugly Canadians" proceeded to
high 5 and gloat the so-called victory! Tsk, Tsk.. I turned my
I.D. badge over in disgust.
Apart from that, it was a sterling fete with much more
going on than I can mention here. I look forward to attending
again, Zeus willing. Too soon, I had to leave this mind-warping mayhem.
I gathered my goody bag, stuffed my
newly acquired Silvertone Danelectro in my suitcase and
hopped a bus to San Antonio where I would catch the
morning train to New Orleans.
Next Month: "The Alamo to the French Quarter by Train!"
Note: Monte Nordstrom has produced over 75 demos and has recorded 8 albums to
date (Nov '99). He performs regularly at numerous venues on Canada's West Coast.
Email Monte at:
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