March 17, 2007 – Leaving SXSW

It was back home today.  A parting shot of the scene in Austin.  This is 6th Street, the main entertainment district in town – blocked off to traffic for about 8 blocks and full of people most of the time.


You never know “Who” you will see on the streets.


Here’s Pete Townsend on his way somewhere else.

All in all, it was a rather overwhelming few days of music.  Like the space between atoms, it’s hard to get your mind around so much music at any one time.  I enjoyed the sponteneity and “non-packaged” nature of the performers and performances.  Most were winging it, discussing what song to play only after finishing the previous one.  Not one performer made mention of CDs for sale in the back (if they even had any – I didn’t see any tables) and the physical and virtual space that separates most of today’s concerts and tours was absent as musicians switched between performer and audience. One night you’ll be standing next to a performer you’ll see the next night, the next night a member of the Replacements will be next to you or you’ll walk by Pete Townsend on the street.

one year ago…

March 16, 2007 – “Artists in My CD Collection” Night at SXSW

After a great couple nights of listening to new bands/artists, I thought I’d take one night to see old favorites.  In the afternoon, we went to a day show featuring Carrie Rodriguez.


Again, it’s a great place to actually meet and talk with your favorite musicians.


Carrie was at Jovitas with her band and fiddle.  The act before was Dale Watson, a traditional Texas swing band and Carrie was out on the floor swinging with the best of them.

The first evening act was Chip Taylor.  One of my favorite recent albums is the one he did with Carrie Rodriguez, “Red Dog Tracks.”
His band this evening consisted of a newly discovered fiddle player/vocalist from Canada who he dragged to Austin and he is producing her debut album. His guitarist moves between him and Van Morrison, and was with Chip this evening. Chip Taylor has a long career, most notably as an Americana/Country artist, but is also the writer for the rock song ”Wild Thing” and pop song ”Angel of the Morning” recently remade by Shaggy to a #1 hit and 14 million copies.  Chip is an artful, widely varied artist.

Just to let you know, the photo police continue to patrol, so the pictures aren’t as good as they could be.


County artist Steve Earle was next, most known for songs like “Guitar Town” and “Copperhead Road” he played to a very enthusiastic crowd and was the only performer who came out for an encore.  He had a great new song that he dedicated to Pete Seeger that wished for a time we could “throw that hammer down” because we didn’t need it any more and it is getting heavy to keep carrying.  I look forward to hearing the new disc.  Allison Moorer joined him for a couple of songs as well.

It was then a mile sprint down 6th street to the Molotov Lounge to see Michelle Shocked. An incredible performance and rapport with the audience. Â  She played more rocking versions of “Anchored Down in Ankorage” and my favorite song of hers – 500 Miles (Been a Long Time).


She told a story about learning to drive a manual transmission car and then said it wasn’t a very interesting story, but she didn’t want us to leave without hearing a truthful story from a Texan.

The night ended with Rickie Lee Jones.  I liked Rickie Lee’s jazzy, folky, past albums but wasn’t quite ready for this performance.


She came out and played thrash speed-metal songs, pretty much devoid of melody or much else.  We left after three songs after it became apparent it wasn’t just a song or two, but a new direction.  I’m also not sure her trance-like state was entirely naturally influenced.  It was the only performance of the festival that I didn’t stick around to watch. However, a great number of people did not seem taken aback, so I guess I missed the last album review and new direction.

one year ago…

March 15, 2007 – Red House Records Night at SXSW

In the mornings there are music industry panels and workshops. We went to see an interview/performance by Emmy Lou Harris.


Buddy Miller joined her to play some songs – she played six songs and shared some of her musical and personal history. A great musical career, spanning many genres of music and collaborations.

When she was just starting out, she was “discovered” with the help of her babysitter. The babysitter was a groupie backstage at all the concerts at in Washington D.C. and when the late Gram Parsons came to town and was looking for a female backup singer, the babysitter connected Gram and Emmy Lou and that was her entry into music. She toured and collaborated with Gram until his death. (His wish was to be cremated in the desert, but his family was not going to honor that request, so one of his friends stole the casket and secretly took it out to the desert and fulfilled Parson’s wish. The only thing they could charge him with at the time was theft of the casket.) She played some songs from her old days “Love Hurts” and some newer songs from Wrecking Ball like “Orphan Girl.” It was a surprisingly good venue since everybody was quiet when she sang!

First that night we saw Alejandro Escovedo with his string quartet. Alejandro started out in a punk band in LA, moved to Austin and started a roots/alt country career, became sick with Hepatitis C and although a highly esteemed artist among musicians, never had commercial success or a lot of money. To pay his medical bills, artists such as Lucinda Williams, Son Volt, and Steve Earle helped fundraise to pay off his bills. He recovered and was named No Depression magazine’s Artist of the Decade.


His string quartet, pictured above, recently played Carnegie Hall and it was also recently reported that his songs were on George Bush’s iPod list, reportedly much to the chagrin of the artist!

Then we moved to the venue on the 18th story of the Hilton Hotel. The room was nearly surrounded by windows. Just behind the performers was downtown and the State Capital dome peeked just over the performer’s shoulders. The night was sponsored by Red House records from the Twin Cities. The first performer was a female vocalist (not part of Red House) who was a shy and depressed version of Margo Timmons of the Cowboy Junkies. She was so shy and nervous, it was hard to watch her.

Ray Bonneville was next up, a blues player with Canadian and American citizenship who splits his time between Montreal and Austin. He spent an inordinate amount of time on sound check, carefully wrapping his cords, and working with the sound guy – all for just one performer.
He carefully had a table full of his harmonicas and other equipment. We joked that we wouldn’t probably like to live with him as his perfection would drive the less particular amongst us crazy! He was also the guy standing next to me during most of the Americana show the night before. He was an accomplished player and my favorite was a rather obscure Woody Guthrie tune called “New York.” He had an amplified piece of plywood under his foot for a percussive addition to his guitar and harmonica.

The Pines were the only band from Iowa that we were able to see. The photo police were out, so I wasn’t able to get a photo of them. Unfortunately, the set suffered from sound problems, but they handled it well. The Pines consist of the son of Greg Brown sidekick and Blues player in his own right, Bo Ramsey. I didn’t catch the other guy, but he looked and sang a lot like a young Greg Brown. The younger Ramsey had a haunting Dylan-esque voice and carries on the sparse, heartfelt playing of his father.

Next up was Lynn Miles, is a brash, witty bluesy-folk act from Canada.


Like the act before them, their act too suffered from a bad sound mix. She handled it very well. At this point, we thought Ray should get back on stage and make everything right! It didn’t seem fair to have the musician’s short time on stage disrupted by the problems. If Linda was a singer this would be her – honest, witty, and quick-thinking on her feet. Billboard Magazine has listed her album as one of the top 10 of the year.

Storyhill is a Montana duo with stunning harmonies and guitar playing. Again, the picture police were out, so no photo of them.

The evening ended with Jimmy Lafave, another bluesy-folk act with a big band and a great sound.


Jimmy has played Austin City Limits and twice won the Austin Best singer/songwriter award.

one year ago…

March 14, 2007 – Americana Music Night at SXSW

Today was the first day of the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, TX.  Over 6,000 bands send in demo tapes and the top 1400 or so are selected.  There are about 60 music venues throughout town and for four nights, about 6 bands play at each venue.  I’ve wanted to go for a long time.  It’s been a great way for up and comng bands to get exposure.  We went to the Americana Music Showcase and stayed at the same place all night. The first band we saw was Charlie Louvin – a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and has played with everyone from Cash to Elvis and a staple at the Grand Old Opry.

Next on stage came Sunny Sweeney who was thrilled to play the Opry just last weekend for the first time.  Watch for her, she’s got a great country voice, country lyrics that turn a song in a phrase, and a good band.  Her new album is #7 in the Texas music top 40, just ahead of the Dixie Chicks.


The great thing about SXSW is that you are able to meet and greet the artists after their performances.


Sunny takes some time out after the show with me!


Next up was the Holmes brothers, a blues trio from NYC.  It sure sounded like these guys have played a blues lick or two in their lives.


Next was Ruthie Foster, a great singer with soul, folk, and rock influences.  Imagine rolling up Aretha Franklin, Tracy Chapman, and Lucinda Williams all in one person.  She was very energetic and has great pipes.


Finally, Ray Whylie Hubbard came on.  He was a rather irreverant player with another great band.  His latest hit is Snake Farm.  SXSW is great for its unscripted, unrehearsed aesthetic.  Ray, at different times brought on his 14 year-old sun to play a mean stratocaster, Buddy Miller, and the band that a few minutes earlier won best new Austin band, “Band of Heathens.” Musicians effortlesssly slide from band to band throughout the festival.

one year ago…

March 12, 2007 – The Batholith

Today we visited the Enchanted Rock park, home to the 2nd largest batholith in the US. For the geologically challenged, a batholith is a solid mass of granite-like rock that cools miles under ground.  Half-dome in Yosemite is another batholith.  On the way to the batholith, we needed to cross a creek that usually has stepping stones across.  Because of the high water, we needed to wade across.  Only a few hours earlier, the water had been about 4 feet higher in this creek.


We pittied the jr. high group that had been camping in the overnight deluge, trudging back to the park, wet bags and packs in tow.


Some of the cactus were in bloom as well.


Linda standing near the top of the batholith.


Here’s a great view of the exfoliation (weathering) of the granite eroding like giant puzzle pieces. These pieces are taller than I am.

one year ago…

March 11, 2007 – Smokin’ in Texas (Again)

Faithful readers may recall that the last time we were in Texas, we went to an Austin favorite called the Oasis on Lake Travis.  We were among the last customers to leave when the place closed at night and when we woke up, the top story on the local news was spectacular footage of the Oasis burning down.

That brings us to today.  Our guide book recommended the Hilltop restaurant as the best bet for dinner.  It is an old gas station converted into restarurant, owned by a member of the band Asleep at the Wheel, who performs there as well.  As we were driving there, we passed an old fire truck with lights blazing.  I felt bad passing a fire truck, but it was a steep hill and the truck was only going 40 mph.  I joked to Linda that the truck was probably heading to the Hilltop!  When we arrived, there were already three trucks, EMT, and cops surroundig the place.  Evidently, a fire had started in the attic and filled the place with smoke.  So, our reservations were up in smoke.  Linda and I are thinking of picking out Texas restaurants and asking for gift certificates to their competitors!


Earlier in the day we went to the Lost Maples state park in the Hill Country and went for about a 5-mile hike through the hills in the periodic rain.

On the way home we stopped at Stonehege II.

Evidently, the creator of this had nothing better to do than create a 60% scale version of Stonhenge in his pasture.  For good measure, he also added some Easter Island statues.

The night turned stormy – with 3-4 inches of rain across the region with flooding and tornado watches.  I felt safe in the rock house!
one year ago…

March 10, 2007 – Spring Getaway for Mark and Linda

Today Linda and I left for a mini-vacation to the Texas Hill Country. We were supposed to arrive in San Antonio early afternoon, but due to mechanical troubles with the plane coming into Des Moines, we missed our connecting flight and were stuck in Memphis for 6 hours until the next flight. So a half-day exploring the hill country was instead spent in the Memphis airport. Â  We arrived at the bed and breakfast at about 11:00.  There were good directions – turn right at the orchard sign, go .7 miles, then .3 miles, cross over two cattle grates then press the button on the solar powered entrance to get in.


Here’s a picture from another day. We have the whole place to our own.


It’s an old homesteader’s home, with 16 inch thick limestone walls.  It has a kitchen, living room and bathroom downstairs and bedroom upstairs – very cozy.


Here’s the view out of the back porch – out in the middle of ranch country.

one year ago…

June 1, 2005 – Journey of Lawlessness and Destruction Ends

Last night we went out to the Oasis, a restaurant/bar/entertainment complex 450 feet above Lake Travis outside Austin. We sat out on one of the 40 decks until after “last call.” The decks hold over 2,000 people and it’s a very popular spot. Here’s the Oasis from a distance.
oasis
When we wok in the morning we found that we probably were some of the last customers and the place was evidently hit by lighting and burned. It was freaky to see the video of the place we were just at burned crispy.
oasis
oasis
So, that made our trip one of lawlessness and destruction – between the trooper ticket and the burning of the Oasis shortly after we left. It was nice to avoid the incarceration and incineration.

May 31, 2005 – Man About Town

Yesterday I was interviewed on the streets by a TV station about the Holiday weekend. Members of our group were quite surprised to see me on the news at 6, 10 and the next day as well.

Last night was the conference banquet and the band that was playing was “graced” by Lou Diamond Phillips, who sang much worse than most contestants at a Karaoke bar. He did particularly painful versions of Desparado and Luckenbach, Texas. We then found a Texas blues, Stevie-Ray Vaughn band the Eric Tessmer Band at a club downtown and ended the late evening at an improv jazz club.

May 30, 2005 – Luckenbach, Texas

Today Linda’s at the conference, so it was off to Luckenbach, TX. I was surprised that it is not really a town. It looks like a set from on old western town, with only an old open air dance hall, general store with the emphasis on “rustic.” It is more like someone’s run-down ranch/summer camp, with lots of bikers sitting around drinking and listening to some guys play guitar. I can see how it is a place you may expect to see Willie Nelson at – it couldn’t be more laid back and less commercial. Here’s the feed shack and dance hall.
luckenbach
Here I am with Martin’s cowboy hat in front of the general store.
luckenbach
Here’s some of the bikes and the general store.
luckenbach

We ate lunch in Fredericksburg – our waitress was wearing shirt with “inmate” on the back. A manager came out and yelled at her that she wasn’t wearing her ankle bracelet and her parole manager needs a call immediately.

Last night we had a hard time finding music – but it was about 11 before we went out and it was Sunday night. Lots of people at the dance clubs. Tonight, the plan is the banquet at the conference and then out for more music

May 29, 2005 – Club 311

Yesterday afternoon we walked in Zilker Park and then met comrades for a Cajun dinner. Jackie has a “Don’t mess with Iowa Either” T-shirt to complement Barbara’s “Don’t mess with Texas” shirt. After dinner we roamed around a bit and settled into a club that had a band that played R&B standards. It was a bit of an odd band. The drummer, keyboard player and base player were old wrinkled black musicians and the lead guitar player looked like he was about 15 years old and was a ringer for a young Matthew Broderick from the “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” era. About every other song he took a piece of candy (we’re wondering if that was his payment).

Today we’re off to the hill country and ???.

May 28, 2005 – Keeping Austin Weird

We’re off to Austin, Texas (that’s pronounced Ahh-sten, Tex-is) for a few days. Linda is speaking at a conference themed “A Whole New Rodeo: International Conference on Teaching and Leadership Excellence.

As for me, I think I’ll be roaming the streets of Austin, but that’s ok since there’s a strong sentiment to Keep Austin Weird. One of the particularly engrossing pages on the site is a menu from an overly snooty restaurant (I particularly like the entrees, you’ll need to scroll down the page a bit).

I’ll try to keep updated from Austin if I can find internet access.