Friday is usually the craziest day of the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas. By this time, any rational plan or schedule has gone out the window as one gets caught up in the hurricane of music, madness and sweaty humanity.
We had the noblest of intentions to serve you, dear reader, on Day Three by volunteering for sea duty aboard the U.S.S. Lone Star Riverboat, a party that was to be regaled by the metal band Goatwhore. But alas, as we approached the dock along Austin’s tranquil Lady Bird Lake (actually an easygoing reservoir of the usually fast-rushing Colorado River), we saw that about 500 other intrepid souls had the same idea.
The crowd’s color of choice for t-shirts, body ink and Death Metal was black – for the next few hours these would be our people. But a deck hand for the Boatwhore cruise, apparently looking for curvy cruise mates, strolled to our part of the line and told us: “There is no way you’re getting on the boat. About 18,000 people signed up for this, and it holds only 90 people.”
And so our ship sailed, with us still standing on dry land. Passengers and crew sailed off into the Texas night, dancing under the stars to the roar of Goatwhore. We hope and pray they made it safely back to shore.
The day was not without its pleasures, and surprises. Atop the sunny and breezy patio of the big Whole Foods Market flagship, people nibbled on vegan tacos and sipped coconut water while listening to a decidedly mellow lineup of musicians. Then, a last-minute addition: Rick Springfield.
Lookin’ good at age 63, Springfield busted out of an L.A. jail last week and performed with Dave Grohl’s Sound City Players at a big show on Thursday evening. He apparently wanted to play a little more, so this short set would be solo acoustic.
The crowd’s color of choice for t-shirts, girlfriends and recyclable totes was pastel – and for the next 20 minutes this would be 1981 all over again. Springfield flailed energetically on his guitar and invited the crowd to sing along on “I’ve Done Everything For You” and “Love Somebody.”
He even played one from his new album Songs For The End of the World, a bit of anxiety called “I Hate Myself,” which of course he also turned into another singalong.
And then, “Jessie’s Girl.” How can you resist? SING ALONG! “Lovin’ him with that body/I just know it!“
At this point you may be wondering: Why would someone like Rick Springfield appear at SXSW, which is designed to showcase and break out new artists (and suck up to superstars)? Well, SXSW is also a good vehicle for established artists to play and get their new projects in front of audiences and hopefully, get their careers back on the rails again. With that short acoustic blast on Thursday, Springfield may not have propelled himself back to the top of the charts but he got his name on the minds of a few hundred people (and in front of you, dear reader).
Right up next was another act, Blue Sky Riders. A Nashville trio playing smooth country pop, the band consists of husband-wife Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman, both country hitmakers. The third voice belongs to Kenny Loggins, who divorced from Jim Messina in the 1970s to become King of the 1980s Soundtracks.
BSR sailed into “I’m A Rider (Finally Home),” the parenthetical title track from their debut album. Uptempo tunes like “Just Say Yes” and “You’re Not The Boss Of Me” went down well with Middleman’s ballad “Little Victories.” The voices blended seamlessly, making a musical meld slick enough to slide painlessly into country and adult contemporary playlists. The breeze wafted BSR’s delicacies like dandelion florets, away from the Whole Foods patio and across busy Lamar Street where yet another resurrection was about to take place.
The Mavericks, also a slick country rock outfit, played Waterloo Records’ outdoor stage behind the new In Time, their first studio album in a decade. The band played acoustically, accompanied by mariachi horns, two accordions and the soaring tenor of front man Raul Malo. The Tex-Mex menu included “Back In Your Arms Again,” “Dance In The Moonlight” and “Come Unto Me,” all from the new work.
There were a lot of people standing in the afternoon sun, so Malo kept the party going with an extended run-through of the band’s biggest hit, “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down.” Malo thanked everyone for coming out, and said it was cool to be playing at a real, live record store. “Help ’em out, because they’re really hurting,” he said of record stores in general. “Frankly, I’m tired of buying all my music at Walmart.”
We did see some worthy new talent: St. Paul and the Broken Bones, a white-boy soul/R&B unit from Birmingham, Alabama, fronted by Paul Janeway. Screaming and shouting the soul like James Brown was his babysitter, Janeway ripped through a set of Southern R&B that went down well with the morning’s first tacos. His closing punch of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, then a selection from the songbook of Tom Waits, was mighty fine.
Today (Saturday) is the final official day of SXSW, and the day when all of the week’s rumors come to roost. This we know – Justin Timberlake is playing someplace tonight, as are the Smashing Pumpkins and John Fogerty. Vampire Weekend shows off its new material this afternoon at the Austin Convention Center, a whole bunch of hip-hoppers are here and the 1,200-person-capacity La Zona Rosa club hosts an artist currently known as Prince. Hoo boy.