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sxsw2014 Tue Mar 11 2014
Robbie Fulks gets us started with SXSW diaries with some pre-trip thoughts as he got ready to head south on Monday. Read on for his (at times) brutally honest entry.
March 10 Midway Airport
Of all the musicians participating in this year's South by Southwest I may be the worst choice to send daily dispatches home. Which immediately raises some questions, such as: why the worst? And: what, don't I like South by Southwest or something? And: why then did I agree to write about the conference for the wonderful website Gapers Block?
Last one first, I agreed to write because I like to write. I especially like the phase of writing where you reflect on, sift, edit, straighten, plump up, and in some valid way add dramatic interest to the day's events, which as they happened appeared random and not that interesting. I like making sentences and the effort to get better at it. That's simple.
As to liking SxSW or not liking, I have mixed feelings about the annual gathering of musicians, techies, filmmakers, and miscellaneous media scum. I've done it three other times and, I have to confess, I had a grand time each visit. But my enjoyment wasn't correlated with any of the sanctioned goings-on. I mostly avoided wristband events. It was visiting friends in diners, taking in the balmy weather, being drunk, watching Redd Volkaert and Bill Kirchen and Dale Watson and Stephen Bruton (R.I.P.) play at off-track venues, having fantastic Mexican food, and sleeping in a quiet bed up in the hills outside of town that made it such a blast.
It's been 8 years since I last attended "the little conference by the Colorado," and I hear there's not a lot of quiet there anymore. No beds either, as I found out when I tried Pricelining rooms in February. And there's not nearly as much outside-of-town, since tech has come to Texas, inflating its capital into the US's second largest. A couple days ago in Chicago, I ran into an old musician friend, a banjoist and central Texas native. "I'm headed to Austin next week, and I'm a little worried, based on what I've been hearing," I told him. "The crowd factor is pretty out of control since you were there last," he admitted. "But just stay away from the official shows, and you'll be fine."
Preaching to the choir! This is why I fear I'm ill-chosen to guide you, dear reader, through all the excitement, buzz, and magic that is South by Southwest. Of my least favorite things on earth, three that spring right to mind are:
2. New media professionals.
I'm a country picker. I'm an introvert. I'm a grandfather, for Pete's sake. If I stumbled this week by some terrible accident into a club where the heat-seekingest sensation-to-be of 2015 was enacting pop culture history before my eyes, I'd run the other way like a scalded dog. If I tell you that I am married with grown or near-grown children, live in the suburbs, did my first bar gig in 1979, and have been getting by off my dogeared artistic skill set for most for the years since, it's not to boast, but to underscore that, for me, however sadly, the bloom is definitively off the rose. Youthful longings have "fallen into the sere and yellow'd leaf." All systems are non-agog. The libido flags. The ears ring.
Meanwhile, the expense of the trip is a little sickening. Excuse me while I tote up what this is costing me.
I'm back. $6238, not counting meals and sundry. The breakdown of this sum may interest some readers, but I don't want to make it awkward for my sidemen, who are working for me for a plea-bargained fee and might not want other bandleaders to know the details. But airfare is $1635 and hotels are $1523. I could have driven my van down, as many do (as I have done) and I could have weaseled a spot on someone's floor or shaved a couple hundred off the hotel sum by staying 50 miles away in a Super 8. I mean, I could have brought it down to $5K with some significant sacrifices in comfort. But when I look at the numbers 5000 and 6238, I think, not "what a contrast" but "what fairly large and not dissimilar 4-digit numbers." By the way, $5K (if that's a representative figure) times 2,200 acts — that's not only an impressive testament to the willingness of young people to pay to play, it's a tidy little transfer from the pockets of dreamy vagabonds to the rental car, airline, petroleum, and hospitality industries. Dummies!
New, supersized SxSW stymied my longstanding method of travel booking, known colloquially as "waiting till a day or two before." Luckily, Nan, my friend and de facto boss at Bloodshot Records, blocked off a bunch of rooms for her acts ten years ago. I was spared a big expense when a local friend offered me his hippiemobile, just big enough for me to haul the doghouse bass around. And in a gratuitous gesture from a loving God, a fellow I don't even know extremely well wrote to tell me he and his family were leaving town (spring break week coincides with SxSW) and I was welcome to use their rambling, palatial estate for my home base. Hooray.
I have to catch my flight now. My plan in Austin is to focus on work over at the estate — songwriting, guitar practice, preparatory exercise for the Shamrock 8K run in Chicago at month's end, and some reading. When I need to, I'll venture out to play my sets, of which I have one a day over the next 5 days. (Must be another sign of conference bloat; previously I've only played a single club set.) Besides that, I don't know that I'll be doing much worth relating. I may wander into a club to hear music a couple times. Or — ideally — not. So, ha ha ha, Gapers Block! You're going to get an earful about the Lamar Road Scenic Run and locrian mode scales, and squat about Polytonal Puppy Explosion or Lana Del Daffy or whatever is making the world wet. Ha, ha, ha!
Whatever unfolds, I'll do my best on the sentence level. Stay tuned....
Robbie Fulks' current (and subject to change) SXSW Music Fest schedule is below:
Tuesday, March 11, 1pm - Trade show
Wednesday, March 12, 9pm - Continental Club
Thursday, March 13, 4pm - Broken Spoke
Friday, March 14, 12:45pm - Yard Dog
Saturday, March 15, 2pm - Brooklyn Country Cantina