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sxsw2014 Sun Mar 16 2014
Robbie Fulks's Friday was filled with some good SXSW-vibes, and even a bit more music, thanks to a successful Yard Dog party with his label, Bloodshot. Family's always best, right? But perhaps he's over-stayed his time in Austin? I sense a black cloud on the horizon.
Today the corpse is starting to stink. I should have left days ago. I'm still here. On Lamar, on Barton Springs, across the river on Congress, the seething pullulating crowds continue to surge and sway across and alongside and against auto traffic on their way to the next tasteless margarita, the next trending band, friends across town, bankruptcy. "Check check" barks a bleating fathead, his lips smashed against the grate of a midline microphone at nine in the morning on a big corporate sponsored stage near Einstein's Bagels. A rachitic young white trio with electric guitar and drumkit is ever so gently trying to get the attention of sensation-glutted passersby across from the smoothie stand next to the Continental Club. You can't see the pavement for crumpled paper and drippings from people's mouths, you can't see the walls for bugs, you can't see parking spaces because they aren't there. Music-addicted, story-addicted, anywhere-but-here-addicted, thumbsucking humanity has made a place for itself — buyer's market America — and the result is rot, idiot chatter, music that will embarrass us for generations to come, and all the ravages and indignities of cancer. Please add 90 minutes to your GPS's estimated arrival time, ladies and gentlemen. It's Disneyland with drinks, it's Rush Street, it's St. Patrick's, it's Million Moron March, it's all things to be avoided, it stinks.
But let's accentuate the positive. We had our best show yet, over at the Yard Dog, in front of a warm and friendly group. I had talked to Ben awhile in the morning, and with all the board problems — the Continental's soundboard had broken down shortly before our arrival, the one at the Spoke had beer and stuff crusted in it preventing calibrated fader moves — and the closely related feedback plague, we decided that using a crappier mike on my guitar, a non-condenser — in short, an SM-57 — would be best. That did help us at the Yard Dog, that and reducing the monitors to a whisper. At once I could tell that we were connecting with the people in front of us; whatever was being represented of us out in front was ample and was a pretty balanced image of all the instruments and vocals. Great. It was our first decent show of the week, and it was what all our shows should be like, and usually are like. I wish we could have done as well at all our shows here.
Mrs. Norris, alive and well inside the house
Missy said that if you had some buzz going, SxSW was a solid investment, if not, you were playing to 100 of your fans. That sounds about right to me. I think my being here was ultimately not worth $6,000. Even more I think that when people put on events with out-of-town musicians they should give some advance thought to parking. Every working musician plays the occasional festival where the only provision for parking they've made is to have a policeman at the gate tell you you can't park anywhere nearby. At SxSW they give you a big envelope with printed parking permissions when you check in, but you don't need it to park at the official showcase venues, or at least I didn't; and at the unofficial Yard Dog show, there was no system at all, you were invited to look for street parking and invited by a cop to drive away from the stage area quickly. Robbie Gjersoe has a tribal, improvisatory, non-rule-based, handshake kind of M.O., and here it came in handy. Where I accepted the system of "go find your own parking somewhere else" when told it by the cop, he rejected it and went around to look for nice people to have a hearty laugh with. In minutes a shoestore owner was granting us a space for a limited time behind her building, which bordered the backlot of the Yard Dog. She and Robbie were slapping each other's backs, exchanging phone numbers, and chortling. Even the cop got in on the gaiety. "We gotta get you guys a record!" Robbie told them, without moving in the direction of where our records were. "It's okay to park!" he said to me. "She's a big fan of music!" Could this approach have worked for Paul Bremer in Iraq?
At our show: the drummer Tom Lewis, tall and kind and crispy around the edges as ever; Rosie Flores, who invited me to play at Ginny's Little Longhorn with her on Saturday night (I accepted); Barbara the buxatious bird lady; a Brazilian man with a taut body and black shirt with pearl snaps and greasy black hair who said he was only handing me his CD because he was "trying to be a better hustler"; Mr. Mike Snider of Dallas and before that Pittsburgh, the entrepreneur and ladies' man and deal-cutter; Jenna, red-headed and nutty as a nesselrode in the 1990s but now seemingly on level ground; Dan and Liz of the Rhode Island Polite Persons Auxiliary; the lady that books Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco (fingers crossed); Gillian Redfearn from the hallways of Carolina Friends School circa 1979.
I took Missy, Ben, Shad, and Robbie to the airport and dropped them off for their flights home. Returned to the animal farm, cleaned litter and chopped vegetables for the guinea pigs, wiped down toilets, tidied. Checked the music schedule for Friday and wrote down some acts I wanted to see. Dave and Phil Alvin at Lucy's Fried Chicken, Nicole Atkins on 6th St. somewhere at 11:00, and Lucinda somewhere close by at midnight.
Dave and Phil were on an outdoor stage with Brad Fordham and Lisa Pankratz as rhythm section and his regular second guitarist, Chris Miller. They were doing a lot of Big Bill Broonzy songs and I loved it, couldn't stop smiling. I had never seen Phil in person before (I was of course a fan of the Blasters when they came along). He looked like an M.K. Brown drawing of Phil Alvin. The player who most impressed me that hour was Lisa, I thought she was laying it down really vigorously and emotionally — I've always liked her playing. I caught up with them a little in the parking lot and moved on.
I decided to return to foxy Caitlin and the Congress for dinner, since last night's experience had been so four-star. I ate the same thing and she was like the night before. But tonight being there felt wrong: a denial of the fact that everything you do you do once only, a pathetic effort, undue weight on a small menu's single vegetarian item, unfresh, anti-creative, and frankly a little creepy/predatory — was I just here for the soba?
Next to me a man was saying vacuous things to a woman, loudly. "I go to Telluride every year, and of course I love the films there, but I go more for my clients and the profit opportunities...to me the personal connection matters most...well I'll see you the next time I'm in New York." That was the crowning finish to his one-sided conversation with this woman: I'll see you the next time I'm in New York, and he gave it a personalized pronunciation and a light stress that irritated me. It was the way people sometimes say organic and Prada. When I meet regular intelligent people who hail from towns nobody ever heard of, to which they are faithfully and unequivocally attached, I want to hug them. Who are these new-minted men that have no loyalty to anything but airports and place names and their own big fat mouths?
Kelly Hogan introduced me to the music of Ms. Nicole Atkins of New Jersey two years ago and I would have liked to have gone and heard that great voice in the flesh, but, as you can probably guess if you've read my previous entries, after dinner I was tired and in a melancholy mood, and my feet hurt, so home I went to Daisy and Mrs. Norris. On the way I stopped to get my hosts a thank-you bottle of wine at Whole Foods on Lamar. I guess this is what they call the original one. It's bigger and brighter-lit and the workers are a little more more laidback than at most other Whole Foods. The wine counter, coffee station, and juice bar were prominently situated, and inviting. It would have been an altogether pleasant place. But wouldn't you know, there was a fucking band playing on the roof.