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« SXSW 2015 Tour Diaries: Let's Meet the Bands SXSW 2015: Day 1 Tour Diary from In Tall Buildings »

sxsw2015 Wed Mar 18 2015

SXSW 2015: Day 1 Tour Diary from The Waco Brothers

Chicago at SXSW 2015

The Waco Brothers are SXSW veterans and it says something that the descent on Austin still gets at least one member of the band excited. In our first SXSW Tour Diary update from Dean Schlabowske (aka Deano), the guitarist/singer/songwriter waxes a bit nostalgic.

As this past year marked Bloodshot Records' 20th Anniversary, it's great to see him recount the good ole days of SXSW way back in 1996, when, as he puts it : "Bloodshot was more of a hobby than a career for the principals involved. And the band was more of a gentleman's tippling club than a proper group. Come to think of it, it still is!"


I start getting giddy about SXSW at the beginning of March each year. Yes, I realize this makes me hopelessly uncool. Any legit rocker adopts a stock photo sneer and rants about corporations, hipsters, unpaid gigs, blah, blah, blah. But I'm here to preach magic, good people!

My first SX was 1990. I played in a noisy guitar band called Wreck. Although we played in the same Chicago circles as Jesus Lizard, Tar and the like, the fact that our records were released on industrial dance label Wax Trax! meant that we were never quite accepted in that world, despite our Albini-produced records. But Wax Trax! was quite a big label by indie standards. That meant we were expected to be a "national act". Which meant playing the big industry events like SX and CMJ in New York.

Wax Trax! secured us an official showcase gig. We drove down in two vehicles: my Ford Escort and bassist Kurt Moore's small pick up. The Escort broke down along the way. Somehow (credit cards), we made it 1,000 miles with all of our gear. We only had the one set to play. If there were day parties in 1990, we didn't know about them and certainly weren't invited! We had nowhere to stay. We slept on the lawn of the City of Austin Power building. We ate at Taco Cabana. The only thing else I can remember is that I knew I had to come back to Austin.

We did, the next year. Our showcase gig was at Emo's. After loading in our gear, drummer Bart Flores and I wandered around the corner and stumbled upon a Flaco Jimenez and Freddy Fender set on a big outdoor stage. On the bill with us at Emo's were the Bad Livers. We found better Mexican food. We had floors to sleep on. Things were looking up.

Despite our obvious genius, Wreck did not rocket to stardom and we broke up a couple years later. But during a Wreck recording session that we had asked Jon Langford to produce, Jon & I discovered our mutual love of classic country. Drunk story short, the Waco Brothers were formed and a 20 year tradition at SX was born shortly thereafter.

At the time of the Wacos' first SX in 1996, Bloodshot was more of a hobby than a career for the principals involved. And the band was more of a gentleman's tippling club than a proper group. Come to think of it, it still is! But Jon and the label connected with Randy Franklin at Yard Dog Gallery to put together the first day party in the courtyard behind the shop. There, on a stage made of pallets, to about 30 enthused onlookers, we played along with Old 97s, Whiskeytown and others. Among those 30 were reporters from Billboard and Rolling Stone. The latter described us as "Cash Meets Clash", a flattering description we milked for many years.

You see?!?! Magic does happen here!

One of my current bands playing at SX, Ice Cold Singles, features Jo Walston, Pete Stiles and Bill Anderson, who I met that year. Their band at the time, The Meat Purveyors, signed to Bloodshot soon after that visit. Magic.

Over the past 20 years, I have shared stages with many astoundingly talented artists. I have witnessed and taken part in performances that range from face melting to eye opening to hilarious to truly moving. Magic.

I have bonded with people from all over the country and the world that I only see each year at SX. When I see these people, it's like we were together last week. Magic.

Jo and I became sweethearts and I moved to Austin to be with her about two years ago. Talk about magic!

One thing I've learned about Austinites in the time I've lived here is that they're world-class complainers. Anything less than perfect weather is horrible weather. If they can't drive home in five minutes, traffic is unbearable. Their allergies are killing them! You should have been here in the... (pick a decade based on your age)...before it all went to hell. The rent's too damn high! [Editor's note: See this recent article by CityLab on what's ruining Austin (it's not SXSW).]

My day job is at The Austin Wine Merchant downtown. When this time of year comes around, I hear constant moaning about SX. For many Austinites, two weeks of bad traffic and loud music is a cataclysmic event. Many actually leave town each year rather than suffer the indignity of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on South Lamar on a Friday night. Many believe that the influx of well-off newcomers, who drive the city's growth and increasing expense, are all here because they came to SX and thought Austin was cool. Like it couldn't have had anything to do with Dell offering them $100K per year.

Look, I'm aware of the ugly, corporate side of SX. And I'm aware that it inconveniences Austin drivers for a little while. But why, as an Austinite, you wouldn't be proud of the fact that for a couple weeks your city is the center of the music (and film...and tech) universe is beyond me. It's easy to point to the "Doritos Stage" downtown and show contempt. But it's also easy to avoid the lunkheads at the corporate events and see some of the greatest music you will ever encounter, in an environment that could exist nowhere else.

As for the cynical musicians, perhaps you have a skewed idea of what you're supposed to get out of an event like SX. No, Clive Davis is not going to wander into your set at the Swollen Donkey for the Pepcid AC party and "discover" you. But if you do SX right, you'll play great music. You'll see musicians who truly inspire. You'll meet people that make you think and laugh. Some of those folks will be with you for the rest of your life. If that's not what you're in this for, maybe you should think about doing something else.

Me, I'll stay giddy. Because I know the next bit of magic is almost here. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some rock history to make and some margaritas to drink with my Wacos pals. Not necessarily in that order.

- Deano

~*~

Catch The Waco Brothers at SXSW:
March 18: Continental Club, (1am)

March 18: Bloodshot 2015 SXSW Showcase @ Continental Club (8pm)

March 19: Twangfest @ Broken Spoke (Noon)

March 20: Bloodshot SXSW Day Party @ Yard Dog Art Gallery (Noon)

March 20: South by Sapporo Party @ Cheers Shot Bar (2:45pm)

 
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