Monday, March 19, 2012

SXSW Part One

Everyone goes to Austin's SXSW for different reasons.

At least, I'd like to think so.

Though at the base of it all is massive networking. Constant, massive networking. That much is guaranteed. 

So, when the opportunity called me up and asked me to perform in Austin, I couldn't say no. Yes, networking was my main goal, but I was itching for the experience of the festival, the experience of Austin. These moments are chances at great growth.

And Austin is the 8th most vegetarian-friendly city in the US. 

The road to Austin is a long and mostly dull one. Two new friends and musicians carpooled down with me. A Kia Soul was rented for the ride. It was bright red. Even the papers for the car called it "bright red." On a level beyond the reality of it, driving to Austin in a Soul was perfect.

Overall the car was fine. Though it was not made for tall folks. And hours upon hours in a yoga pose I've never tried before, one with my knees situated at head level, does wear upon one.

Our one highlight was sometime around 4 or 5 am, pulling into some random gas station someplace in Arkansas or Texas. Disrepair in not enough of a word for the state this building was in. Surly this establishment had been vacant for at least a decade ... I was quite surprised it was actually still in operation. 

It was called the Sweet Pea.

And it was under new management.

I decided to try my luck inside for restrooms, which were surprisingly not that bad. Beside the check-out counter was a box of incense, marked at "Perfume Wands."

The driving wasn't bad as the three of us rotated. Sleeping was still difficult though when not driving, and I might have gotten a good thirty minutes, or an hour at the most.

But before you know it, and then 20 hours after that, we were nearing Austin.

Traffic was horrendous and delayed our arrival by a good hour or more. 

Austin is about the population of the Greater Cleveland area. That fact surprised me because there were people everywhere. Granted, this festival brings in hundreds of thousands of people. Even on the busiest night in Cleveland, there wouldn't have been as many people as there were at 4am in Austin.

The hotel was a something I had been looking forward to since I found out about it. The host of the showcase was putting me up in the showcase room - the Presidential Suite!

I'd never been to a Presidential Suite before. Actually, I think I've only been in a suite room only maybe two or three times. As we loaded in, the porter took us to the elevator and was quite impressed when we told him what room we were headed to. "Man, who are you guys?" he asked.

The elevator was made of glass on the backside so you could look out into the hotel as you went up and down. We, of course, got to go all the way up to the top floor. (Which had roof access I was told, though I couldn't exactly find out where ...) 

The showcase room was being set up when we arrived. Pictures of instruments and music were all over the walls, naturally.  It was a perfect fit. And the view wasn't bad, either; looking straight down Congress, over the river to the Capitol building. A large gray metal sculpture was positioned on the intersection of two streets below. It looked like a boomerang. I was told it was a bat.

I still couldn't really see it, but said, "Oh."

What does one expect in a Presidential suite? Perhaps a plaque stating which president(s) had stayed there? Even presidents of companies would have been acceptable. 

But no.

It was Presidential in name.

Though the staff was saying if any President could have stayed there, it probably would have been LBJ. Nevermind that he died before the place was built. The ghost of LBJ is actually kind of cooler than the real thing.

A friend of mine from Sacramento was in town for the festival and was also volunteering at a soup kitchen some friends of his ran. I was to meet up with them shortly after I arrived.

We were meeting up at an outdoor showcase on the same street as the hotel, but about 10 blocks South. The walk was an answered prayer after the long drive. The showcase was also a benefit for the soup kitchen. It was crammed, but everyone was quite friendly. As I caught up with my friend, we listened to two singer/songwriters who had played at his venue in California. They were good country-blues-singer/songwriter types. 

The sun was shining and gorgeous. Sunshine and music is pretty much as good as it gets.

I'll leave out most of the networking I did, because I was meeting folks and networking everywhere. So, let's leave that as a given.

This is about the experience.

Several people stopped me, complimenting my mustache. I was told over and over again, that is was quite important in Austin.

The self-proclaimed Mayor of South Austin was introduced to me. Nothing was told me about the self-proclaimed part, so I spent the first half of the conversation thinking that perhaps she was the Mayor of South Austin. Until she dropped a few casual f bombs. But she was a wonderful character, and I'm sure that anyone who's spent some time in South Austin knows this delightful soul.

My show wasn't until 10pm, so we had some open time, and I wanted to take in the festival as much as possible before I needed to be back for sound check. We walked up to the main drag, Sixth st. 

In our walking, we apparently just missed the world's largest urban bat colony taking flight from under the bridge right by my hotel. Sixth St was a glow with music. Even at this point in the afternoon and this early in the festival. The streets were filling up, and several of the main drags were shut down completely to cars and such. Ben Kweller was performing in the window of the Stage. A band called Hordes and Harems was rocking out a small bar rooftop. A bizarre experimental girl and guitar player droned in and mostly off-pitch from one of the stages.

No time for dinner; it was back to the hotel for my set. I did nibble down a few delicious apples, and a small handful of Brazil nuts. 

And took the stage.

My music sounded pretty great in this Presidential Suite. I'll have to remember that. Perhaps I was feeling more regal and performing as such. Perhaps it was just the many wooden surfaces. 

Ignite the Soul really shined. Sparkled and dashed out to the audience to connect and flush over them. I could see it light each person up. Amazing just begins to describe it. Manifest, as well, was more special than usual. 

Maybe the ghost of LBJ was realizing that RFK was right all along ...

Maybe it was just the deep state of tired I was in.

Kyshona Armstrong was up after me, from Athens, Ga. She was a soulful powerhouse, just her and her guitar. Her friend said that my music made her night. 

Then Mike June and his bassist and accordion player sang his style of Texas singer/songwriter-alt-country-Springsteeny songs. His set was great; the accordion was a brilliant addition and was right on all night. The accordion in more pop music is a big "yes" in my book. 

My friend, Brent Kirby played next with his pedal steel extraordinaire Al Moss, and guitarist Andy. It had been a few minutes since I had last heard Brent, and he has grown a lot into his writing and singing.

Also that night were Meganne Stepka and Anna Vogelzang, who sounded a lot like Ingrid Michaelson and played the ukulele, banjo, guitar and little hand-bell-plucky-sort of thing. 

Thus ended the first day in Austin.    

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like the beginnings of a great trip!

    PS--You didn't fit into the Soul because you are not hamster-sized. But that's ok. The hamsters won't hold it against you.