mvyradio @ SXSW 2008
Why Austin? Well, a) it's fairly cosmopolitan; b) a great party town; c) the music scene is rich and eclectic; d) Central Austin boasts more original music nightclubs in a concentrated area than any other city in the world.
SXSW has grown from 700 artists in 1987 to over 8,000 artists. And the musicians who play there have grown with the festival. Just in our last four years of coming to the event, Lou Reed, Neil Young, Pete Townshend, R.E.M., and more than 4,000 other singer-songwriters and groups have come to play. No matter whether you're into Folk, Blues, Jazz, Americana, Alternative or Rock, there's something you can sink your ears into (hmm, that sounds like a radio station I know).
mvyradio sets up in a hotel room, strewn with microphone cords, and for four days, we set out to record all that we find engaging. Many times, it's artists you already know about (Amos Lee, James McMurtry, for example). Sometimes, it's artists that are just starting to appear on the music business' radar and, before you know it, become a household name.
We eat and sleep music for four days. We live on energy bars, diet soda, coffee, and, on occasion, some guacamole from our favorite little Mexican restaurant a couple of blocks away. By the time they roll up the streets on Sunday, we're pooped but very happy.
There is always way more music than you could possibly consume, but that's the fun. You set your schedule and try to keep up, knowing that you will miss the majority of shows, but you'll be hip to a lot more new stuff on the way out of Austin than on the way in. We carve out our corner of the musical action, in hopes of giving you a taste of what's out there and what's on the musical horizon.
Sunday, March 16th 5PM
The quiet after the storm. We went out for breakfast and then took a walk on 6th street and it was pretty deserted. People were
either sleeping or gone, mostly gone I think. Our suite is deserted, too. No sign of the 19 artists that played here, except for our memories and the huge amount of audio that can be found right here on this page. We packed up our gear and the room has taken back it's original hotel suite-ness.
The music that we recorded and heard was just a fraction of the music offered in Austin over the last 4 days. All of those bands and the others like us that have all scattered like the wind. Lou Reed gave the keynote address Thursday and during it he described a conversation that he had with former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel. Lou said Havel expressed his view that music can't change the world in and of itself, but it can change an individual person and maybe make them feel not alone in their belief. I would guess that most of the folks that organize and come to SXSW feel the same way.
Lou Reed had more to share about: songs ("I've never understood how they get written. If I did I'd have Son of Wild Side and have an island in the Caribbean or something"), lyrics ("Because a song is rather short, the visual imagery is really quick, something you could see really quickly"), digital music ("With MP3s you have a very bad sound. The trade off is you have a lot of them available to you and they sound bad.")
I'm thinking back over other moments of the past few days. How R.E.M. was so pumped the other night about their new album. A rock n' roll success story in which the creativity of the band is alive and the three guys in the band seem to have great lives and a deep friendship with each other. The mass of people checking out Devotchka and Billy Bragg at Cedar St. Courtyard, the mass of people just about everywhere, the hipster scene at The Driskill, seeing Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and Billy Bob Thorton sitting together on the patio of Fridays, Garrisson Starr and her funny story about her Tom Petty t-shirt and Jesus.
There were an estimated 1700 acts this year, 500 of them from foreign countries. Approximately 12,500 registrants, 12,000 wristbands, and $90 million dollars in economic impact to the city of Austin. Not a bad day's (4) work. Thanks to Joe, Gary, Bruce, PJ, Laurel, Nick, Todd, Alison, Jane, Scott and all of the artists. Thanks to Scion and friends of mvyradio. Thanks to you for your interest. Until next year...
Saturday, March 15th 10:30 PM
Ruby's Barbecue... So we went and the barbecue was good, not great according to Gary and Bruce. I agree. However, the beer and atmosphere were good and funky , and after dinner we went next door to listen to the band that we had been hearing while we ate. The female bass player sounded like Patty Smith and the male lead singer was barefoot and dressed in a pink dress suit. An ancillary South By gig. They were great!
It took us a while to get a cab, but we got one and headed back down Guadalope toward The Radisson. There was AP news on the radio and they were running a story about this guy who had published a book called "Me and My Liquor". He had just been busted for selling bootleg liquor. It was like Saturday Live on the radio. Then "Love's Theme" by Love Unlimited Orchestra came on and we asked the cabbie to turn up the radio. He wasn't quite sure about the people in the back seat, but eventually he turned it up. We were grooving and happily floating on a 70's retro cloud. Then, oh my, the strings, the familiar melody. Who is this? Johnny Mathias? Ray Charles? Singing together? Doing "Over The Rainbow"? We all started singing along and by the time we got to The Radisson, the song was almost over and I stayed in the cab to hear it end.
Saturday, March 15th 7PM
Night is coming on in Austin and Gary and Bruce are waiting for me so we can go to Ruby's to get some barbecue. We're told this is the place to go. They're starving so I'll be off now and come back to this later. I'll let you know about the barbecue..
Saturday, March 15th 2 PM
I hear that it's another beautiful day in Austin... I was out for a little bit this morning, but haven't been able to tear myself away from the work at hand, the marvelous job of hanging with musicians, hearing their songs and stories. Shawn Mullins [website] came by at 11 and was his usual friendly, easygoing self. He played some songs from his new album "honeydew" and did a killer version of "House Of The Rising Sun". Then we were thrilled to meet Philadelphia's Mutlu [website]. Sweet soul music came in with him and we all enjoyed his set. He, too offered up a cover tune --Bill Wither's "Ain't No Sunshine". We just visited with Jason Spooner and his trio and I was amazed all over again by Jason's talent as a singer, songwriter and guitar player. He excels at it all and is very engaged and engaging as a person. It's been a great morning/early afternoon!
Friday, March 14th 12 noon
Cliff Eberhardt just stopped by and we got things off to an early start with some coffee, conversation and song. The High Above and The Down Below is Cliff's new album and he played 3 songs from it. "This is the record that I always wanted to make," he says in the liner notes. He talked about his songwriting/performing career that has lasted close to thirty years, his old and present pals John Gorka, Patty Larkin and Dar Williams, and a had a great story about Steven Spielberg asking Irving Berlin for a song.
It's supposed to be about 90 today. I think I'll take a walk outside and check out the heat before Nada Surf comes by.
Thursday, oh wait, it's Friday March 14th 2AM
What the heck am I doing? Sitting here writing when I should be sleeping. Oh yeah, it's South By --everybody's in the same boat. So much music, too little time. I have to get up in a few hours --at 7A at the latest --to get prepared for the day's work for Friday.
What a day and night we had on Thursday! Our sessions in the suite were great and as always we captured some amazing moments with The BoDeans [website], Steve Poltz [website], Meg Hutchinson, Ed Harcourt [website], and Malcom Holcombe [website]that we in turn can share with you. And then we headed out across town to record the Anti- Records showcase with Weakerhans, Devotcha, and Billy Bragg, and the Red House Records showcase with Cliff Eberhardt, Meg Hutchinson [website], Ray Bonneville [website], Robin and Linda Willliams [website], Jimmy Lafave [website]and The Pines [website]. Good stuff!
The R.E.M. [website] live broadcast was incredible! We carried the inside look at the new album Accelerate on the air and web and it was great to be there to enjoy the show as we sent it out to the world. The one hour broadcast was at the University Of Texas on the Austin City Limits soundstage. There were the trees and the cityscape that you can see on TV. And there are Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Peter Buck all being interviewed by Jody Denbergh from KGSR. I've known Jody for years and have always respected his talent. He asked great questions and put the band and their new album in a context that it clearly deserves --one of the great albums of our time and seemingly one that the band is proud of.
We're off and running, in the middle of a full slate of in-suite sessions! The first South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival was held in 1987. Austin was not a major market at the time, but the background and character of the city made it a perfect location for the conference. Austin was considered a fairly cosmopolitan town for its size because of the University of Texas, which draws people from all over the world. It’s home to the state government and Texas Legislature and it has also always been a popular party town, with a reputation that goes back to the 19th century when many nightspots and bars were populated by General Custer's troops after the Civil War. These clubs are located in the same areas where the 6th Street and 4th Street club and bar scenes now exist.
There’s a wide variety of music in Austin, including country, folk, jazz, blues and rock. Central Austin boasts more original music nightclubs in a concentrated area than any other city in the world. Since Austin is smack dab in the middle of Texas, being isolated has been a challenge for the city’s musicians. SXSW was a way to reach out to the rest of the world, and bring them here to do business. To do that successfully, SXSW needed to appeal to people other than local artists whether they were from Austin, Ft. Worth, Chicago, Toronto, Munich or Tokyo.
Wednesday, March 12th 5 PM
I meant to clear out my small knapsack that serves as a catchall before I left the Vineyard. No matter how small my bag is, it’s always spilling over. But, I didn’t get rid of extraneous stuff and as luck would have it, there was something in bag as I passed through security in Boston that didn’t pass muster as it went through the scanner.
So the very nice security guy went through my bag, emptying out more and more stuff before he sent it through the scanner 3 times. Headphones, wallet, Airborne, 3 packs of gum, cell, all ended up in one of those gray trays. “Kind of a mess,” I said. He just smiled. He finally found what he was looking for way at the bottom of the sack –my Honda key with a long silver U2 How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb key chain. Wild, huh? A harmless key chain with a bomb reference. Consider me dismantled. Security was working this morning in Boston.
Bruce Biette, mvyradio Sales Manager and I are headed to Austin and once fortified with some coffee, we headed to the gate. There was a guy who looked just like James Taylor standing there. Wow, James Taylor is headed to Austin for SXSW! Well, maybe. I was pretty sure it was him so I worked up my courage, went over to say hi. “Hi…James?” He smiled and I still wasn’t sure, but he said “Ah, no. This happens all the time.” He looked so much like him! “What’s your name?” I said. “Glen.” Hi Glen. He was on his way to Orlando.
We’re staying at The Radisson again and there it is, the beautiful Town Lake! We have just arrived, checked in and are about to go over to the convention center and get our badges and wristbands.