SXSW Day 1 (03/12/10)
March in New England is doldrums month. Spring may tease, but oft-times winter teases more threatening to not want to leave. It’s a good month to head South or West or in this case, South by Southwest. Austin, Texas can be downright gorgeous in March. After the first day down here for SXSW Film, I equate it to an early September day in our parts – warm days & cool, near crisp nights. We head to Austin in March for the sensory overload that is SXSW. Heading to the film fest first gives one a few days to ease in. I eased in with some ex-RIers by bee-lining straight to Lockhart for the staple of Central Texas, BBQ. Kreuz’s just on size alone is a shrine to BBQ. The meat’s pretty fuckin’ good, too. Brisket, sausage, pork chop, pit-cooked ham, avocado & cheese, all served up on gorgeous butcher paper. Heaven on butcher paper. For once, we ordered just right and didn’t leave the joint bloated. Back to Austin.
I recommend the Homestead Inn by Town Lake for residency when at SXSW. That’s where I’m at. Kitchen, walking distance from downtown & Town Lake trails, and nice price. Book way early.
Settled in and hit a favorite place for happy hour, that being The Whip In. Beer/wine store, restaurant, live music, & bar. Heaven in South Austin. Great brews on tap – New Belgium Ranger IPA for me. One and gone to the movies.
As for films on this first night, caught a couple of screenings. First up was a gospel doc called Rejoice & Shout. While it stayed mostly with the name players, it was quite good and well done. Next up was the music videos collection which I opted for only because everything else was sold out. Okay and creative/arty, but nothing you need to see.Â
Long day. A few Shiners and lights out.Â Â
SXSW Day 2 (03/13/10)
Day 2 at SXSW was a day to make tracks. Another beauty of a day – cloudless and cool in the AM and then a hot sun for the afternoon with a cool-ish night to finish. I’m pissed cause we lose an hour tonight, but maybe there’s a message in there. I’m listening. Did the Town Lake run to get the juices flowing. Three showings was the goal today and it began with an 11 AM showing of the world premier of “Texas Thunder Soul,” a doc about the Houston-based Kashmere High School stage band led by “Prof” Conor Johnson. If you are any kind of music inclined person, how do you resist anything called Texas Thunder Soul. I couldn’t when I came across the disc at Waterloo Records here in Austin at SXSW two years ago. Big band funk like you never heard, circa-70s and all high school kids. I was pretty stoked when I saw a documentary about it was premiering at SXSW. Screening at the large and beautiful downtown Austin relic Paramount Theater, upon arriving it was hard not to miss the large contingent of guests waiting to get in. While the Afros are long gone, the nearly 200-person contingent was a mix of Kashmere alumni and Johnson family. It only added to the event. Just minutes into the film, you could tell something special was happening. By its end, there were tears, laughs, ovations, and mucho emotion for this film that chronicled the heyday of Kashmere (which, by the way, was national champs in 1972!). The music, available on Stones Throw Records, is a blast of big and brassy funk which has you scratching your head that it was high school kids. Hence the magic of “Prof”! Seek this film out at all costs!
Out of downtown and off to South Austin and the terrific Alamo Drafthouse Theater which is one of the great ones. You can order food and drinks in this multi-screen complex and comfortably enjoy. It’s one of many oasis’s in Austin. Shorts films of all styles are a big part of SXSW Film. “Narratives 2” was what we were here for and this was one of the best I’ve seen over the years. It began with a film based near & dear to the heart, “Coney Island Baby”. The setting, story, etc were excellent as was each of the films comprising this session.
Screening #3 of the day was the world premier of a profile of the legendary Levon Helm called “Ain’t In It For My Health”. What was meant to be a “hangin’ out with Levon” film evolved into something much more because of the Grammy action that happened during the filming. What on the surface is a character study that makes you laugh open and relive the love of the music of The Band, is a film that reveals the bitterness Helm has towards the Record Men and one bandmate in particular. I couldn’t tell you where the fault lies. Levon’s living life, but at multiple times in the film you sense a hurt that he never truly lets out. The guy feels he has been burned and watching this film, it’s hard not to relate. One can argue Helm made his own bed, but somehow you gotta wish somebody would sit Robbie Robertson down and have him watch this. Not sure when this will see the light of day, but if you are any sort of fan, go see it!
After three screenings, theater burnout had set in. Back to Whip In for some great beer and one of their tasty Basmati bowls, With the loss of an hour tonight and yesterday’s long day catching up, decided to slow roll things. Before settling in, made a couple of stops. First stop was Yard Dog Folk Art Gallery and the opening of a show of artwork by Tony Fitzpatrick. Recently discovered his stuff not realizing he had done several covers of albums by Steve Earle. What with a showing at Yard Dog, the thinking was maybe his work was in an affordable range. 12- 15K! It was a quick visit.
Have always considered Waterloo Records one of America’s great record stores and boy do I wish for a record store like this in my neck of the woods. And what better way to spend a Saturday night. Waterloo did not disappoint this evening. Little Ann LP, Mexican rock & roll, Bomp scrapbook. The pickings were plenty. Don’t forget to set those clocks ahead.
SXSW Day 3 (03/14/10)
Best move so far in all the the three days, hitting the sack at a reasonable hour, reasonably speaking given the Austin surroundings. It helped get up and get going this morning beginning with the daily run ritual. I’m easily distracted by posters and outdoor kiosks. Hence the 3 mile jaunt through the South Austin thoroughfares of S. 1st & S. Congress offered plenty of visual distractions of the poster variety. Piles of pulp on the poles is a sure sign that a big wave of music is coming (and some pretty cool poster art). In addition to SXSW film & music, they also play host to one of several Flatstock poster shows throughout the year. This year’s happens Friday & Saturday and if you dig poster art, here’s a warning that you will drop big bucks. Anyway, at this point of SXSW it’s al about the film & based on the crowds we dealt with today, it is at or near high gear. Began things with a film called “The Myth of the American Sleepover.” Â Loosely based on the director’s own teen years in Detroit, it was an interesting premise and the story was decent Just not sure to what demographic it may appeal. Somewhere in the late 80s or early 90s. Mostly cast by Michigan folks, it had appeal.
Up next was a documentary called “Dirty Pictures” profiling the legendary “psychedelic chemist” Dr. Alexander “Sasha” Shulgrin. Referred to as the godfather of psychedelics, it was a very well done doc profiling Shulgrin who along with his wife would conduct his own real life experiments for the ultimate test. The mix of academic types who hold him in high regard (Purdue Univ. pharmacologist who is an LSD expect), not to mention an ex-DEA who was one of his closest friends, were all part of the mix on this recommended picture. Hopefully it sees release.
Attempted to see a profile of Spalding Gray made by Steven Soderbergh called “And Everything Is Going to Be Fine”, but got shut out. One thing about the film fest, you can’t let getting closed out of a showing derail you. We regrouped and got our asses downtown to the Paramount for the 6:45 showing/World Premier of the Bernard Rose-directed film “Mr. Nice.” Â Starring Rhys Ifans and Chloe Sevigny, it is a film about legendary Welsh drug man Howard Marks. Based on Marks’ biography, Ifans is outstanding in the lead role and Sevigny equally good in her supporting role as Marks’ girlfriend and then wife. Both were in attendance for the screening. The sense hear is a movie with cult potential here in the States should it be released.
By time we got out of the theater, it was 9 and other than street, fast, or trailer food, this is not a friendly hour to find a sit-down joint. We headed to old standby Shoal Creek Saloon to partake in the Sunday special, chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes & green beans. A rib sticker if there ever was one. We’ll see how it rests in the tummy tonight. Film at 11, that being tomorrow morning.
SXSW Day 4 (03/15/10)
Austin hit its stride today for me, probably thanks to a very small injection of live music to close the day out. Movies, movies, movies, three screenings to be exact, set the pace until the evening. Another AM run, this time back on Town Lake. A quick stop to Jo’s Coffee for a muffin & juice and then to the Alamo on South Lamar for the 11 AM screening of “Texas Shorts”. Other than the last short in the package which looked like it must’ve cost a fortune and which left me lost, it was all pretty much top notch stuff. Check out the www.sxsw.com/film site for the shorts that screened.
Out of one screening and into the next which was “Narrative Shorts 1”. This one was 50-50 to me on the keepers-to-duds ratio. Again, check out the web site for the details. (And another Coney Island scene, the second in the fest.)
After yesterday’s easy success getting into the Paramount for a late afternoon screening, we tried it again and this time for the U.S. premier of the documentary of the late comic Bill Hicks. “American: Bill Hicks” is the name of it and it was flat-out excellent. An Austin favorite and with his family in attendance, it was a love-fest of a flick and extremely well-done, to boot. The kicker about Hicks is that some 17 years after his death, his messages are as relevant today as they were back then. A comic visionary of sorts who died way, way too early. Check out www.americanmovie.com and subscribe. This flick needs release here in act states.
Flicked out and feeling famished for the Po’ boys we did not get at the Shoal Creek Saloon last night, we made tracks for deep Southwest Austin and the Evangeline Cafe. From the food to the beer to the music to Cajun-akana all over the walls, Cajun is the M.O. in this joint. Boudin? Check! Oyster Po Boys? Check! Abitas? Check! Tunes? Check, and courtesy of Charles Thibodeaux & the Cajun Aces with Peter Schwarz on the fiddle. Highly recommended.
Next stop? The Whip In (again), but this time to catch a local band in hopes of the girl singer being present. A pint of porter and a seat in the music room to watch a group that nows calls itself the Folk Saints. The attraction was someone named Carley Wolf who I heard on WHUS a few weeks ago while driving to work in the very early hours of the morning. Her voice had an alluring quality along the lines of what I heard when first encountering Amy LaVere. She only sang a few on this night, but there’s something there. Turns out she was near our neck of the woods around time of the whopper December snowstorm. Anyway, she was kind enough to give me a CD so keep an ear out on the Barndance.
A few more screenings tomorrow and it’s time to put away the film pass.
Stats: Films = 11 & bands = 2