by Jenny Stark
If you’re anything but an Austinite, Austin was the place you wanted to be last week. Last Monday, Austinites everywhere geared up their street cruisers, spit shined their “fancy” spurs, and brewed their hat brims for the arrival of the world renowned South by Southwest Festival. The wait staff inhabiting dirty 6th stockpiled Adderall like heavy machinery. Those in the know filled their fridges with the three-Ts of the South by Southwest musicpocalypse: Titos, Topo, and Tatsuya, like they were preparing for SXSW-2-K. Local bar regulars said their last goodbyes to their favorite homes away from home, and some artists came back to theirs for the big show. Other simply strapped on their hipster best and braved the lines of foreigners for the epic display of excess that is the South by Southwest Festival.
South-By, as the fort foregoers call it, is the hottest fest held deep in the heart of Texas. In the past decade or so, SXSW has morphed from an intimate preview of the best in local film and music, to an all access pass of excessive exclusivity. From a Titos fountain to a mustache waxing station, taco cannons to net-twerking, friendly chocolate covered bacon stands to Fleshlight conventions, SX has grown to have it all. This year, “X” marked the spot to find a mecca of music, techy toys, and sneak peeks for banded-up populous. For the rest of us non-banders, there was still a plethora of RSVP-able, all access, options for food, fun, the famous, and freebies. Though more tamed than the normal flow of Absolut-induced insanity, SXSW showcased a sole burning soulection of sensational music, provided a copious amount of commercial swag, and uncovered a frenzy of fans fiending for todos los freebies. However, it also brings a sickening surplus of hybrid hipsters, city witches, pompadoors, poor tippers and self-entitlement.
Thankfully, The 33rd Austin Music Awards at The Austin Convention Center on Wednesday March 18th rolled out their luxurious, velvety red carpet to give us locals looking for a sanctuary from the sea of overly crowded shows, overpriced drinks, and overly hyped performances exactly what we needed–good (local) music. The quirky event, a love-child produced by The Austin Chronicle and SXSW, contained an impressive line up of local talent, including a mashup of Austin’s “divas,” an Austin High reunion and appearances of such heavy hitters as Gary Clark Jr and Billy Joe Shaver. The event’s Emcees were vampy vixen Laurie Gallardo, and one wizardly dude, Rick McNulty, of KUTX radio. They eloquently introduced to us the Best Of listed in The Austin Chronicle’s Music Industry Award polling winners for 2015 (in which ya’ girl was mentioned). The show consisted of a round-robin of odd ball award giving, tributes, and sensational live acts. The slightly over four hour event made us laugh, cry, and fall in love with Austin live music like it was the bad boy in high school.
The “Viva la Diva” mashup was something to die for. Complete with bodacious vocals and vivacious babes, the set included a bit of country, a bit of soul, a bit of rock and roll, even some ukes and symbols. The sassy sets showcased acts from heavy hitters in the local community like Gina Chavez (who would go on to take the cake), Nina Diaz, and Tameca Jones, as well as some acts to watch out for like Jazz Mills, Sunny Sweeney, Carson McHone and Dana Falconberry. All in all, the circle-jerk of sensational female performers lit up the stage and melted our hearts, providing the showcase with fluid, yet entertaining, tip-tickling transitions.
The Austin High alumni, a talented barrage of once band-geeks, theatre-nerds, and the musically talented, but socially awkward made us all wish we were maroons. The artists that once rolled in the school bus together, now were rolling back to us in the tour bus together, and brought their seniority of talent back to the place that birthed them. Showcasing performances of perfection from the whimsical Gary Clark Jr and my man crush numero uno, Shakey Graves (who I sat three feet from, next to his father), as well as sets by Phranchyze, Eve Monsees. Suzanna Choffel, Elias Haslanger and Warren Wood of the House Band, the Reunion to Austin High made me want to go back to high school all over again.
The show capped off the night with a ceremony celebrating the life of one of, if not the best, pianist of our time, Ian McLagan. First, he was honored by a short presentation over all the people he had touched, performed with, and changed with his pizzaz on the keys. Secondly, Ian’s son gave a speech thanking Austin for giving his father a home that he loved, where he could thrive, and made us all cry, just a little. Lastly, he was commemorated through performances from the extremely talented house band: Charlie Sexton, Michael Ramos, Conrad Choucroun, and George Reiff, as well as performances by Alejandro Escovedo, Patty Griffin, and The Bump Band.
In addition to showing us the best in country, alternative, jazz, rock, and soul from live, locals lighting up the stage, the show sincerely recognized several important members to the Austin music community such as Margaret Moser, venues such as The Continental Club’s Church on Mondays, and gave away many deserved, but not mentioned, awards to artists like hip-hoppers Riders Against the Storm and diva, Gina Chavez.
Even with showcasing a night studded with stars some of us only dreamt we would see someday, all proceeds from the event were allocated to support the SIMS foundation. The SIMS foundation is an organization that provides Austin artists and their families services for mental health issues, in order to help Austin artists stay weird, but healthy, and to keep on rocking our tops off.
Until next year, Shakey….Until next year.
Jenny Stark lives and breathes hip hop, but at heart she is a ten-gallon-girl.