Listen to Austin 360 Radio

SXSW 2014 No. 11: Heavy Hearts, Road to Austin, Butler Park and more

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com

SXSW 11.1: It was a day of heavy hearts. The crash Wednesday night that killed two and injured 23 on Red River Street left us feeling vulnerable, frustrated, disappointed, cautious. “I woke up and it was sunny,” said musician Joe Ely. “But it was like there was this big, ominous cloud over the city.” “We found out from a text from Florida and an email from Lubbock,” says Austin native Donna Snyder. “We had friends right there where it happened. They are OK. They were inside the Mohawk when it happened.” “My daughter is working at Dell and said: It’s definitely washed over everybody’s good feelings. She took it personally,” said Debbie Harrington of Austin at the Butler Park. “We’re all so sad. It’s like a layer of smut on everything.” “Everybody seems more cautious,” said Cecilia Gomez from Austin. “It’s scary. But people are handling it well.” “I think people who aren’t from here don’t know these are major streets,” said Jonathon Pennington of Austin about walking fest-goers stepping off curbs today. “We don’t cross until we get the light.” “There was an element of disappointment,” said Richard Petty, who works for Cirrus Logic. “There could have been anger, but it was more disappointment.” “My coworkers said they would understand if they canceled some SXSW events,” said Dorey Rasmussen, who works at Petco. “But we have such a culture of celebrating life in Austin. So we go on.”

SXSW 11.2: Road to Austin. I went for the music history. Reveled in the filmed concert. Stuck around for the party. Gary Fortin’s documentary “Road to Austin” attracted scads of music-scene longtimers to the Vimeo Theater at the Austin Convention Center for the SXSW premiere. They furrowed their brows during the perplexing preamble with John Paul DeJoria and Kris Kristofferson. They sat up in their seats as narrator Turk Pipkin ushered them through a short history of Austin live music, from Scholz’s Garten through Threadgill’s and the Armadillo World Headquarters. They nodded as Fortin drove home the legacy of inclusiveness famously symbolized by the Armadillo and crystallized in the efforts of late guitarist — and friend to almost everybody — Stephen Bruton. They began to sway during the heart of the film: eight songs out of 38 gloriously recorded at Bruton’s last major concert, dubbed Road To Austin, at Auditorium Shores before his death from cancer in 2009. (All 38 numbers will be available on an expanded DVD.) The audience then lined up for a concert party upstairs that would feature the same base band. (Everybody sounds heavenly in the excerpted songs that drew on blues, R&B, country, rock and opera.)

SXSW 11.3: Butler Park. The gorgeous weather mocked the palpable sadness in the air. This week, the SXSW Outdoor Stage slipped into lovely Butler Park after moving from work-in-progress Auditorium Shores. This is the people’s SXSW. Here find families with small children, stray teens too young for the nightclubs and folks who can’t splurge on official badges or wristbands. By dusk, these relaxed masses had filled about half of the park, sprawling and lounging despite the throbbing, old-school funk pouring from the stage. My job was to take the emotional temperature of the crowd (see above). A few people didn’t want to speak. Others responded thoughtfully, deliberately. I ran into a few veteran SXSW staffers who could not, of course, speak on the record. Yet it was clear that there had been a very real death in their very real family. (Thinking of you, the victims and their families today.)