One Night in Austin: Training for South by Southwest on a busy February night
South by Southwest is just around the corner, and for many Austinites that means a series of serpentine dashes between venues to cram in as much music as possible from the smorgasbord that overtakes the city’s streets in mid-March. Spotting an unusually busy Saturday evening in February, we decided to get in shape for the big event with a mini-SXSW-type adventure.
The goal here wasn’t necessarily to try to see everything, nor was it a stay-out-all-night proposition: We caught about a half-dozen events between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., thus returning home by a quite reasonable hour. We got a little video at each stop (see above). Most of the action was downtown, with one outlier on the way home. Here’s how it went:
7 p.m.: Shinyribs “Austin City Limits” viewing party at the Mohawk. Kevin Russell’s big band o’ musical gumbo taped the renowned TV program in October, and to celebrate its PBS debut on Saturday night, they threw a shindig that started with a live screening of the episode as it aired on local station KLRU. Screens were set up both outside, where fans cheered on Russell’s stage antics in the cold, and inside, where a fireplace added extra warmth and ambience. Most revelers hung around for the band’s live performance that followed the viewing. But we were in SXSW training! So it was off to the next stop…
8 p.m.: Jerry David DeCicca at Beerland. We had to squeeze past a line that was wrapped around the block of Wild Child fans hoping to get in to the local indie-folk group’s free record-release show at Empire, but our destination was this Red River dive that’s usually a haven for punk rock bands. For this early evening show, the vibe was very different: DeCicca, who lives in the Hill Country town of Bulverde, was celebrating the release of “Time the Teacher,” a wondrously minimalist record. He delivered the songs with quiet beauty, backed by Eve Searls on piano and Don Cento on guitar. It was a good reminder that during SXSW, it’s often worth skipping the big lines and seeking out the hidden gems instead.
8:30 p.m.: Delbert McClinton with Red Young & His Hot Horns at the Paramount Theatre. We’re fudging the reality of time a little bit here, because in fact we actually headed over to the Paramount before DeCicca’s show, hoping to catch a little of McClinton first. Turns out there was an opener, and a fine one at that: Keyboardist Young and his five-piece horn section play regularly on Thursdays at Antone’s, but they sounded great in the historic theater.
After dashing back to Beerland for some of DeCicca’s show, we returned to the Paramount just in time to find not only McClinton, but guitar great Jimmie Vaughan onstage. Delbert invited his longtime friend up for a couple of deep blues tunes, and it was clear from their embrace at the end that both were treasuring the moment. Like me, Vaughan had another gig to go to, though his destination was different than mine: On my way out the door, I heard Delbert tell the crowd, “Later on after this show, we’re all going to C-Boy’s!” It appears I wasn’t the only one in SXSW training.
9 p.m.: Phoebe Bridgers at Antone’s. The kind folks at the home of the blues allowed me to duck in for a brief glimpse of this decidedly non-bluesy sold-out show. Bridgers, from Los Angeles, is a fast-rising young singer-songwriter whose music, she suggested, could be called “folkcore. That might be my genre; I’m not sure yet.” Whatever it was, the few songs I heard were mesmerizing, and made me wish I could stay. I pressed on to fit in my full agenda, but it was another good lesson for SXSW: Sometimes the best thing to do is let the FOMO slide and just soak in the moment of something great, when you find it.
9:40 p.m.: Little Mazarn at ABGB. This one meant getting back in the car, and the drive-time between venues resulted in catching a lot less of Stephanie Macias’s band, who were playing the songs of 1990s mood-masters Mazzy Star on this night. Musically it was a great segue from Bridgers, whose songs cast a similar melodic spell. The down side: We arrived only in time for the last song. The up side: That song was “Fade Into You,” easily the best thing Mazzy Star ever did. The room was a bit noisy for a moment of such hushed reverie, but Macias and her band still struck the mood perfectly, leaving me to hope there would be another chance to hear them do the full set sometime.
A footnote: It seems “Fade Into You” is in the midst of a revival of sorts. Local singer-songwriter Jonathan Terrell recently recorded a stunning version of the tune with guitarist Tony Foster of the English band Spiritualized. It’s pretty special, and it’s on Spotify now:
One Night, By the Numbers: As with most SXSW nights out, this one was more about walking than driving. All told, I covered about 2 miles on the ground before hopping in the car for the 2.6-mile drive from downtown to ABGB. Admission charges: Mohawk $17-$20, Beerland free, Paramount $28-$63, ABGB free. (Not sure how much tickets were to the sold-out Phoebe Bridgers show.)