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Austin Night delivers quality music amid glitches

Peter Blackstock

Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 12, 2014

Tuesday’s top-flight, two-stage showcase of local acts at The Main and Main II, the former site of Emo’s at Sixth and Red River, didn’t exactly go off without a hitch, but the bands who took part played strong sets of engaging sounds that represented the diversity of what Austin has to offer.

A bumpy ride during the planning stages found the City of Austin’s ATX Music Office first sponsoring the “Austin Night” event at the Parish, then parting ways with SXSW when it moved to The Main, and finally getting back on board a week before the show. Some of those bumps continued on Tuesday. While the two stages featured a $5 total ticket for those without badges and wristbands – a very good deal for locals without credentials – by 9 p.m. a sign outside the Main II entrance stated that the venue was admitting badges and wristbands only.

Inside, the Main II room was reasonably crowded but not entirely packed for Girl Pilot, Sahara Smith’s latest project, and Ramesh, an extended pop outfit featuring former Voxtrot frontman Ramesh Srivastava featuring cello and violin. Next door at the much larger Main space, husband-wife duo Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison played classic country originals and covers to a decent but not packed audience, and soulful vocalist Nakia’s subsequent set drew a slightly smaller crowd.

It seemed as if there was plenty of room in the Main for more cash-paying locals, though the two-stages-for-one setup was tricky. In the Main II space at 10:30 p.m., fevered rockers Bright Light Social Hour drew a crowd that overflowed into the adjoining courtyard. In retrospect, swapping the venues for Bright Light and Nakia probably would have served the bill better.

In fairness, SXSW staff also had to protect against the possibility of a late-night influx of badge and wristband holders when top-draw Grupo Fantasma took the stage to close the bill. Also potentially a big draw in the Main room was Carolyn Wonderland, who dazzled a crowd at Rattle Inn earlier in the afternoon during a party for her label, Bismeaux Records. Stooges guitarist James Williamson sat in with Wonderland at both shows, playing a couple of songs they recently recorded together for a Record Store Day single and for inclusion on a Williamson album that will feature a variety of lead vocalists.