What happened at SXSW 2021 on Day 5? Priya Parker, Austin music and more
That's a wrap. South by Southwest's first virtual conference and festivals end Saturday. You still have time tonight to watch a few things on demand, but here's what happened earlier. And ICYMI, here are our recaps from the first four days: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4.
1. Keynote: Priya Parker
"The Art of Gathering” author and conflict resolution mediator Priya Parker said that even though the pandemic prevented many of us from being together in the past year, that didn’t stop gatherings from happening anyway.
Consider the 7 p.m. clapping that happened throughout New York City during the early weeks of the pandemic. Although the idea of having people clap for first responders originally came from a public relations firm, it went viral in a way that was more meaningful than the originators could have imagined.
“Every evening, there was this collective mechanism to name, face, process and acknowledge this chaotic and scary moment,” Parker said during a SXSW Online interview with husband Anand Giridharadas that aired Saturday. “It was a way for people to end their work day when there’s no commute home. It was a way to come out and see the neighbors. I was very moved by it.”
Parker said that our year apart has made us appreciate gatherings more than ever. “The ways in which we have been coming together … are going to be massively, massively interrupted,” she said.
When communities started creating COVID-19 safety protocols around gatherings, more people than ever were thinking about what it means to come together and how that force can be used for good or ill. One of the positive new ways that people are gathering online is through TikTok, whose viral memes create a sense of community on the platform. The “Sea Shanty” meme, for example, was a collective moment of saying, "We’re passaging together,” Parker said, with promises of better days. “We were singing and marking time together,” through that old sailor song.
We had put gatherings on auto-pilot in some ways before the pandemic, Parker said, but she predicted that people will return to pre-coronavirus-style gatherings in a big way. “It will be messy. People will be deeply enjoying the physical benefits of gathering and all of its manifestations of it,” she said. In those moments, the deep joy of reconnection might let us feel safe enough to let the grief of the year come out. “The decade of gathering is upon us,” she said.
2. 'Under the Volcano'
Saturday’s world premiere of the Australian film “Under the Volcano” offered a fascinating look at the decade-long run of Air Studios Montserrat, which famed Beatles producer George Martin built on an island in the West Indies in the late 1970s. The remote island’s natural beauty and friendly locals serve as an almost surreal contrast to the constant parade of music legends who recorded there: Jimmy Buffett, Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder, Elton John, the Police, Dire Straits and dozens of others. (Sting’s classic cameo on Dire Straits’ smash single “Money for Nothing” happened because Sting just happened to be hanging out on the island when Mark Knopfler’s band arrived to make their mid-’80s multiplatinum masterpiece “Brothers in Arms.”)
The studio’s fall was as spectacular as its rise: Shortly after the Rolling Stones recorded their 1989 album “Steel Wheels" there, Hurricane Hugo destroyed it. A major volcanic eruption in 1995 nearly destroyed the island town of Plymouth and left the Air Montserrat property a ghostly, inaccessible artifact. Martin, shown touring the remains of the place near the end of the film, was philosophical: “It’s like everything in life, isn’t it? Everything has a period.”
— Peter Blackstock, American-Statesman staff
3. The state of live music venues
While Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has declared our state open for business, many local music venue owners have warned that it will be several months before the live music industry is able to restart in earnest. At a SXSW panel Saturday, venue operators from Los Angeles, New York City and Minneapolis echoed that sentiment. “We’re kind of hanging on for the fall,” Dayna Frank, head of a group of venues that includes the legendary First Ave in Minneapolis, said.
As vaccine rollout ramps up across the country, all three venue operators said North American touring acts are booking dates from Labor Day onward. International acts are looking at 2022.
Austin360 Livestream List:Catch virtual concerts by local musicians without leaving home
Through the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), venue operators across the country successfully lobbied Congress for a $15 billion relief package that passed late last year. Frank, who is president of NIVA, said her group is waiting for the Small Business Administration to finalize rules so they can open up grant applications and the venues, which have had little to no income for over a year now, can get some much-needed relief.
She said her group has been “nagging them every day.”
— Deborah Sengupta Stith, American-Statesman staff
4. Local music shines
Two separate showcases on Saturday offered music fans a chance to hear music once again from the Continental Club, which shut its doors a year ago as the pandemic took hold and still hasn’t reopened. The iconic South Congress venue hosted a couple of livestreamed events last summer and fall, but it was featured prominently during the final day of SXSW Online, which was fitting given that for more than a decade, Alejandro Escovedo’s star-studded Sunday shows there amounted to an unofficial closing-party for the event.
An 11 a.m. stream presented by Nine Mile Records and Touring featured short and sweet sets from local acts the Greyhounds, the Deer and Kevin Galloway. But the show-stealer at the front of the bill was Austin native Carson McHone, performing from Toronto — where she’s been holed up during the pandemic — with a lively indie-rock outfit and a set of new songs from an upcoming Nine Mile album that indicate she’s due for an intriguing breakout from her past country-oriented work.
A couple hours later, the Continental was front-and-center again for a half-hour set in which the father-son team of Jon Dee Graham and William Harries Graham used the same rhythm section for short sets that revived the spirit of their longtime Wednesday residency gigs at the club. (One more local-focused showcase, presented by Heard Presents and We Gon’ Make It, was set for later Saturday with Golden Dawn Arkestra, Nané, Sir Woman and Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears.)
5. Big sounds from Tiny Desks
Bob Boilen, creator of National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Concert series, took time at the top of the Tiny Desk Meets SXSW virtual showcase to speak warmly of the “festival that has brought me so many discoveries.”
With that same spirit of discovery in mind, NPR presented an hour-long production featuring 15-minute sets from emerging artists. L.A.-based folk-pop artist Steady Holiday kicked things off by sneaking a charming reveal into a fireside living room acoustic set when Dre Babinski opened her blinds to show her backing band on the front porch. In between melodic jaunts, she acknowledged it has been a strange year for artists as they search for new ways to connect.
“It’s nice to figure these things out together,” she said.
West Coast rapper and R&B artist Duckwrth reached back to his church roots in a soulful performance with a five-piece backing combo that included two back-up singers. Dominican fusion group Yasser Tejeda & Palotre invited us into a lively living room jam.
But the standout session came from Clipping, a new industrial rap project from Daveed Diggs. Taking the idea of Tiny Desk literally, the “Hamilton” actor rocked an inch-long microphone while his producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes huddled over dollhouse recreations of their mixers.
Creating memorable characters seems second-nature to Diggs and he excels at detailed story rap. With uncomfortably tight camera angles, harsh electronics and impeccable diction, Diggs and crew put in an intense set that ran heavy on expressive wordplay and looming paranoia.