|Maria Elena Holly slums it with me.|
The South by Southwest Music Festival officially begins for me once I receive my first free drink at a bar, and this year it was on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. at The Cedar Door, where I stopped in on the Fast Company Grill party while on my way to the Austin Convention Center to pick up my photo pass.
I’m not sure why I was invited, but I was given a Target-branded pair of sunglasses when I walked in and then bellied up to the bar for a stiff margarita. Outside in the sunshine, actor and 30 Seconds to Mars frontman Jared Leto was being interviewed about advertising, the Internet, film and the media. He directed a film called Artifact about the making of his band’s This Is War album and his ensuing battle with EMI over it, and it’s being screened in Austin this week. He said he was at NASA last week to launch the “Up In The Air” single from the group’s forthcoming album into space to join the International Space Station. Leto didn’t seem like the dick that I’ve read in a number of places that he apparently can be.
I got caught up with my filmmaking friend Mitchell Kezin (look for his Jingle Bell Rocks! documentary on obscure Christmas music before the end of the year) over a couple of pints at Casino El Camino before we headed next door to Flamingo Cantina to see El Vez, the “Mexican Elvis,” perform a punk rock-themed show. Robert Lopez is a flamboyant entertainer and his thoroughly enjoyable set included multiple costume changes in just 40 minutes. His songs mix comedic moments with relevant socio-political commentary and always leave me with a silly grin on my face. El Vez is in Kezin’s film and, so far at least, so am I (as my Mexican wrestling Santa Claus “Santez” alter-ego). Those are two great reasons why you should see it, and here’s a third: Wayne Coyne.
I then had to rush off to a condo owned by my lawyer friend Stephen Easley for a poolside party he was throwing to announce two new prizes on behalf of The Buddy Holly Educational Foundation. I sat down and chatted with Buddy’s widow, Maria Elena, and you can read that interview on Spinner.ca once its posted.
The party included heartwarming performances by Colin Boyd, Paul Burch, the reunited Wagoneers, 2012 Grammy Award nominee Seth Glier and Willie Nile that were heavy on Holly covers. I interviewed Burch last year about his collaborative Great Chicago Fire album with The Waco Brothers, and he released a Buddy Holly tribute album titled Words of Love in 2011. I never thought I’d get a chance to see the Monte Warden-fronted Wagoneers, so watching these Texas Music Hall of Fame inductees cover Holly’s “Well Alright” and “Maybe Baby” as well as new originals from the band’s forthcoming first new album since 1989’s Good Fortune was a special treat. Match this great music with delicious food, cucumber and hot pepper-infused margaritas, Shiner Bock and a worthy cause, and you had a great way to start an evening.
Austin’s Rainey Street neighbourhood has really taken off since I was here last year, with lots of houses being converted into bars with backyard stages. I’d planned on seeing The Hounds Below at one of them (Javelina) at 10 p.m., but was told upon my arrival that the music for the night had been cancelled. Luckily, Jason Isbell was playing less than a block away at Blackheart, so I caught the second half of his acoustic set while sipping a hoppy, microbrewed IPA.
I stayed there for another IPA and Spirit Family Reunion, a young band with its own take on bluegrass and traditional country that it calls “homegrown American music to stomp, clap, shake and holler with.” The harmonies were tight and the fiddle and accordion added flavour to the sounds coming from the acoustic guitars and rhythm section. This was my first happy discovery of SXSW.
My second one happened immediately afterward at Latitude 30, where young New Zealand native Willy Moon jumped on stage with attitude, a ‘60s meets ‘80s vibe and a look that harkened back to a youthful Bryan Ferry. A female guitarist and dancer were part of the band that knocked out energetic renditions of songs from his upcoming Here’s Willy Moon debut album, including covers of The Blasters’ “Shakin’” and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You.” This eclectic artist is playing several shows this week and is worth investigating.
I had planned to go up to Red 7 Patio to close the night off with The Polyphonic Spree, but ran into people at Latitude 30 and started talking, so I just stayed there to close out the night before walking back to our condo.