Wednesday, March 18, 2015

2015 South by Southwest Music Festival day two report

Ronald McDonald drove past me in a golf cart as I was walking up Red River Street early on Tuesday afternoon.

These are the types of things that happen at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. But luckily, seeing a hamburger-promoting clown was far from the highlight of my day.

One of them followed shortly thereafter, however, when I saw Catl at Cheer Up Charlie's. I've seen this group perform as much as anyone in Toronto over the last handful of years, but I wanted to pay my respects in Austin. I preferred it when there was a drummer and Sarah Kirkpatrick played keyboards instead of wailing away at a stand-up drum as she does now, but Catl remains a dynamic duo that plays raw, bluesy and elemental rock-and-roll. A Hasil Adkins cover was thrown in among the originals, which well-suited the band's unhinged approach to music.

A band called Calliope Musicals was playing outside, so I had a look and was caught off guard by seeing small kids dressed as tigers and unicorns dancing with balloons. It was cute but I wasn't into it and made my way to the convention centre to walk around the trade show for the remainder of the afternoon.

It was pretty tech-driven and there wasn't a lot that interested me, but I was invited to the Canadian Blast stand where the Ontario Media Development Corporation was having a small reception. I caught up with some Canadians I hadn't seen for a long time and chatted with people from Germany and England while having free beer, wine and sandwiches. I also got free beers from the New Zealand, Austin and Denton, Texas stands.

The Barberettes
The Next Stage in a corner of the trade show featured a South Korean female trio called The Barberettes that was making their first American appearance after playing two shows in Toronto just prior to arriving in Austin. They wore traditional Korean clothing at first but soon removed that to reveal something a little sexier. One of the women played acoustic guitar and sang, while the two others briefly picked up a ukulele and kazoo but primarily stuck to vocals. They delivered songs in Korean and English and had excellent harmonies as they sang originals (one about the popular Korean side dish kimchi was a standout) and great covers of "Barbara Ann" (with "Barberettes" subbed in during the chorus) and "Be My Baby" while doing some choreographed dance steps.

After the performance I was interviewed by a reporter from Dong-A Ilbo, whose business card said it was South Korea's leading newspaper, about The Barberettes. I'd appreciate it if all of you dedicated Dong-A Ilbo readers would save me a copy of any article you might see my name in.

I paid a visit to the washroom on the way out and Blondie drummer Clem Burke urinated beside me. He's playing with BP Fallon for SXSW and I hope to see him on Sunday.

The Breakout West party featuring bands from Western Canada was held at The Majestic and I arrived in time to see Mise en Scene, a Manitoba act with a female lead singer/guitarist and drummer and a male bassist that played a rootsy and sometimes slightly bluesy version of alternative rock that hit a lot of the right spots.

Free mini bratwursts and nachos were served and I was given four free drink tickets which I converted into a Shiner Bock and a triple rum and Coke, which seemed like a good idea at the time.

Yukon Blonde
Yukon Blonde took the stage at 6:30 p.m. and I noticed more emphasis on keyboards than I had the last time I saw the Vancouver group a few years ago. It's still a guitar-driven indie rock band, however, and a good one at that. The follow-up album to 2012's Tiger Talk will be out this summer, and that previous record's "Radio" was my favourite song of the set.

I walked across town to Stephen Easley's condominium, where he was hosting his traditional SXSW kick-off party poolside. The prominent attorney works in the technology and music fields and represents the estate of Buddy Holly as well as current artists, some of whom played this year's party. He's an excellent host and also manages the Mixed Media Mongrels, the softball team I play for in the annual SXSW tournament.

Edison Chair is a young pop-rock quintet from Austin that I can see growing into something more than it is now, which is still pretty good. You wouldn't know that lead singer Rachel Thompson only recently joined the band.

Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith is a fellow Mongrel and a salt of the earth guy who also happens to be a kick-ass roots-country singer/songwriter. He has a big following locally and hopefully that fan base will widen. He deserves it. Smith dedicated "'59 Stratocaster" to Buddy Holly, and that song may have been the standout number of his short set.

The Statesboro Revue is another young and very rootsy band that adds touches of country and blues to its rock. Their original material was solid, but their cover of Holly's "Think It Over" left me with the biggest smile.

Monte Warden
That smile was rivaled by the one that took over my face when Monte Warden said he knew who I was since no-one else in Canada writes about him. I'm a fan of his band The Wagoneers and his solo work, and he's had his songs recorded by the likes of Kelly Willis, Patty Loveless, George Jones, Travis Tritt, Carrie Underwood, Merle Haggard and George Strait. Warden performed a cross-section of his material, including some written as an ambassador for Songwriting for Soldiers, a charity dedicated to helping returning veterans adjust to life at home. Warden is an alternative country music pioneer who can do little wrong in my eyes. It would be great if he could get up to Toronto since Austin is the only place I've ever seen him.

I left the party to meet my friend Tom from Seattle, who I hadn't seen in a year-and-a-half, and we walked east to Hotel Vegas where I had hoped to see Protex, The Oh Sees, Paul Collins Beat and The Sloths, but there was a pretty long line and since it was an unofficial SXSW event, our badges wouldn't have got us in any quicker so instead we planted ourselves at a bar across the street where we could see and hear some of what was happening while enjoying some better quality beers than we could have got had we actually made it in to the multi-staged venue.

I didn't see as many acts as I normally would on Tuesday, but I was okay with that since hanging out with friends is another reason why I come to Austin.

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