As is customary for me when attending anything really, there are a lot of thoughts going through my head. This year’s South by SouthWest music festival in Austin, Texas, was no different. Anyone who has been following the site over the last few months has been well aware of the work we at Nextbop have been putting in to throw our own party of shows on the first Wednesday of the festival, which in turn had its own particular difficulties. This is on top of the usual hullabaloo that comes along with meandering through the massive festival with its myriad number of acts of various genres. When tackling this festival, both as an attendee and subsequently as a writer, it helps to have a different take on things. Thus, as opposed to the usual staid form of writing about each show I saw (which I was more than capable of doing and did to some degree here and there), I decided to approach my take on SXSW with a series of miniature essays encompassing different aspects of the festival and Austin in general.
Prologue – Tuesday, March 12
On Making a Thing
On Odd Future and the N-Word Exception
On Having a Wristband
On Infrastructure & Public Transit
On $5 Lone Stars
On Three Hours of Soul Music
There’s Only So Much Space in My Head
On Meeting Your Idols
On a Changing Tide
On the Propulsive Nature of Day 4 Exhaustion
Prologue – Tuesday, March 12
Austin is just so damn pleasant! Every time I’m here, I fall in love with the place. The rolling hills that remind me of my college days at Morehouse, the youthful energy that I don’t feel often enough in San Antonio, the vibrancy and randomness that I find so enthralling while locals here have been numbed to it all. It’s a force that continually draws and intoxicates me, especially during South by Southwest, the best part of the month of March with its perfect weather. The first three days I spent here, I walked from 6th Street about a mile and a half in the dead of night to my friends’ place on the East Side where I was staying for the week, reveling in the walks where anything could happen, awash in this vacation glow.
I set foot in Austin on Tuesday night and had only one goal in mind. I didn’t want to get sucked into the festival immediately with all my clothes in my bag, wandering through crowds as though I were some nomadic tortoise. I merely wanted to get from the Megabus lot to the convention center to pick up my wristband to Breeze House, my home base of operations for the week. Yet as straightforward a plan this might have been, I didn’t expect to pass by Nardwuar the Human Serviette during my trek, nor did I in a bit of a buzzy, inebriated haze, a fog that constantly clouded my brain to varying degrees throughout the week, to happen upon such a chill hang at Trailer Space Records which greeted me with free beer, the Sun Ra Arkestra playing, a hospitable group of folks all around, and Spot keeping shop and loaning me Roland Kirk’s Volunteer Slavery which I’ll definitely try to bring back (gives me an excuse to shlep up there sooner rather than later). I took this first night’s walk as a good omen for how the week would go. Things may not have happened as intended, but what adventure ever does?
On Making a Thing
Wednesday was the big day– the Nextbop/Jazz 91.7 FM Jazz for the Masses Day Party. Months of planning, coordination, arrangement, and hype led to this day. It was the first event I had ever put together. I had never thrown a party before, never booked a show, never made a thing in the grand sense of things. Not from scratch. I can grow a seed of a thing and give it an organizational structure. I can embellish. But never before had I coordinated the elements necessary to put a physical product into the universe, ask folks I knew and folks I didn’t to contribute their effort to be a part of it, and invite others to witness the process. I never fully fathomed what a task this was until crucial equipment showed up late, or when other instruments weren’t arranged to be there, or when we learned the beer sponsor wasn’t arranged for our party. These things were on my shoulders and if there’s one thing I can do extremely well, it’s stress myself out. I was harried on Wednesday, but other than my constant babbling about it (even now), ultimately, everything all worked out. Folks had a great time, people admired how diverse the bill for the day was. I may have been freaking out the whole time and it felt like every problem anyone had was solved by someone else, making me feel a bit insufficient, yet at the end of it, everyone seemed really happy to be there. Wednesday was a SouthBy adventure in that it was a bit of a mess that came together and it showed me that gaining the sense of flexibility and problem solving skills to be able to do something like this is a talent I want to have. You know the scene in Pulp Fiction when Mr. Wolf shows up and he’s just so badass and you wish you were that guy? It took years of work for Mr. Wolf to get to get to be Mr. Wolf. I’m sure he was solving problems at 26 and stumbling a bit, too. I was maybe more floundering than stumbling but it’s a process. At the end of it all, people had fun. I made a thing. Hopefully, the recordings will be good. I’ll have details about those soon.
-All the young kids showing up for BADBADNOTGOOD who sat through the awesome wacko free jazz of The Whale’s set the hour before and dug it.
-Adam Schatz’ insistence in incorporating the burger shop’s order announcements over the loudspeaker into his set
-Talking with Eugene, our sound guy from Krazy Kat Music, about how San Antonio doesn’t have more folks like Erik Telford play in town.
-Hearing how Chris, one of the dudes from Breeze House who was in New Orleans with his girlfriend this past week, passed by the Flat Top and exclaimed “That’s Anthony’s thing?!
-Everything about Hiatus Kaiyote’s set. Ours was their first performance outside of Australia, which felt like a weighty responsibility for such a great band.
-Running into a bunch of these guys later in the week when I could truly enjoy their company. Seriously, everyone who played this show was amazing, generous, understanding, and just plain cool to be around. I wish I had longer to hang out with them.
-Maine Root ginger beer, seriously, it’s amazing. Oh, and the Flat Top onion rings are the best I’ve had in quite some time.
You don’t hear it in the concert setting, not in some 800-seat theater. It doesn’t come up in some major club like the Village Vanguard or somewhere where folks are gathered around for some sacred moment of sharing the music. Nevertheless, we’re all familiar with it at some point– the murmur, that hum of the crowd not ceasing their chatter about God know what. I heard these guys back in such-and-such. Can the line for the bar be any more ridiculous? Nah, Carol gets into town tomorrow night. The thing about SXSW is it’s a music festival where everyone isn’t wholly devoted to listening to music. As jazz folks, we don’t run across this all the time, but we definitely know it’s out there. A real gauge of a performance, especially, is determined by how well the murmur is subdued. British folk-soul singer Michael Kiwanuka couldn’t stop it on the patio of Red Eyed Fly on Friday afternoon, but maybe he was just too earnest and pure for the cynicism SouthBy can dole. Psych surf rock quartet The Blank Tapes stopped the murmur dead in its tracks, totally transfixing the crowd at Cheer Up Charlie’s by the end of their Thursday afternoon set. Robert Glasper Experiment had it, but it faded when Erykah Badu showed up, then it returned after she left (but I’ll address this performance more later). It was all through Daedelus’ Friday night set at the tiny Silhouette club, a second floor walk up that wouldn’t surprise me if it were someone’s converted living room.
After a while, it didn’t take me long to judge every performance by the power of the murmur. When everyone here could be anywhere else, how well are you holding their attention? Is this a judgement more about the performer or the crowd (more often than not, it’s the crowd, but they’re still just an element of it all)? The murmur exists everywhere, even in jazz, but it’s in the musical safari of SXSW where it’s the white noise in the atmosphere, the sound of the urban wildlife. You hate it when you really care about the act, add to it unwittingly when you don’t (or feel your point is more important than whatever you’re watching, which I’m definitely guilty of, trust), and marvel when there’s just that one act that makes it all melt away. The murmur is a powerful thing.
On Odd Future and the N-Word Exception
After decompressing for a bit after the Nextbop party wrapped up, I eventually made my way to Empire Automotive for the Brainfeeder showcase. I have essentially spent most of Wednesday inside of garages converted into performance spaces, the difference here is this garage has much more money. I got there in time to catch PBDY’s first appearance as a Brainfeeder artist, The Gaslamp Killer’s set (which started off with some Tigran and spiralled into all kinds of different directions for a good hour, and Captain Murphy, Flying Lotus’ rap persona, with Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt as guest.
As I watched Earl own the stage with a kind of quickly-acquired aplomb one would expect from the relatively newly freed figure, I thought about the comfort and ease in which he said the “N-word” to an audience largely made up of white people. The same could be said of the rest of the Odd Future collective, though it’s noteworthy to mention how “nigger” (or really “nigga”) is left unbleeped on Odd Future’s sketch comedy show on [adult swim], Loiter Squad. Now, by no means am I completely against using the “N-word”. Much like a Paul Mooney joke, I say it several times a day to keep my teeth white. Nevertheless, I’m also well aware of the context in which it exists, the power and history the word holds, and much like any respecter of language, the times and contexts in which it’s best to use it. I generally avoid saying it around non-blacks (unless they’re folks I’m very comfortable around). There is a clear delineation between the -er ending and the -a ending. I use it more as a mellifluous, rhythmic sentence grace note than as some derogatory name.1 Having a cogent understanding of the power and context of words is important and I don’t doubt the members of Odd Future have this ability (or are progressively realizing it). What I am wondering is not only how they so flippantly say a word around white people that still spreads (context-less at that) like wildfire, but also how they can say such a word unbleeped on national television. While it may be difficult to refer to other shows that have had the same privilege as having gravitas, Loiter Squad, in having this ability puts the show in the same echelon as Chappelle’s Show and The Boondocks, other shows helmed by blacks that ribbed popular culture with a deftness that made their unchecked use of the “N-word” seem much more intentional. Nevertheless, the run of these series also seemed to keep “nigga” in white folks’ lexicons (cue flashback to college when “fuck yo’ couch, nigga!” in that all too familiar Chappellean-Jamesian cadence could be heard around every corner, my ears bristling at Emory parties). Yes, while interjecting “nigga” into a Lil Jon sketch may not exactly be considered high art in the same way smacking Taco’s face with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich isn’t, but maybe it’s just my 26 years on this earth so far that causes me to trust Chappelle and Aaron McGruder with the mantle of the “N-word” than I do with Tyler, Earl, et al. I didn’t walk out of the Brainfeeder showcase on Wednesday night feeling some travesty had occurred against black people, but I did walk out feeling white folks still felt just as comfortable saying a word I personally believe they lost their privileges to use around 1965-ish.
I also wasn’t alone in this thinking. In another part of town at the same time, Grantland‘s Rembert Browne had the same thoughts watching Action Bronson and Schoolboy Q and Kanye West the year before that. White folks, take note– black people are protective of this word, like many words. Saying they’re meaningless, or even not as strong as they used to be, is kinda lazy thinking (and for me as a writer, offensive, since words in all respects are kind of my business). We won’t be united because as a people we all will have privileges to use a word that started as a lazy tongued way of saying Negro which evolved to a term of degradation, then to a filler term for anyone. While I’m not saying everyone should have an Oxford English Dictionary etymological understanding of every word in our vocabularies, I am saying “nigger” is touchy and maybe most folks should stay away from using it unless they really know what they’re doing.
On Having a Wristband
Among the awe-inspiring things I find about this year’s SXSW is how quickly things have opened up for me. This is my third year attending the festival, jaunting to and throughout the city on buses, paying for everything from my tax refund. Yet, in just my third year here, I have put on an event and received a festival wristband in order to write more coverage of it. So much of this is humbling.
Nevertheless, it was my intention to keep my outsider spirit in line, to still only go to unofficial shows, to stay with the spirit of the common man. Here’s the thing about conveniences– they’re just so damn nice. An impatient person like me doesn’t have to deal with lines? I have scruples, but I’m also extremely impatient, so my need to take a stand quickly went by the wayside. One of the many lessons SXSW teaches you is the power of having more options. On one’s own power without any type of special access, an attendee has a dizzying number of options of things to see and music to hear. With an official wristband or badge, that number broadens significantly and wait time in lines, unless you’re trying to see something like Prince or The Smashing Pumpkins, is less of a factor. It brings about a different sort of thinking about how to tackle the week, and a different perspective about the plight of the wristband-less. I could empathize for those who didn’t have the same level of access that I had, but that didn’t in any way diminish the glee I felt being able to walk aaaaannnnyyyywhhheeeerrreeee I wanted. It felt good. It felt really good.
On Infrastructure & Public Transit
Much like many things involving the ongoing expansion of the city of Austin, Austinites have very mixed feelings about SXSW. Some downright hate it. My host for the festival spent much of last week asleep in his room. Every ride on the bus throughout town was filled with folks native to Austin muttering about detours and crowds and delays. While the festival itself is quite massive, it’s easy to forget (until you’re trying to find a parking space) that Austin is a pretty small city– just under 300 square miles large and just over 800,000 in population. It’s a major metropolitan area with real appeal that’s steadily getting more and more dense as time goes by. Complaining about crowds in Austin is as iconic as its weirdness. One can easily become guilt-ridden, enjoying the bounty of such a massive festival that encroaches upon every nook and cranny of the Texas state capital city while crowding out the locals who are clearly inconvenienced by it all. Even the exclamation points warning about bus detours when plotting bus routes on Google Maps seem like gut punches to the denizens of the 512.
On $5 Lone Stars
There is an art to traversing the City of Austin in search of sustenance, and by sustenance, I mean alcohol. Sure, if you stay tethered to the South by Free Noms blog, you can put together a pretty decent week and not spend a pretty penny, but the challenge remains. Even more replete than the prospect of free food is free beer. Yet for every free beer thrown at you at a day party you run into, for every free rum cocktail and straight-razor shave you encounter (thanks, The Couch Sessions!), there’s another five or ten bars that’ll gouge the hell out of you for a tallboy of Lone Star, the Pabst Blue Ribbon with Texas pride. Needless to say, the first time you run across a bar with that kind of temerity, it stops you in your tracks. You knew it had to happen eventually, the free drinks ride had to stop at some point. Balance had to be restored to the force sooner or later. Still, for a lager that’s essentially two shades darker than water, this is just plain galling. If you’re a New Yorker reading this and you feel I have no right to complain about a price you all pay every day at your bars that close at 4am, I say to hell with you. I live in Texas for the low cost of living, my chronic case of brokeness, the spectacular weather, and the cheap beer (among many other reasons, of course). Comparison doesn’t make anything easier; bad situations are still just as bad, but now you’re just aware or worse ones. I felt bad to not tip, though.
On Three Hours of Soul Music
Wednesday night brought the Daptone Records Super Soul Revue to ACL Live at the Moody Theater featuring the Menahan Street Band, vocalist Charles Bradley, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, acapella gospel trio The Coco Mamas, The Sugarmen 3, and The Budos Band. Many of these groups share the same members, which ultimately makes the four hour showcase meld together, which is a shame to speak even slightly disparaging about such an amazing and consistent display of talent. In hour one, it’s easy to marvel in the swinging band and the sheer force the Menahan Street Band has. It’s remarkable the sheer power, emotion, and showmanship the “Screaming Eagle of Soul” Charles Bradley has in each atom of his being, easily filling the very large James Brown-shaped hole left in the fabric of the universe. It’s easy to talk about how electrifying it is watching Sharon Jones dance and get funky on stage, going through a history of dance in her shimmery blue dress. It’s even nice to be able to sit in a cushy theater all night as opposed to the arduous task of standing on concrete like one does during the rest of the festival. However, staying stationary in such a way gets a little exhausting and sometimes performances can meld into each other when the players involved are largely similar and keep on trucking with their distinct sound. In any other context, it’d be great to say, “this band is fantastic and could keep it up for four hours and likely could keep going after that”, but in the cornucopia that is SXSW, lingering for four hours sort of isn’t the name of the game. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought this performance was great and I also thought I could have left it a little earlier.
Often, as a reviewer of music, the death knell opinion for me is when I describe a work as “pleasant”. Pleasant indicates a work, whether it be an album, performance, or whatever, isn’t necessarily bad, but I likely won’t feel inclined to listen to it again. Sometimes pleasant may not turn so quickly into indifference, but it’s rare. Late period Ahmad Jamal albums straddle this line for me, for example. Like the aforementioned murmur, determining if a performance is pleasant, nice enough for me to finish drinking my one of many beers or perhaps craft some elaborate narrative about how this music is the perfect soundtrack to a sunny Austin spring day, may just be what holds me in the room long enough to think about other things. It’s a passage of time and just barely noteworthy. Intriguing enough to temporarily entertain me but not boring enough to incite outrage at how my time could have been better used. A pleasant set is like daytime television– you’re probably not going to do anything better at the moment and you’re probably not that personally invested in Wayne Brady’s take on Let’s Make a Deal, either, but you certainly don’t mind that it’s on.
About midway through Friday afternoon, I dropped my phone, one of numerous drops in the time I’ve owned it, but it never did come back as it normally does. The buttons still glowed and it still made sounds, but the screen never came back on again. I was stranded in Austin in the middle of one of the most technologically-dependent festivals conceived, where updates about shows are emailed at a moment’s notice and friends swap coordinating texts and tweets in torrents, without a means to communicate on the fly. In relatively short order, I returned to my home base at Breeze House to let everyone know of my circumstances and I suddenly became more beholden to my trusty Post-it Notes than ever before.
I have described my phone before as my whole world. Really, I would say it’s everything encompassed in Google (which has made my transition to my replacement phone fairly simple), but in this era of the smartphone, it’s the idea that we all carry miniature computers that’s the most imperative. Once my phone broke, I had to think about the loss of an information base. My laptop back at Breeze House could do everything my phone could do and more. I called a Sprint Store through a Google Chrome app. I texted friends through Google Voice. I made cautionary tweets and Facebook statuses with my tentative agenda for the rest of the week. However, while I knew that I wasn’t completely closed off from the rest of the world, I had certainly lost accessibility, especially at a time when such accessibility was crucial. I couldn’t figure out new bus routes if I made a wrong turn. I didn’t have my whole schedule on hand. I couldn’t tweet fleeting thoughts about performances that I would later use as inspiration to write. I couldn’t spend time waiting in line checking Facebook or Twitter or parsing through stories steadily accumulating in my Google Reader (LONG LIVE GOOGLE READER!). Without a phone, it was easy to become listless, wondering what else could be done with this time. Boredom would return. I became more cautious about where I’d go because I knew if I were lost, I’d have less of an ability to find my way again. In a sense, this cut back on the adventurous spirit I take on during SXSW, but in another respect, it added to it. I was wandering the streets of Austin for the rest of that week with only the highlights of my schedule scratched onto scraps of paper without a map to guide me. My sojourn became more isolated but more independent. It was frightening, but liberating. I still wouldn’t want to go through that again, though.
However, the loss of my phone revealed to me its importance in my writing process. I was always aware of its importance, how my Samsung Edge 4G’s five row keyboard is crucial for me to write on the fly (and why I insist on a phone with keys for a litany of reasons that I won’t go into here, I’ve written more than enough already). How tweets and photos aren’t just broadcasts to the world that my fleeting thoughts at any given moment aren’t narcissistic expressions (or no more than usual) but fragments that when put together, put my head back in the moment to where I can paint a picture with words that I would share with the world later. A 140-character snark is just the beginning of the story I’m waiting to tell. These elements, the phone itself, Twitter, Instagram, my Post-it notes, are all tools that serve their own distinct purposes.
The same could be said for all the equipment that everyone had to gather for Wednesday’s show. When thinking about the music that I so enjoy, I never realized the intricacy of all the elements necessary to make that music. Having to come up with just the right keyboard with just the right sound (thanks again, Erik Telford, for letting us borrow your keyboard; you’re a lifesaver and I’m sure BADBADNOTGOOD and Hiatus Kaiyote agree with me there) or when the snare drum we have on hand just isn’t what we’re looking for or even something like a drum stool not being tall enough is essentially that in order to do the job that needs be done, one must have the right tools. These elements are just as important as me being particular about using a Pilot G-2 gel pen with a superfine tip or my insistence on owning a smartphone with keys that’ll connect to my Google Drive. Yes, the job can be done without these things, just as Wednesday’s performances still managed to move forward, not only in the improvisational sense of making the music in the moment but also in having the tools necessary to make said music when not everyone had exactly what they needed.
The last week proved that after momentarily freaking out because we had a Nord keyboard instead of a Korg keyboard, or because we had to track down a sustain pedal, or because we just didn’t have the right snare drum, or because my trusty Samsung just couldn’t keep trucking any further, you find the next best thing and you keep moving forward. Nevertheless, understanding that these are the necessary things to complete a task and to make a thing in the optimum conditions, that the music I so love has many different components to it that I hadn’t fully considered until now, was likely the most eye-opening lesson I could have learned. Crafts have tools. That’s the long and the short of it, and experiencing this week revealed this fact to me all the more.
There’s Only So Much Space in My Head
I’ve spoken before about my fascination with punk rock. It’s a driving, propulsive music with a culture I find endearing filled with some pretty nice people who choose to express the discord and chaos within in whimsical bursts. It’s a music often illegitimately and jokingly referred to as dead. It’s as wide, varied, and transformative as my own native jazz. From time to time, I’ll dabble in listening to it as though I were finally watching The Wire (Note: I still have never watched The Wire), because it’s culturally important and I should have it under my belt. This of course makes me feel out of place at punk shows, even those nestled into the musical pu pu platter of SouthBy, but for a music primarily about alienation, theoretically, that should make me fit in all the more. Nevertheless, my dalliances with punk are all too brief, determining the music to be pleasant (ironically enough) and scurrying back to my jazz hearth until my punk inclinations tickle my fancy once again.
As I’ve gotten older and have grown more aware of the depth of music around me, from attending SXSW, browsing through various music blogs, sitting through the Grammys, and the occasional walk through Wal-Mart, I’ve realized I may be over specializing myself. I work at keeping other kinds of music in my periphery, but I know my blind spot is rather massive. Many of the shows I attend during SXSW are determined by the thought that I have heard or read a band’s name somewhere so I should take the opportunity to hear them now. This marks the leap from “I think I’ve gotten emails about Allen Stone” to “oh, he sings soul, he’s pretty good. This guy is white?” as I learned on Friday afternoon at his Empire Automotive set. This was the provocation for me to check out DIIV at Mohawk on Thursday afternoon, who put together a nice enough set which I find comparable to Real Estate, though their particular peccadillos about SXSW and performing are a tiny bit off putting. This was what drew me to young beatmaker XXYYXX who is still very much at the beginning of his career and lacks polish, but shows potential. I can rest assured that there’s still a great deal of discovery to be made at this festival every year and while I still feel a certain degree of shame about this pernicious blind spot of mine, I know that it’ll never take away from the joy I feel about learning about new music.
On Meeting Your Idols
I’ve wanted to work at Paste for years. Ever since my good friend, Alexander Brown, hipped me to the magazine back in college when he started interning for them did I fall entirely for the publication. I loved the quality of work assembled, the wide range of topics discussed (Paste, while at its heart is a music magazine, has a broad scope encompassing all parts of pop culture), its earnestness. As the years have gone on and as both Paste evolved as a publication and as I have evolved as a writer, editor, and manager, my admiration for Paste has never wavered. I knew it was only a matter of time before my path would cross Paste‘s editor-in-chief Josh Jackson (not to be confused with Josh Jackson of The Checkout at WBGO Newark). In three years of attending SXSW, I finally spent some time at Paste‘s day parties at The Stages at Sixth where I was able to catch bluegrass band Spirit Family Reunion2 and drink a couple free Red Hook IPAs. However, while I definitely glimpsed Jackson that Friday, I was just too nervous to speak with him, so I worked up the nerve to come back the next day to introduce myself. Jackson is as kind as I’ve read about him. He was clearly enjoying the parties he put together and sharing the festivities with those who attended. While I’m not fully certain he remembers me from my numerous job applications, he still had a convivial aura to him that made our brief chat quite nice. Also, he was taller than I expected. I said the same thing about finally meeting BADBADNOTGOOD, who I would imagine they may have thought I was shorter than they expected (though hopefully just as quick witted [quip-wise, not necessarily problem solving-wise). Seriously, those dudes are tall, like inordinately so. The shortest of them, still tall. Running into Robert Glasper again this year brought the same thought as well. Mad tall! This isn’t always the case in my situation, but this year may have just been the “you’re taller than I expected” year.
On a Changing Tide
As I walked through this week, prepared entirely to write about how this festival wasn’t necessarily within the format of this site (while writing about it anyway), as I thought back on everything I saw, I wondered were things changing for SXSW. Yes, the Nextbop/Jazz 91.7 FM party was likely the first jazz unofficial day party the festival had ever seen, but it’s not as though this was the only infusion jazz had in Austin during the festival. There were of course the official showcases that happened at The Elephant Room on Congress St. Montreal vocalist Nikki Yanofsky had a performance presented by Quincy Jones at Esther’s Follies on the Dirty Sixth, although I missed it for the aforementioned Daptone Records Soul Revue. The Robert Glasper Experiment graced SouthBy with their presence once again and even lingered around for a couple days this time. Even while wandering from bar to bar, I happened upon a straight-ahead guitar-bass-drums trio, Austin’s own 3 Jazz Collective, nestled away in the tiny (murmur-heavy) Matador Margarita Bar on E. 6th next to Shangri-La. My finding all this wasn’t just happenstance of having a wristband, was it? Was I steadily getting better at finding jazz music in a perceived non-jazz festival? Or has there been a change going on? In the festival where everyone is looking for the “next big thing”, is the music that we love and cherish filled with complexity and exuberance and pliability becoming broad enough for a general public to enjoy?
There’s still work to be done. The level of murmur during Glasper’s Saturday night set may have shown we have not yet reached the mountaintop. Sure the crowds came, but that garage got much more uncomfortable for Erykah Badu’s part of the set (let alone my standing next to the Worst. Couple. Ever. who bumped, shoved, and took up entirely more room than necessary in that already practically intolerable crowd of philistines3) and breathing room returned once more when she left for the Experiment to close things out. There was still most definitely a dude behind me complaining about Casey Benjamin being his amazing Casey Benjamin self on the saxophone. More straight-ahead jazz acts were still largely relegated to tiny performance spaces not much larger than walk-in closets. Nevertheless, we’re making progress, and I feel much more comfortable writing about all this than I initially thought I would. This is most certainly a good thing that’ll keep getting better.
On the Propulsive Nature of Day 4 Exhaustion
It happens every year by the time Saturday rolls around. Day after day of meandering throughout Austin, seeing shows and spending the bulk of one’s time on concrete slabs, that you just don’t have the strength to keep going. Even I, a motor-mouthed ball of energy much of the time who, if you’ll recall from the very beginning of this trip was walking a mile and a half back to home base each night for the first three days here just because the weather was nice, just can’t muster the strength to keep standing by Saturday evening. Some people find a way to circumvent this. When I finally ran into J.D. Swerzenski for a bit to catch the Robert Glasper Experiment with Erykah Badu guesting, the stark contrast between my tired, slightly faded visage and his over-caffeinated countenance as he only made a pit stop from here to The Smashing Pumpkins and later to Prince later was quite clear. There I was hobbled, tired, and crippled without my phone ready to go home, but there was still so much more to see. The festival itself drawed me further, day 4 exhaustion be damned. I chose to end my festival experience with Glasper, but I very well could have headed home earlier after catching Hiatus Kaiyote again when they played Maggie Mae’s rooftop or after brass band Red Baraat brought down the house at The Stages at Sixth for the National Geographic showcase (which never disappoints, trust). After every show, there are always two thoughts running simultaneously– “I want to go home” and “there’s still more to see”. It’s a fight within oneself but it’s a good fight worth having and, even though one rarely looks forward to exhaustion, it’s the sign of a festival well attended. I look forward to being tired like this again next year.
Finally, I would like to thank all those who have been monumentally helpful to me for this year’s festival. It’s been a crazy fun adventure as always and more and more complicated with each passing year, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
To Nick, Scott, and Chris of Breeze House– Thanks again for your hospitality. I still hope the Breeze will live on, but if this was my last SXSW there, it’s still been a great one. I’d definitely move in there if I had a job in Austin, trust.
To Adam Schatz– I’m still working on growing the kind of positivity you have. Thanks again for playing the show. Also, I count that awful food truck on East 6th as us having chicken and waffles but we definitely need to try again at a better place for a longer time at some point in the future.
To BADBADNOTGOOD– Thanks for everything. Your shirt is now possibly the coolest one I own. Also, I didn’t weird you guys out, did I? I’ve sort of been stuck in my head since then, but I’m well aware that I’m kinda weird.
To Erik Telford– I reiterate time and again that you’re a lifesaver and I really really really wish I had the time to give you a longer set. Also, Eugene, our sound guy, thought you were fantastic. We’ve got to figure out a way to get you to play in San Antonio.
To Ingebrigt Håker Flaten– You’re a rock star, dude. Seriously.
To Josh Jackson of Paste— It was cool to finally meet you. The next time a position opens up there, I hope you can remember a face to go with the application.
To Hiatus Kaiyote– you guys were possibly the coolest band to hang with all week. Best of luck for the rest of your tour.
To Spot at Trailer Space Records– I’ll definitely get that Roland Kirk album back to you.
To Nardwuar, the Human Serviette– I considered you my good luck charm.
To Jake Flores– It seems like every time I see you, you’re wearing the NN2S “BAND” shirt. I love that shirt! That was at the Altercation BBQ wherein I didn’t get any food and thus left after I got a free beer. Clearly, not much else was keeping me there but.. um… thanks for following me on Twitter?
To Michael Thomas– I seriously couldn’t have gotten through Wednesday without you. Putting on shows each year is a definite labor and I get what you mean now, but I still hope you keep at it. Maybe limit it to just two days, though. Give yourself the rest of the week to actually enjoy.
To Orlando & Maribel at the Flat Top– You were more than hospitable and definitely kept my head on straight on Wednesday. Thanks again!
To T-kay– Thanks for coming by! I love dublab so knowing you came through is a really happy, music geeky thought for me.
To Scott Collins– how you manage to pull off coming through and anything you do, really, surprises me. I always say all my favorite people are crazy and you definitely qualify as both crazy and one of my favorite people.
To J.D.– I kinda wish we had more moments to hang out this time around and bounce ideas off each other. I blame it on the phone. Also, how weird was it that you were the hype one on Saturday and I was the one dragging? Anyway, I’ll see you on Friday. I’m still waiting on the Metheny FYC.
To Meghan Stabile & Maurice Bernstein– Thanks so much for coming through! I’m honored you got to see the show.
To P.G. Moreno– You provide a great service to Austin and South Texas. Seeing you at that Thing show last year was the beginning of a great thing and I hope to keep running into you at awesome shows.
To Matt Stieb– Did you ever catch BBNG? You left to do an interview and I never saw you again. I’m starting to wonder if you were maybe working too much or something, perish the thought.
To Dean Christesen– It was so cool to finally meet you. We definitely have to run into each other again.
To El Chilito Tacos on Manor Rd.– Breakfast tacos are life sustaining.
To everyone who attended the Nextbop party– thanks to all of you who came out, said hi and had an awkward conversation with me while I ran in ten different directions, and continually supporting what it is we do.
1. As Nicholas Payton once called me on Twitter years ago when he called both me and Marcus Strickland “house niggers”, the only time anyone, white, black, or otherwise, has called me a nigger and for which I will be hard pressed to forgive him in addition to his other foolhardy ideas in respect to genre. How Strickland forgave Payton for that offense and ended up on the side of that muddled, incomprehensible classification, I may never know. ↩
2. Just like with punk or even hip hop, I don’t listen to enough bluegrass. Sure, I take in some Punch Brothers every now and then, but this is another of my many unmerited blind spots.
Spirit Family Reunion is most certainly purists at bluegrass. The quintet which included a banjo, washboard, and fiddle (don’t say violin, the way these folks were jamming, that’s a fiddle), had the roots down. Their hoedown filled the room and brought the party. I’m also fairly certain there wasn’t a clean, pitstain-less t-shirt in the whole bunch on that stage. ↩
3. And let me add that this couple, the Worst. Couple. Ever., was even worse than a couple who I’m fairly certain were having sex in front of me at the Brainfeeder showcase on Wednesday night. Those two may have been exhibitionists or get extremely turned by The Gaslamp Killer, but my God, the dude next to me when Erykah Badu showed up may have been made up entirely of elbows made solely to jab at me and to nudge his girlfriend through the impenetrable wall of people in front of her as though she were some brittle, ineffective battering ram. Seriously, awful folks. ↩
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.