An annual tradition since 2013, South by Southwest’s Grulke Prize honors the event’s late creative director, Brent Grulke, and is awarded to three acts each year. The 2018 winners are Starcrawler, Jade Bird and Todd Rundgren, SXSW announced Monday afternoon.
Starcrawler, from Los Angeles, won the Developing U.S. Act award. The band played the music festival’s opening party on Tuesday at the Main, then followed with two more official showcases and numerous daytime events (including a packed Friday afternoon show at Waterloo Records). Fronted by Arrow de Wilde, daughter of noted music photographer Autumn de Wilde, the group released its debut album in January on Rough Trade Records.
Jade Bird, from London, won the Developing Non-U.S. Act award. Bird also played three official showcases; we caught the second one on Wednesday night at the British Music Embassy, which had a line down the block to see her. (A short clip from her set is in the video above.) She impressed again the next day in Willie Nelson’s tiny chapel at the Luck Reunion. Across the whole week, she played a dozen shows, which must be close to a SXSW record. She’s 20, her debut EP came out last summer, and she’s going somewhere fast.
Todd Rundgren needs no introduction, but now he has a Grulke Prize for Career Act. A 1 a.m. slot on Thursday night seemed rather late for a guy who’ll turn 70 this summer, but Rundgren was up to the challenge. “he worked his way through a nearly hour-long set packed with the genre-jumping gymnastics to be expected from a creative chameleon who so firmly refuses to be boxed in,” Austin360 contributor Eric Pulsifer wrote in his review of the show. Rundgren, whose latest album, “White Knight,” came out last year on Cleopatra Records, also took part in a SXSW panel discussion about the creative process on Thursday afternoon.
Who selects the winners? “Jurors for the Grulke Prize include music critics, industry professionals, and SXSW staff, many of whom knew and worked with Brent over the years,” according to the press statement announcing the winners. (Full disclosure: I am one of the voters.)
Once the roaring apex of a music-marathon long weekend, the final Saturday at South by Southwest has changed dramatically from the early years. Now it’s the fading denouement for a near-fortnight of tech, film, politics, media, style, gaming, social issues… and, oh yeah, there’s music in there somewhere.
No matter. If out-of-town SXSW attendees are increasingly arriving and leaving early, Saturday still leaves a lot of options for the locals. A final free show at Auditorium Shores was built like a home-team showcase, with Roky Erickson, Shinyribs, A Giant Dog, Night Drive and Bidi Bidi Banda. But we opted for a half-dozen of the countless smaller gigs around town, some directly related to SXSW and others that weren’t. Watch the video above to follow along on our day-to-night tour, but here’s a little more about each stop.
2 p.m.: John Doe Folk Trio at Lucy’s Fried Chicken. Wait, the guy from X? Yes, the Los Angeles punk pioneer now calls Austin home, and he’s even started a new band to mark the occasion. It’s a damn good one, too, with Willie Nelson’s bassist Kevin Smith playing an acoustic upright, and veteran indie-rock drummer Cully Symington on a bare-bones kit. Lucy’s was packed to hear Doe’s still-soaring voice adapt songs from the X catalog to pared-down arrangements, with newer tunes and surprises as well (such as a Spanish-language tune he learned from the late Harry Dean Stanton). Welcome, Mr. Doe, the Live Music Capital is lucky to have you.
5:30 p.m.: Ed Miller & Rich Brotherton at Opal Divine’s South. Speaking of people (and places) we’re lucky to have, this duo has been helping local institution Opal Divine’s celebrate St. Patrick’s Day for nearly three decades now. Opal’s recently closed its Penn Field location, but they’ve opened a new South Austin spot in the bar of the Best Western Plus at I-35 and Oltorf. Following the grand-parade entrance of the Silver Thistle Pipe & Drum Corps, Miller — host of Sun Radio’s terrific “Across the Pond” show focusing on music from the British Isles — teamed up with Robert Earl Keen guitarist Brotherton for a lovely set of traditional folk tunes that went down just right with a pint of Guinness.
8 p.m.: Jaimee Harris at Driskill Victorian Room. Back on the official SXSW grid for evening showcases, we began with one of Austin’s most promising young singer-songwriters, who’s finally on the cusp of releasing a debut album that may well turn heads far beyond the region. Backed by five talented players who’ve locked in tightly to her songs thanks to valuable woodshedding at One-2-One Bar, Harris came across like a tour de force — sometimes full-throttle, other times pin-drop hushed, always engaging and leading with her innate sense of a strong melody. Honoring a recently departed young Austin musician with a sign on her guitar and speaking out in support of local organizations HAAM and the SIMS Foundation, Harris eloquently addressed the serious stuff by with a cover of Peter Case’s late-’80s classic “Put Down the Gun.”
9 p.m.: Little Mazarn at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room. Trawling the two blocks down Sixth Street for this one was an arduous ordeal of dodging barricades and masses of partiers, but the reward was an upstairs hideaway where Lindsey Verrill and Jeff Johnston were playing some of the most fascinating music I heard all week. Thumping bass vibrations drifted up from the cacophony below, a surreal juxtaposition to the duo’s otherworldly blend of banjo, bowed saw, droning keyboards and Verrill’s vocals. The space was perfect, a small open room lined with the most comfortable chairs at any SXSW venue. Little Mazarn’s set was a perfect bookend to Monday’s Max Richter “Sleep” show at Bass Concert Hall: How grand it would have been just to line the whole room with Beautyrests and let these two play for eight hours straight as we drifted in and out of consciousness/reverie.
10 p.m.: Monte Warden & the Dangerous Few at Elephant Room. We almost didn’t want to leave that Gibson Room escapist fantasy, but a few blocks away, country mainstay Warden and his new pop-jazz ensemble were making their Elephant Room debut. Fixtures at the Continental Gallery for a couple of years now, they’ve honed their chops with a fine set of songs that Warden boasted makes them “the world’s only all-original-material cocktail music band!” The crowd gave them a boisterous stamp of approval at the end of their 40-minute set. Now it’s just a matter of how and when these songs will appear in recorded form.
11 p.m.: Knife in the Water at Lamberts. The recent resurgence of this atmospheric indie band, which last year released its first new record in 14 years, has been a nice surprise. A five-piece ensemble that supplements a guitar-bass-drums core with female backing vocals and steel guitar, Knife in the Water gradually pulls you in. Their set started unassumingly, amid chatter in the upstairs room above the venue’s barbecue restaurant. But the more they played, the more entrancing their songs became. It’s good to have them back in action.
A Postscript: Our Saturday finale didn’t fit the local theme (except that he has a memoir due out on University of Texas Press next month) but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the gorgeous acoustic chamber-folk performance North Carolina’s Chris Stamey presented at the Driskill Victorian Room at midnight. Known largely as a producer and arranger — he was the music director for Alejandro Escovedo’s annual ACL Live show this past January — Stamey has written many splendid songs across a 40-year career that intertwined with the heyday of New York’s legendary CBGB club in the 1970s. (Stamey took part in a Friday SXSW panel about the CBGB scene alongside the Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, Television’s Richard Lloyd and others.)
Neatly sidestepping technical problems with his acoustic guitar, Stamey and his locally recruited cello/violin accompaniment wove magical spells with songs such as “Something Came Over Me,” “Lovesick Blues” and “27 Years in a Single Day.” Like Little Mazarn’s set earlier, it was a sweet moment of enchantment, right there in the heart of the cacophony.
Cut Copy can’t catch a break in Austin it seems. In October, the Australian dance act was playing a late afternoon set at ACL Fest when their sound was cut off mid-way through their set-closing biggest hit, “Lights and Music,” as part of a festival-wide Tom Petty tribute. At Lustre Pearl Saturday night, at their only honest-to-goodness SXSW show (two members played a DJ set earlier in the evening), the four-piece wrestled with persistent sound issues.
Frontman Dan Whitford was visibly upset, wincing at the piercing shrieks of feedback and knocking down his keyboard during crowd-pleaser “Hearts on Fire.” Having a seemingly amateur sound issue like egregious feedback tarnish the polish of their slick, carefully crafted electronic sound was no doubt frustrating for the guys of Cut Copy, but they played on and made the best of it, with Whitford rebounding from the apparently unfixable annoyance by focusing on pushing the crowd harder to sing and get moving.
“It’s the last night. If you’re not going to dance now, when?” Whitford asked.
Adding to the mix of sound pains was music pouring over from a neighboring Rainey Street bar. But, as with the feedback, the crowd seemed eager to forgive and focus on dancing. “SXSW is a bit of a battle of the bands sometimes. But as long as you’re on our side,” Whitford said with a smile.
Through it all, Cut Copy kept the packed crowd at Lustre Pearl moving, with hands waving in the air and voices raised shouting along the words from a short run through hits from albums In Ghost Colours, Zonoscope, and their latest, Haiku From Zero.
Maybe next time the band can undo their current streak. Fortunately, fans won’t have to wait long: Cut Copy gets a redo in Austin next Friday, March 30, at Stubb’s. Let’s hope they can find and replace the sound guy before then. (I’ll see myself out…)
Call it hubris, call it wishful thinking, call it desperation, but make sure you call Saturday night’s SXSW Slugfest what it really was: empty.
Bringing the first-ever professional boxing event to the weeklong festival seemed like a novel concept on paper, but Underwood Promotions bit off way more than they could chew by renting out ACL Live, one of the biggest venues available during SXSW, on a Saturday night. This is the kind of room best reserved for rap superstars like Rae Sremmurd, Wu-Tang Clan or J. Cole. The biggest artist on Saturday’s lineup was OG Maco — yeah, the “U Guessed It” guy — who wound up missing the event because of travel delays and being replaced by Houston MC Doughbeezy. And even though “I’m from Texas” might be one of the most brazenly catchy local pride anthems to come out of the Lone Star State in the past decade, it wasn’t enough to get 2,500 people through the doors when T.I. was playing just a few blocks away.
That’s a shame, too, because the people who did show up got to enjoy a fairly exciting night of boxing, including a visceral bout between Kazakhstan’s Iskander Kharsan and La Feria, Texas, slugger Richard Munoz. (Kharsan won by TKO in the third round.) The audience cheered dutifully during each fight, especially when Austinites like Prisco Marquez and Carlos Trevino entered the ring, but there was something jarring about watching the action from the eerily quiet, mostly barren balcony. It probably doesn’t bode well that Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” earned one of the most spirited reactions of the night when it played over the PA system between fights.
Slugfest made a valiant attempt to subvert expectations on the final night of SXSW, and it’s hard to fault them for taking a swing and missing (sorry). That being said, if boxing is going to have a future at this festival, it needs to happen in a way smaller venue or bring some A-list artists along for the ride next time. Slugfest felt like a wasted opportunity.
Contrary to whatever cliché you may have heard, 13 was not a particularly lucky number for Hinds during their Barracuda set on Friday afternoon. First, there was the incessant feedback that’s plagued the Spanish garage pop quartet for years at SXSW. Then, of course, there was the inevitable physical deterioration that comes with playing 13 shows in a week. So, just to be safe, singer/guitarist Carlotta Cosials issued a warning at the beginning of their set.
“Before It gets awkward, just to let you know, we have some issues with the voices,” she said. Fellow singer/guitarist Ana García Perrote chimed in, “Use your imagination with sweet angels’ voices, because that is what we have.”
To which the audience collectively responded with: Girl, please. Hinds could’ve made whale noises and told knock-knock jokes onstage and the audience would’ve eaten it up. These ladies are one of the brightest buzz bands at this year’s festival, and their delightfully rough-around-the-edges set felt like a hard-earned victory lap. What’s a little hoarseness when the band members were shouting triumphantly between songs and hopping around the stage like prizefighters?
It’s easy to see why Hinds dominated SXSW this year. Cosials and Perrote flex their pop smarts with dual lead vocals that recall veteran girl groups of the late ‘90s, while their crunchy guitar leads satisfy the DIY kids who cuff their jeans two inches above their Vans SK8-Hi’s and smoke American Spirits by the pack. Cosials, Perrote and bassist Ade Martín cut rock goddess power stances and aimed their guitars into the crowd, emboldened by the throng of women jumping against the stage and singing their infectious choruses back at them.
In the end, rapturous applause overruled the sound tech’s call to end the set, and Hinds eked our one more song. All they could do was smile in exhausted, ecstatic disbelief as they garnered the loudest reaction I’ve personally witnessed all week. The members of Hinds have earned themselves a solid week of rest — and a bigger venue next time they come to town.
I’ve seen Paul McCartney in concert five times, and never have I sweat, ached and cursed as much as I did trying to see a Beatles cover band this afternoon.
I shouldn’t be surprised. As arguably the biggest public show every year at SXSW, Rachael Ray’s Feedback party hits capacity early in the day, and the line quickly snakes around Stubb’s and down toward I-35. This lowly freelancer spent a long time in the throng, hoping to catch a glimpse of this year’s headliner, Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club Band, the Beatles tribute supergroup featuring Muse’s Matt Bellamy, Chris Cester of Jet, Miles Kane of the Last Shadow Puppets and Nine Inch Nails guitarist Ilan Rubin, among others.
Thankfully, a wave of attendees left Stubb’s minutes before the Jaded Hearts Club Band took the stage. (Apparently, the Venn diagram of people who like Kurt Vile and Beatles tribute bands is nearly two separate circles.) A new wave of fans shuffled through the gates and darted for the few precious shady nooks inside Stubb’s as the leather-clad rockers took the stage.
And after all that, Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club band sounded… fine.
Don’t get me wrong, the septet (three guitars, two lead singers, a drummer and a bassist) certainly had the chops to approximate the indelible vocal harmonies on early Fab Four nuggets like “I Feel Fine” and “Help,” as well as the scorching guitar solos on raucous latter-day cuts like “Taxman” and “Hey Bulldog.” But the band rarely seemed to have any, you know, fun,as they tore through the timeless catalog. Their best attempt at stage banter came between “Money” and “Taxman,” when Cester told the audience, “If you want a lot of money, you gotta get ready for the (expletive) taxman.”
I’d like to believe Cester was sipping a lot more than Dr. Pepper backstage, because he missed several vocal cues and flubbed lyrics, frequently glancing down and to his right at what could have been a prompter or lyrics sheet. Between the leather jacket, black shades and affected cockney accent, Cester’s performance occasionally sounded like “Glee Goes British Invasion” (which, to my knowledge, does not yet exist, and I pray it stays that way).
Yet there were other times, like on the rip-roaring closer “Helter Skelter,” when Cester’s raspy howl perfectly complemented the thunderous cymbal crashes and triple-guitar assault (even if he still came in late on the second verse). Bellamy, who sticks to bass in this group, unleashed his ungodly high scream during the verse harmonies, and the audience roared and pumped their fists in approval. Suddenly, Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club Band sounded like the best party band in the world, good enough for me to scold myself for being so picky. Sorry guys, I know I can be a tough critic sometimes. But y’all were still fab every now and then.
I’ve heard plenty of veteran SXSW-ers who bemoan the lack of rock at the festival. With hip-hop, R&B, and electronic music making up more and more of the lineup, many long for a simple drum-guitar-bass setup played loud and played fast. For these, Naked Giants are the cure for what ails. The bombastic Seattle rock trio are an absolute delight, with an energetic live show that is loud, fast, and, dare I say, the most fun to be had at a live rock show at SXSW 2018.
Despite the name, Naked Giants are clothed and of only slightly above-average human dimensions, but their presence on stage is huge, with goofy on-stage antics, high-flying moves, and serious face-melting solos. This is gnarly garage rock delivered with guitar straps worn high and tight and a seemingly endless array of effects pedals. Think: (Thee) Oh Sees or Ty Segall but firmly rooted enough in classic rock basics to appeal to your Stevie Ray Vaughan-loving mother just as well as your record crate-digging music snob pal.
The secret in their mass appeal is the live show sauce. They feel like they’re three buds who just happen to be wickedly talented musicians having a good time together on stage–as well as off stage. Early into their Little Woodrow’s show Thursday at SXSW, bassist Gianni Aiello jumped the railing and played from the sidewalk, holding his bass behind his head and thrashing about, all the while drawing delighted or concerned stares from passers by. My favorite reaction? A child in his caregiver’s arms, smiling while tightly covering his ears: an apt analogy for the Naked Giants gleeful/ear plugs-encouraged live experience. Many smilers turned the corner and walked in to watch the show. (Who needs fliers and email blasts with promotional work like that?) Meanwhile, back on stage, guitarist-vocalist Grant Mullen’s eyes rolled back in his head and his mouth hung open, looking possessed as he sanded down the fretboard with a non-stop spidering of flying fingers. Throughout it all drummer Henry LaVallee played at a frenzied pace, exhibiting superhuman stamina–even more so later during an 8-minute-or-so solo-stuffed jam.
One notable fan in attendance (or at least in the same venue) was Rory McCann–Game of Thrones’ Sandor “The Hound” Clegane.
Naked Giants played SXSW last year but returned this go-round ahead of their upcoming full-length debut, SLUFF, due out March 30.
South Korean artist Cifika performed in Austin at the South by Southwest Korea spotlight on March 16. She’s been making waves in her home country, but she’s no manufactured K-Pop princess cranking out radio-ready pop songs. Instead she crafts moody compositions that layer haunting melodies over ominous electronics.
Though K-Pop dominates the Korean music industry, there’s a small, but vibrant indie music underground developing in the country, she told us when we caught up with her the day before her showcase.
“I’m trying to push the boundaries,” she said.
We shot her in the green space outside the Four Seasons in Downtown Austin and while we were taking photos, we quizzed her about her striking look.
Austin360: How would you describe your personal style?
Cifika: I would say a little bit of future but at the same time I don’t like to follow trends because it’s too temporary. I want my style to be classic.
Who are your style icons?
My personal stylist Son Yabi. We started working together three months ago and that’s when my whole style got changed. Although he’s a stylist, he has a deep understanding of my music. So we work together. We talk a lot about fashion and how I want to be perceived by others, so I think it really helps.
How do you think of your image as it relates to your music?
It visualizes my music. I hope people can catch what I’m trying to say with fashion. My music is kind of future, psychedelic, electronic. It’s a little bit of everything together that I get inspired from.
Does that play into your look too? Do you pull from a lot of different influences?
We actually research a lot of collections from back in the day like 2000, 1990. So we kind of bring the past to the future, so like transforming the future and the past. That’s what I do with my lyrics too
There were two things happening at the eastern fringe of SXSW on Friday afternoon.
In the sun-splashed dirt courtyard of the Scoot Inn beer garden, the Brooklyn Bowl Family Reunion was in the final stretch of a three-day run — Erika Wennerstrom’s enormous voice on “Extraordinary Love” was swamping the place like a tsunami, drowning out pockets of disinterest.
But inside Scoot Inn proper — what was on this afternoon the “Roadie Lounge” — the star of the afternoon was a legend on a different level. Ben Dorcy, who maintained his title of “oldest living roadie” by working until the week he died at the age of 92 last September, was being celebrated with sneak peeks at a documentary 13 years in the making.
Every now and then Amy Nelson, daughter of Ben’s longtime employer Willie, would try to bring the two events together, speaking to the outside crowd of the virtues of “Lovey” — as Dorcy was known to those close to him. But still, a separation remained: The show and … backstage.
For an event honoring the original roadie, it was only natural.
It was fitting that the Scoot Inn would host — it is one of the few Austin bars old enough to encompass the legacy of Dorcy, who was born in 1925, two years before the first jukebox. After serving as gardener and valet to John Wayne, Dorcy would hit the road for 65 years with the giants of country music.
Inside the dark and cool interior of the historic bar, the first 15 minutes of the documentary: “Lovey: King of the Roadies” began with Dorcy aboard Willie’s bus, sharing a joint with his old boss and recounting stories of misbehavior and wild times. It is a professional and polished film of music legends sharing what is legendary to them. Among the many icons on screen, we don’t lose sight of who the star of this show is. There’s Dorcy, shuffling along on his cane, his countenance weathered to sharp angles. In portraits, his eyes are inscrutable. In snapshots with friends, they are alive with joy.
“He took care of all these stars with this star power,” Amy Nelson said. “And he had that same kind of star power. He could have been an actor, too. He was hanging around all these amazing people and he chose to serve them.”
Amy Nelson — there on Friday alongside her co-producers of the film, David Anderson and Lana Nelson — co-directed the film with her cousin Trevor Doyle Nelson. Her love for the man who was part of the Willie Nelson Family band, and by extension, her own family, was apparent in her conversation … and also in the years she has spent on the film.
All along, she pictured Dorcy at events like these and on the red carpet at the premiere. “It was hard to keep working on (the documentary) after he was gone,” she said. But Austin’s High Brew Coffee stepped in at that moment to help push the project forward.
Now Amy Nelson says the film is nearly complete and she hopes to have details like publishing and licensing complete in time for the fall film festival season.
Inside the Scoot Inn, Dorcy’s fellow roadies are lined up for free custom earplugs being given out this afternoon by MusiCares. Those not on barstools having their ears peered into are watching the screen as Jamey Johnson sings a cover of “Night Life.” Toward the end of the clip, Dorcy is shown in the plaza of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, when a fellow in a Batman costume sidles up to him. “Where are the drugs going?” he asks. Is it a real moment or a setup? Either way, Dorcy’s reaction is authentic: “Get away from me!” he snarls.
The room erupts in laughter. These pros know, the meek don’t survive 65 years on the road.
Dorcy was connected to Willie for many of those years, but he also worked with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Ray Price, George Jones and Waylon Jennings, among others.
In his later years, Dorcy was connected to a similar run of “Texas music” artists: Robert Earl Keen, Pat Green, Cory Morrow, Kevin Fowler, Josh Abbott, Cody Canada and, particularly, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen.
As it turns out, it’s no accident that Dorcy stayed on the road with the younger generation — those artists and their roadies worked together to take care of the man who had no living relatives.
“All of these fellow roadies were becoming like his sons,” Amy Nelson said. “They would network and figure out where Ben was going and where he going to work and where he was going to spend the holidays and how they were going to pay his rent.”
“It was amazing to see this brotherhood and how they came together to take care of their fellow roadie.”
It was in this spirit that Joel Schoepf (former roadie who now works for John T. Floore Country Store) and John Selman (Willie Nelson stage manager) created the Live Like Lovey foundation, to help benefit other roadies who need financial assistance.
A silent auction at the Scoot Inn on Friday, featuring items ranging from Willie-signed bandanas to original Jerry Garcia art, helped raise funds for the roundation. Looming over the auction was a huge framed movie poster for the “Lovey: KIng of the Roadies” documentary.
Before he died in September, Dorcy did see a cut of the hour and 40 minute film about his life. His judgment?
“He loved it,” Amy Nelson said. “After 20 minutes, he was like ‘I like it.’ And when it was over he said, ‘I love it.’”