An incident at breakfast Friday morning illustrates a lot about the community that is drawn to SXSW.
My cronies Alec and Chuck and I were eating the famous love migas at the Magnolia Cafe. We were discussing The Bottle Rockets and how their latest album has been getting a rough ride from critics. A woman in the booth behind us joined in the conversation, saying that some of the criticism is unfair. We got to talking and it turned out the woman was singer Mary Alice Wood, an artist I have played on the Santa Fe Opry.
That was impressive in itself, but there were three other things that impressed me:
1) We were in a place where people actually know bands like The Bottle Rockets.
2) We were in a place where people actually have points of view about bands like The Bottle Rockets.
3) We were in a place where strangers feel free to join in on conversations related to music.
Another cool tidbit: Rosie Flores was eating breakfast at a nearby booth.
Friday was a very good day for music.
First of all there was Marah. A few years ago their album Kids in Philly was my number one album of whatever year that was. However their next album (dang, I can't even remember the title) was such a blah disappointment, I had just about given up hope for Marah.
Before they went on at an afternoon party at the Gingerman, I told a friend that Marah was going to win me back.
If their Gingerman performance is any indication, Marah has gotten away from the generic classic rock sound they showed on their last album.
But they still rock. It helped that they played several songs from Kids in Philly including my favorite, "Round Eye Blues." (How could kids this young write such a great song about the Vietnam war?)
It also helped that Robyn Hitchcock joined the band on stage for a song.
But Marah sounded so strong it made me anxious to hear their upcoming album, which hopefully will be released in the not distant future.
The Mekons, who played Antone's were even better than I expected. Joyful, anarchistic, irreverent ... this is the curse of The Mekons.
They concentrated on songs from their latest album Punk Rock. But they managed to sneak in one of my obscure favorites, "I Love a Millionaire," one of Sally Timms' sexiest tunes.
(I spoke with Jon Langford earlier in the day. He explained why The Waco Brothers, who have played this festival every year since 1996, didn't play at SXSW this year. He said mandolin player Tracy Dear's wife recently gave birth prematurely to twins. Going to Austin was out of the question for Tracy, who Langford normally calls "The World's Greatest Living Englishman.")
Other music I heard Friday:
The Flatlanders: Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock are great artists on their own. Together they are Texas' finest.
Graham Parker: He's just released a country album on Bloodshot Records. Today at the annual Bloodshot party at the Yard Dog Gallery, Parker played an acoustic guitar backed by a stand-up bassist. Among the songs he did was a version of Jerry Garcia's "Sugaree" and a hillbilly take on "Crawling from the Wreckage."
Mary and Mars: Santa Fe's contribution to SXSW. The bluegrass trio, led by mandolinist Sharon Gilchrist played some fine songs, including their cover of Burt Bacharach's "I Say a Little Prayer," which is on their recent live album. Former 27 Devils Joking frontman Brian Curley, who now lives in Austin, created a cool quasi-psychedelic poster for the group.
The Black Keys: I finally figured out who this guitar-drums electric blues duo remind me of: Blue Cheer!
Ed Pettersen: This Nashville singer/songwriter/producer, who, along with his wonderful wife Jane organized the Gingerman party, played a new song called "Baghdad" about the war, as well as a very moving song he wrote after Sept. 11. Turns out Ed's younger sister is a New York City cop who was working at one of the twin towers the day of the attack. (She survived.) Ed had a band that featured Austin guitar stud Jim Stringer, who played a rocking little set at Cheapo Records the day before.
Before I get to bed I have a mea culpa. Yesterday I described the group Cake as an Austin band. My friend Jim pointed out that Cake actually claims Sacramento, Calif. for a hometown.
My apologies to the good people of Sacramento.
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