Sunday, March 19, 2006


I stopped to listen to this guy preaching on Sixth Street Friday night, a lonely Christian soldier armed only with a megaphone, an island in a hostile sea of drunks.

He basically was telling the St. Patrick's night revelers that they were a bunch of drunken scumbags and Hell-bound reprobates.

Trouble is, in some ways I kind of agreed with him.

So I spent much of my Saturday night in church.

It just so happened that two of the most high-energy shows I saw this year was scheduled at the Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Austin.

Granted, the religion I heard about at these shows didn't sound much like that preached Friday by Rev. megaphone. There wasn't much talk about Hell and damnation. Instead, I heard about love and blessings. The singers I heard sang about Jesus as a friend, not a warden.

The first show I caught there was The Jones Family Singers, a gospel group from Bay City, Texas fronted by five of the six daughters of Elder Fred A. Jones, founder and pastor of The Mt. Zion Pentecostal Holiness Church.

Several other family members play instruments -- guitars, bass, keyboards. And 13-year-old Ian D. Wade, who I'm guessing is Elder Jones' grandson, on drums.

The group was amazing. They had the congregation going from the first note. Singer Alexis Roberts led most of the songs, which featured choreography from her sisters. They kicked the Devil, rocked in Jesus and rolled in the Holy Spirit.

Later in the evening, Marty Stuart and his band The Fabulous Superlatives did a breathtaking gospel set at Central Presbyterian. Stuart, a longtime Nashville vet and former sideman for Johnny Cash, released a gospel album called Souls' Chapel -- which I've got to get my hands on.

Stuart and band infuse gospel with strong portions of rockabilly and blues, and, one one guitar instrumental, even a sanctified version of surf music.

He was on fire.

Between these two shows, I walked down to Sixth Street to catch Lisa Germano's set. Back in 1995, my first SXSW, Germano was one of my very favorite acts. This was during her strongest period, not long after the albums Happiness and Geek the Girl, both pure sonic treats.

But tonight I just couldn't get into Lisa. Maybe it's because she just played piano and didn't have her full band. Or maybe it's because following the Jones Family, her music just seemed too self-absorbed and needy. Fortunately Stuart's show elevated my spirit back up to the level where the Joneses had left it.

But I wasn't completely avoiding drunken hellbound reprobates Saturday. Early in the evening I caught Marah at the Yep-Roc party at the good old Yard Dog. The brothers Bielanko were rocking.

My favorite song of theirs still is "Round Eye Blues," a moving song about Vietnam -- a war way too old for the Bielankos to have any memory of. When they first released this song back in 2000 (on their best album Kids in Philly), the song seemed like some stray ghost of a memory. With its references to singers and songs of that era ("I was shakin' like Little Richard, I was sweatin' like old James Brown ...") it seemed a period peace.

What a difference these years have made. The jungle's now a desert, but those same fears and horrors in "Round Eye Blues" are more relevent than ever.

And yes, I did on Friday attend more services at the Waco Brothers' Church of the Dollar Apocalypse.

As usual, I ended my SXSW with another Wacos show, their "official" showcase at Bourbon Rocks. While not as crazy, chaotic and inspiring as their Yard Dog gig the night before, (and indeed, Tracey survived what had to be a vicious hangover from his adventures the night before) it was a good and proper Viking funeral for this year's festival.

One surprise -- Garland Jeffreys, who had played a set earlier at Bourbon Rocks, joined the Wacos on stage for a version of "The Harder They Come."

Back to Santa Fe tomorrow ... back to work Monday ... It's been fun.

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