Friday, March 19, 2004

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST: DAY 2

So who needs to drink when you can indulge in the natural high of sleep deprivation? I honestly intended to come back to the motel and take a nap Thursday afternoon, but somehow as one party melted into another, that never happened.

Ronny Elliott, Tampa, Fla.'s greatest living rock 'n' roller, summed up the true spirit of SXSW better than just about anyone today. At his solo acoustic gig at the Cactus Cafe tonight, Ronny noted that the conference originally had scheduled some industry hotshot as the keynote speaker. Not very inspiring. But somehow that plan fell by the wayside and instead they got Little Richard.

This, Ronny said, shows that SXSW is more about music than the music business.

Of course, he was talking about these things when introducing his song "South by So What," which makes pointed fun of the festival.

But indeed Little Richard was a superior choice for a keynote speaker. His "speech" was set up as an interview with veteran rock journalist Dave Marsh. But one Little Richard got going, Dave barely got a word in edgewise.

Little Richard had some practical advice for young musicians: "Sign your checks." In other words, don't leave your financial affairs in the hands of anyone but yourself. "I wish someone would have told me that," said the star, who, like most other 50s rock icons, was mercilessly exploited.

Of course, Little Richard's performance at the Austin Music Hall Thursday night was the most inspiring. Backed by a cooking 9-piece band (two drummers, two bassists!), he ripped it up. And it seemed like he truly didn't want to leave the stage. Surely to the horror of the SXSW stage managers who usually strictly enforce the set times for performers, the Georgia Peach kept going and going and going long after he first told the crowd "We've got to go." He played short versions of songs -- "Chain of Fools," "Downhome Blues" and a version of The Rolling Stones' "It's only Rock and Roll" in which he repeated the refrain, leaving out the verses. I bet he could have stretched it out for another hour.

I saw lots of music on Thursday. And I even found agents of the New Mexico state government at the Convention Center. But that sleep thing is catching up with me. I'll continue this in a few hours.

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