The potential for bacchanalia was staggering. Three days and two nights in Austin, Texas, the live music capital of the world, to cover the 2002 South by Southwest Music Festival. All expenses were on Salt Lake City Weekly, minus beer and food. My objective: report festival happenings and the experience of Salt Lake City’s own Hudson River School, also sent gratis by City Weekly as the winners of January’s Showdown to SXSW. I obtained a prescription for a handful of white pills to curtail the flight anxiety (thanks to The Wolfs for inspiration). SXSW would, indeed, be a veritable smorgasbord-orgasbord. I was stoked.
Once in Austin, I caught a bus to the Austin Convention Center, where I picked up my credentials and a big bag o’ swag (stickers, CD openers, sampler CDs, various publications, sample packets of peppermint Skittles) adorned with a painting by Mekons/Waco Brothers main man Jon Langford. The swag bag for SXSW Film Fest attendees, however, was graced by Jay and Silent Bob as Bluntman & Chronic. Snootch to the nootch! I wanted the blunt bag. Nothing doing, said the pre-pube bag boss, so I oozed through the trade show, filling my Langford bag with freebies (Twinkies and pink Sno Balls, T-shirts and CDs, guitar picks, drum sticks).
I dropped into a demo listening session, where I heard industry professionals doing their best to offer constructive criticisms, then split to catch Jon Langford & Friends. This was to be one of the free-beer-and-BBQ spots, but alas, no BBQ. Just beer. Good enough. I picked up a sandwich at an Irish pub before hoofing it to the Steamboat, where Los Lonely Boys and Guy Forsyth created a minor earthquake.
Day Two: I would have done well to remember the beer in Utah has roughly half the alcohol content as that in other states. My head hurts and my stomach is doing flip-flops. One donut and two ibuprofens later, though, I’m good enough to meet up with another friend for some BBQ next door and a tour of Austin records store. At Waterloo, we caught goth cello rockers Rasputina and The Sunshine Fix, whose psychedelic pop was perfect for the sunny day. At Cheapo, we ran into Rolling Stone übercritic David Fricke trolling for vinyl. At Sound Exchange, we pondered Daniel Johnston’s “Hi, How Are You?” mural, then went our separate ways.
Finally, Hudson River School’s 1 a.m. performance at the District Bar & Grill. Would they do us proud? Well, yeah. At least, the crowd of 30 (this, thanks to Premium, a Chicago band whose ...npalatable sounds flushed most of the crowd out the front door) was visibly digging HRS’ emo pop—sorry guys, that’s just what it is. Regardless, HRS put on a good show. Bassist Steve Babcock played like the District was full to capacity, locking in with drummer Greg Baker and jumping around as much as the dime-sized stage would allow. On the other side of the stage, guitarist Spencer Jacobs kept his eyes closed as he issued melodic licks from his Gibson SG. Singer-guitarist Bobby Brinton fronted the band with thoughtful aplomb. I’ll say this much: They weren’t the assholes I was expecting and, as far as I know, no one’s mailing list disappeared. Not even Premium’s.
Day Three: Before I left, I hit the ACC to say goodbye to Kessler and catch Courtney Love’s anticipated interview with the Los Angeles Times’ Chuck Philips. I bumped into HRS’ Babcock and Brinton, awaiting Love. I learned they made the most of their trip, attending many panels and learning “what not to do.” Jacobs and drummer Greg Baker had left early, somewhat upset at the District’s turnout.
Ms. Love arrived 45 minutes late and somewhat crabby, rummaging in her purse and blowing her nose before I caught a cab to the airport. There, I was decidedly more relaxed. Still, I took two pills. Five minutes in the same room with Courtney Love is too much for anyone’s head.