Ken Harrison 9:30 a.m., Nov. 21
'70s Mom Shorts and Cut-Rate Cocktails Saved My Life: Looking Back on SXSW 2012
It’s the last day of the citywide South by Southwest music extravaganza in Austin, Texas, but it feels like the big moments are already behind us as everyone mills around in the languorous refractory aftermath.
I’m on the hep, boutique stretch of South Congress, now, listening to a country band and eating a Pop Tart I picked up after checking out a local psychedelic noise duo, Zorch, yesterday.
Many bands and revelers have gone home already, and there is a shared sense of relief and clarity among those of us who remain.
The city didn’t burn down or crumble under the weight of the estimated 200,000 attendees, and most of us made it out with our lives intact (I only saw one person unconscious and prostrate in the street, though ambulances were constantly zipping around town picking up fallen party-goers whose eyes were bigger than their livers).
As if to formally signal the end of the festival, the rains have finally arrived to wash the worn sidewalks (and people) clean, and in a few hours, for better or worse, I’ll be hopping the damp Interstate west.
I’m glad it’s all over with, and I don’t think I’m alone.
The days and bands have blended together as time dilates in the slow-drain humid heat.
Yesterday’s St. Paddy’s oblivion only deepened the chaos surrounding the abominable, ADHD sonic hustle of SXSW, and the art of music itself began to feel cheapened by its own saturated excess.
Luckily, I caught Peter Wolf Crier at the Liberty Bar on East Sixth, and the candid performance reinstated humanity into the hubbub as guitarist Peter Pisano remarked warmly before their last song:
“This feels really great. Thank you guys for being a part of this. I mean it. I’m going to remember your face, I really am,” he was addressing a girl who’d been dancing in the crowd, “and there will always be a good feeling attached to it. I mean that. Now who likes to shake ass?”
Down the street, I caught the last song from El Ten Eleven (members of San Diego’s the Softlightes), who played beautiful, beat-strong, looped jams on a double neck guitar and drums.
I ran into San Diego friends Grammatique and Jimothy on the street, vending their crafts to passersby.
Then, downtown, I chatted briefly with SDdialedin.com music blogger Rosemary Bystrak as she helped the Heavy Guilt pack up from an afternoon of busking on Sixth Street.
Everyone's anonymous on Sixth.
San Diego label Requiemme Records held a showcase at the Whiskey Room and I poked in for Maren Parusel’s set of poppy Krautrock before closing down Papa Tino’s to the sounds of loop-and-tap guitar wiz Michael Garfield.
After bar close, the whole booming nexus heaved in unison with the final death pangs of Babylon. Crazed on green tequila and whiskey, everyone took to the streets, where the entire throng was attempting to vacate at once.
The avenues were a carnival of performers from across the planet strung out on wits end, baring their souls to a feverish tornado of fellow musicians, enthusiasts, and party animals.
Saxophones, banjos, accordions, bucket drums, guitars – all found harmonies with the moans of ambulances rushing about town to scrape up the stragglers.
Traffic amassed on the roads leading towards I-35 as taxi drivers flatly refused to pick up cross-eyed frat boys and hipster jerks waving handfuls of money from street corners.
In a stroke of wild providence, Luke, Katie, and I weaved through the sprawl and somehow hailed a cab to Michael’s place.
Looking back now, I’m glad to have been a part of this beast again (I came out here two years ago for the first time), but I’m not out of the woods yet…
At times it was overwhelming, pure insanity, and I would have lost my grip completely were it not for the golden legs jutting from ‘70s mom shorts and the cut-rate cocktails everywhere.
Other moments were bliss, solid indicators of the inherent goodness of the Earth and, yea, the cosmos itself.
All things considered, I don’t think anyone got famous (or whatever) this week who wasn’t mostly there already, and perhaps that wasn't even their point.
Sure, big names brought big crowds (did you see the line for Skrillex?!) but, from what I saw, many groups played to smaller audiences than they would were they touring in the traditional fashion, headlining or even just slapped on the bill at venues across the country.
There’s simply too much going on.
But South by Southwest is a powerful representation of just what’s out there - all at once, in the same place, turned up to eleven - and if you listen carefully, you just might hear the collective zeitgeist whispers of humanity itself beneath the over-driven guitars, stock mini-Korg bleeps, and shitty dubstep anthems.