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Mild in the streets

A very brief, addled report on SXSW 2007


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"Wild in the streets ... in New York ... and New Orleans" -- so sang veteran New York black rocker and South by Southwest (aka SXSW) panelist Garland Jeffreys at his Saturday night Antone's showcase. Jeffreys' classic tune could have easily served as the official anthem of this year's music festival in Austin, judging by the never-ending throngs of bands, bizzers and revelers navigating the 6th Street main drag for the latter half of last week.

Coney Island-bred Jeffreys had come all the way from Brussels to make his gig and serve as virtual co-chair on a Saturday afternoon panel about race and music -- titled "Say it Loud, I'm What? and I'm Proud" -- moderated by Dave Marsh. As such, Jeffreys, of Afro-Latin descent and purveyor of a streetwise brand of classic rock that came to primetime in the early 1970s, limned three prominent hallmarks of recent South-Bys: the recent explosion of international and world music acts (the British presence was emblazoned on the attendees' big schwag bags), tensions over race representation at the festival (last year's ghettoization of Texas hip-hop showcases was oft-discussed) and the increasing generational divide made plain between the keynote appearance of Pete Townshend and the ballyhooed multiple appearances of his young countrywoman Amy Winehouse.

My own festival experience could be titled "Searching for Amy Winehouse." At any rate, it was about missing the up-and-coming British soul chanteuse's performances three days in a row and encountering friends and colleagues who had just seen or talked to her on 6th Street. The U.K./buzz band deficiency was made up by catching The Fratellis at the Dirty Dog Bar on Thursday night. Hadn't had time to spin Costello Music much before traveling, yet The Fratelli's tight set was definitely a highlight of my first day at the races. The exuberant crush in the place and preponderance of audience members who'd flown in from Scotland to support their group reflected the general renaissance of U.K. acts influencing and outflanking American ones, as proven out over recent SXSW installments. On the freak-folkie tip, the same dynamic played out on a much more hushed, cloistered scale during the Thursday late night show of Edinburgh's Vashti Bunyan at the Central Presbyterian Church. And of course, London MC Plan B appeared Saturday night to bring the frisson of the U.K.'s current "hoodie" panic across the Pond.

Despite the foreign incursions, there's one vital thing Glasgow (where The Fratellis hail from) or Mexico City (base of the Mexican Institute of Sound, who played Friday night at The Rio) ain't got: the South -- or, to be more precise, the Southern Thang. Winehouse and The Fratellis were stalked arduously by many different types of music fans, and Dears held forth wonderfully at Stubb's on Thursday for their Canuck kin. But a great Dixie landmark was also being celebrated at the festival. And thus those in the know made the scene at Antone's for the Stax 50th anniversary. The hallowed Memphis label, founded by brother-sister pair Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton in 1957, is being resurrected by Concord (the current hot release is a live Johnnie Taylor CD from the vaults). And Memphis had a presence at the convention center trade show urging visits to "the world's only soul music museum" featuring a range of artifacts from a vintage Delta church to Isaac Hayes' pimped-out '72 blue Caddy. Hayes himself suffered a stroke not too long ago and, although about to release a new album, he was limited to introducing the Antone's lineup. Before, yes, a boomer-heavy crowd, Booker T. & the MGs harnessed their inexorable power, wowing through such staples as "Green Onions" and "Time is Tight." It was a thrill to finally see Steve Cropper do his thing, and when William Bell joined the group onstage, folk nigh about fell out. The great Booker T. Jones' interview earlier that afternoon was also revelatory, with anecdotes about Jones' post-Stax relocation to Malibu, recording with Willie Nelson in the '70s and his onsite view of Sinead O'Connor's Dylan tribute meltdown at the Garden.

Cackalack was also well-repped: I enjoyed some refreshingly cold PBR with the Sammies at the très fey (and now-defunkt) Arthur magazine party on Thursday, Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey played my hotel at midnight on Friday, and Hobex were across the river at the famed Yard Dog party (the 10th anniversary of same) on South Congress at 11 a.m. on Saturday, sharing a bill with Northern State, the festival's greatest rarity -- a female rap group.

Other regional appearances of note included Kings of Leon, Killen, Alabama's Jason Isbell, of Drive-By Truckers fame; Atlanta's Black Lips; New Orleans' Galactic featuring Yay Area guests Lyrics Born, Gift of Gab and Boots Riley; and Nashville's Pink Spiders entertained at Friends Bar after my favorite band on the planet, Earl Greyhound. Yet the main rival to the Stax celebration was Friday night's Ponderosa Stomp rock cavalcade at Opal Divine's Freehouse, presented by NOLA's Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau. From the skinny-sexy Tammy Lynn recalling a long ago time when sista singers didn't oversoul and Motown legend Dennis Coffey unleashing the legendary "Scorpio" on guitar, this was an event that could not be beat. And the exalted revelry carried over to the next afternoon when the brothers and sisters stomped all over again at Bourbon Rocks. As I connected with our esteemed Asheville contributor and Harp managing editor Fred Mills, Rockie Charles led the crowd in a rousing, rebellious version of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," Paul "Lil Buck" Senegal slayed with his Strat backed by the Buckaroos featuring Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural on B3; Willie Tee's key-tickling kissed the cosmos; and Ms. Lynn joined the Flaming Arrows Mardi Gras Indians and the Black Eagles' Big Chief Roddy to sing "Smoke My Peace Pipe." A sweaty, funky good time was had by all -- and us'n, until we had to duck out of the bacchanal to catch Lee "Scratch" Perry's gig.


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