March 10, 2008
OK, let’s do this. Cue the intro vocals to Starship’s “We Built This City.” You feeling that? Are you ready to throw hair and pump fist? Is the fist wrist accessorized with a colorful bandana? After all, this is the Starship we’re talking about, not Axe. Otherwise you’d be rocking something in stainless-steel spiked leather, right? Let’s pump it up, yo – take this thing to the next level. This is Austin, Texas, baby: Home of South by Southwest – the largest music festival in the known universe. Instead of a couple thousand bands fighting a chain-link grudge match just to get booked in a handful of venues for low/no pay (after all, Austin is the “Live Music Capital of the World” every day of the year and not just the four days in March when the weather’s actually tolerable) this week there are like a zillion bands scratching and clawing to play anywhere they can for anyone at any time: the street, back yards, living rooms, tailgates, parking lots … and sometimes in actual SXSW venues … which are basically any place you can run an extension cord and hang a banner whose names and addresses appear out of thin air on the SXSW schedule. Habana Calle 6 Annex Backyard? Creekside EMC @ Hilton Garden? Sure, we know where Habana is, but where is the annex? And the annex has a back yard? What does EMC stand for? Entirely mentally constructed? WTF SXSW? There are thousands of musicians all over the world with fond memories of playing in an Austin club that never even existed. “Hey dude, if you ever get down to Austin you need to book a gig at the Habana Annex Backyard. I don’t remember the address, but they have really ass-kicking mojitos.” Of course, if you think the folks at SXSW are the only ones crapping venues out of midair, think again. Pretty much every place in town with something to sell seems to clear out a space to put a crappy PA and daylong lineup of desperate musicians. It’s certainly OK to try to hack off a piece of Austin’s biggest cash cow, but as usual, the musicians are usually the ones who end up getting chumped. No matter what the owner tells you, having a “showcase” at an antiques store in Kyle during SXSW is not the same thing as having a SXSW showcase. Sure, you could argue the dubious merits of either, but the former only has a highly tangential relationship to the latter – similar to the way Dwight Schrute is “assistant to the manager” rather than “assistant manager.” Whatever. Part of becoming a playing musician is getting played every now and then. Still, as often as not, the users get used as well. It’s hard to say whether providing free music, barbecue, and booze to several hundred slackers, musicians, and SXSW volunteers during a day party provides any real boost to a company’s long-term viability, but it sure makes for a nice buzz that day. The same could be said of the free SXSW concerts at Auditorium Shores. Those big-name sponsors may not be feeling it on the back end, but the locals seem to appreciate the fact that SXSW is giving them a reach around. If the word gets out, this Saturday’s concert should be one of the bigger ones in recent years. The lineup features big name acts like Lyrics Born, Talib Kweli, and Ice Cube. SXSW might have built this city on rock & roll, but Saturday night they’re definitely going to burn it up with some rap.