By Mitch Myers
It’s tough to resist the call of the South By Southwest film and music fests, and when you put them together all you get is ten solid days of hard partying, Texas style. Scoring weed is never a problem in Austin, and there are so many cool events that all you have to do is find the ones that suit you, which for some reason is easier said than actually done.
Things started out on a humorous note as the film fest began with the premiere of I Love You, Man. Most of the cast was in attendance, including Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Jon Favreau, Rashida Jones and Ms. Jaime Pressley. Although this is a buddy film there were no buds that I recall, but there was some drug use in Jody Hill’s Observe and Report, a dark, not-that-funny comedy starring Seth Rogen, Anna Faris and Ray Liotta—with a crazy cameo by East Bound and Down hero, Danny McBride.
Equally strange and underwhelming was ExTerminators, a murder-for-hire spoof starring Heather Graham, Jennifer Coolidge, Joey Lauren Adams and several Austin locals. And if I don’t love a comedy flick with loads of lovely ladies, you know there’s something wrong.
The best narrative film that I saw was Richard Linklater’s new period drama, Me and Orson Wells, with Zac Efron, Claire Danes, and the unknown but notable Christian McKay as a young Orson Wells. Watch for this one in October, as Linklater continues to grow as a filmmaker and translates Robert Kaplow’s novel into a sharp little story with a very light touch.
And just when things were getting a little complacent at the film fest, in came the hippies! Michelle Esrick’s documentary was ten years in the making, but Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie was right on time. Esrick, Wavy and his wife, Jahanara, were all on hand, and the party kept going as Wavy stuck around all week long so he could be on the weekend panel celebrating Woodstock’s 40thAnniversary. Along with Wavy, Michael Lang and moderator Holly George-Warren, the Woodstock panel included sound engineer Eddie Kramer, original Santana drummer Michael Shrieve and keyboardist/singer Greg Rollie, as well as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s bassist Stu Cook, and, finally…the drummer from Sha Na Na.
Jonathan Demme was also in town, pushing his second Neil Young concert movie, Neil Young Trunk Show. I have to admit that this music documentary was filmed extremely well and the sound is terrific. The movie shows plenty of old Neil singing solo acoustic, as well as jamming out loud with his most recent road band. So, be ready for an extended version of “Hurricane” or don’t even bother checking this film out. You know what I’m saying?
One of the better documentaries I saw was Winnebago Man, whose subject, Jack Rebney, made a simple promotional sales video for Winnebago back in 1989. Rebney’s irate, foul-mouthed video outtakes have been the stuff of legend for years, and more recently, a YouTube phenomenon. This film is a vindication of Rebney’s legendary rage, and helps us understand the love that he somehow attracts.
I also enjoyed Wake Up, a strange-but-apparently true story about Jonas Elrod, a young guy who starts seeing angels, ghosts and other representatives from the spirit world. These nonstop visions put a cramp in Jonas’ daily life and his relationship with his girlfriend, so Jonas reluctantly goes off in search of wisdom from various experts who might explain this phenomenon and provide him with some direction in his new, altered life.
At some point the films slowed down and the music picked up and we were off and running to the IFC Crossroads party which showcased two great bands, Gomez and The Decemberists. Both groups played multiple gigs during the course of the week down at SXSW, but this invite-only affair at the Pangaea nightclub was rocking until two in the morning and I left a true believer.
By the way, the IFC guys say they love HIGH TIMES, and I believe them. The special last-minute shows that I didn’t attend included Metallica, Jane’s Addiction, and Kanye West, but I still had fun at shows by PJ Harvey, Echo and the Bunnymen, and a jumping Doug Sahm tribute that featured Dave Alvin, Jimmy Vaughn, The Gourds, Doug’s son Shawn Sahm, Sarah Borges and the surviving members of the Texas Tornados—Flaco Jimenez, Louie Ortega and Augie Meyers.
I especially enjoyed going to South Austin and seeing the Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra perform in front of an immense crowd in the parking lot of Jo’s Coffee. Escovedo’s multiple-member orchestra doesn’t get together that often, and they even filmed the event for DVD.
The entire South Congress scene was a pure groove, with shops like the Yard Dog and Jo’s hosting party after party with loads of cool Americana bands all weekend long. I even sparked one up with my old pal from the Waco Brothers, but that’s another South Austin story. And how I ended up back downtown lounging in a hammock by the river behind the Four Seasons on the last day of the festival smoking kind bud with a tattooed lady from Los Angeles, I’ll never know.
But I sure do like Austin, and SXSW.
High Times in Austin: SXSW Music & Film Festival Review
By Mitch Myers