For the eighth straight year, High Times sponsored one of the hottest and best-attended parties at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music and Film Festival. The festivities began at High Noon on March 20 at the Vibe in the heart of Austin’s Music Row.
Free beer flowed from the opening bell and soon the smell of BBQ chicken wafted towards the stage from the club’s backyard, where sponsor and non-profit booths attracted the ever-growing crowd. Sponsors included the Grateful Shed, Planet K, the Glassy Knoll, KLBJ, and Whole Foods, who kicked down cheese, veggies, chips, salsa, and assorted other goodies. The non-profit section included Austin NORML, the Texas Hemp Council and Texans for Medical Marijuana; representatives of each group spoke to the crowd during the day.
The band lineup was eclectic as usual: hip-hop (Devin the Dude), hard rock (Rose Hill Drive and More Fire), bluegrass (Cooper’s Uncle), jam-band jazz (Unified Field Theory), reggae (Carlton Pride Band), alt-country (Fastball), and alt-rock (J. Mascis).
Jack Herer and High Times editor Richard Stratton christened 4:20 with a smoking session that lit up the crowd for the rest of the day. High Times’ Grow America editor Steve Bloom was the day’s MC.
I was lucky to be at the High Times party on 3/20/04 @ The Vibe. Sorry to be so uncool as to have to ask, but what group performed right before the drum corps, which was right before J. Mascus @ your wonderful, "vibe-filled" party? Thanks for such a great time, great people, great music. —Laura
(Answer: Devin the Dude)
Your party ruled!!! – Dana Dynamite
Your party was awesome. —Jim Merlis
Banyan, Bardo Pond, the Blue Rags, Bonepony, Bottom, Canvas, Cooper’s Uncle, Cottonmouth Texas, Dash Rip Rock, Fastballl (twice), Hank III, Jah Warriors, Karma to Burn, Wayne Kramer, Larry, J. Mascis, Master Castor, More Fire, Pocket Fishermen, Carlton Pride Band, Red Aunts, Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, Rose Hill Drive (twice), 7% Solution, 77, Sonar, Spoonfed Tribe, Steamroller, the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs, Sublime, Tilo, Unified Field Theory and Keller Williams.
There are eight million stories at SXSW. This is one of them.
THURSDAY 3/18: Back in the Day
"The grass may look greener on the other side of the fence, but it’s just as hard to cut." Thus spoke Little Richard in his morning keynote address, setting the tone for an event so jam-packed with options that only one rule applies: Wherever you go, there you are. Resplendent in a red rhinestoned jacket, the founding father of rock’n’roll held forth on matters both spiritual ("sing from the heart") and practical ("sign your own checks") as a prelude to his over-the-top performance at Austin Music Hall. But that was still aeons away.
Hazard County Girls kicked off my evening with a blistering set at the Gallery Lombardi’s Rawk Show, which featured artwork by dozens of musicians from the B-52’s Cindy Wilson to the MC5’s Wayne Kramer. (Personal fave: "Watching Mum & Dada" by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh.) I hit Antone’s to commune with the Subdudes, the innovative folkpop unit from Colorado via New Orleans, who recently reunited after a six-year hiatus. Their soaring harmonies sounded fresher than ever on terrific new songs from their upcoming album Miracle Mule (Backporch), scheduled to be released on 4/20. Also reunited after a 19-year hiatus: Boston postpunk heroes Mission of Burma, who destroyed kids half their age at La Zona Rosa with anthemic classics ("That’s When I Reach for My Revolver") and freshly-minted maelstroms from a forthcoming release. By the time I checked in with my old pals Blues Traveler, who had the unenviable task of following Little Richard, it was after 1:30 am. But the few hundred people who stayed for their set were rewarded with a killer show. It hit all the stations of the Traveler cross, from John Popper’s harmonica showdown with Satan on "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" to an omigod encore of their first hit, "But Anyway"—the perfect coda to a set that began with "Back in the Day."
Sin City, a musical collective that serves as ground zero for LA’s alt-country scene, throws one of the best daytime parties. So on Friday afternoon, I made a beeline to Maria’s Taco Xpress in South Austin, where Polly Parsons hosted an insurgent lineup that would have made papa Gram proud. LA’s Kristin Mooney, the new Sin City label’s first signing, spun jazzy, world-weary tales backed by pedal steel guitar. Tim Easton proved Akron, Ohio knows how to shit-kick. Australian Anne McCue lived up to her considerable buzz with gritty songs like "Outlaw Woman," nasty slide guitar, and an impromptu duet with Michelle Shocked. Nashville songwriting guru Jim Lauderdale popped in briefly to christen a new tune. Then it was time to head to Pink Salon on South Congress, where my buddy Pamela Des Barres was signing UK copies of her groupie bible I’m With the Band.
Across the street at the Continental, we caught a young man causing swoons among a new generation of groupies: son-of-Waylon, Shooter Jennings, who played big bad wolf for an appreciative crowd that included Kris Kristofferson and Billy Joe Shaver. Minutes after his set ended, Shooter darted back on stage to tighten a wobbly mic stand for his mom, Jessi Colter, who rocks as hard on the keyboards at age 60 as Keith Richards does on the guitar.
With the Continental filling up like a cattle car, it didn’t take much coaxing for Pamela to lead me to Ego’s, a local country & western club way off the official SXSW grid. There, with nary a badge or wristband in sight, we hit a dance floor filled with couples doing the Texas two-step to the infectious honky tonk of James Inveldt, another mainstay of the LA scene. It was the perfect segue to Dwight Yoakam, who was headlining La Zona Rosa—or it would have been if the line for that show hadn’t stretched around the block in the rain. We persevered, and got close enough to see his hat bobbing above the crowd. Too little, too late. Plus Dwight himself sounded tired. Time for our beauty rest.
From the moment I walked into the Vibe on Saturday afternoon, I knew this year’s High Times party was gonna rock. There was still free food—and beer!—at 3:30, thanks to new policies that kept overcrowding down. An imaginative musical lineup offered something for every stoner’s taste, from the suave hip-hop stylings of Devlin the Dude to the indie folk and guitar squalls of J. Mascis. But the emotional heart of the gathering was the stirring 4:20 speech by Jack Herer, which was greeted by cheers and cries of "educate!"
"Three years ago, they said I would never talk again," began the founding father of the hemp movement, who credits medical marijuana with helping him recover from a debilitating stroke. "Hemp is the best thing you can ever take into you body." Proving the point, he lit up ceremonially at with new High Times editor-in-chief Richard Stratton, who did some rabble-rousing of his own. "What we’re advocating," said Stratton, taking a massive toke, "is civil disobedience on a large scale. This is supposed to be a free country, right?"
LA tribal rockers Ozomatli asked the same question when they were busted by Austin police for leading a conga line into the streets late Wednesday night. Tonight, the band and their fans wore "Free the Ozo 3" t-shirts as they drummed their way through Stubb’s in an exuberant show of force. (Charges are still pending.) Robyn Hitchcock, the mad genius Brit songwriter, took up the cry when he led devotees to the back of Rockstars for an ad hoc encore and hearty round of Bush-bashing: "Everybody knows that W sucks but Rumsfeld is the antichrist." Amen, brother! Then it was on to the more apolitical pleasures of LA’s Minibar, a motley crew of Brit expatriates who turned the Ritz’s Blender Bar into a boho cabaret spiked with chiming guitars.
Back at Stubb’s, I rejoined Pamela to catch her current faves, the Old 97s. Rhett Miller and his crackerjack band did not disappoint; their country honk set moved me so deeply on the dance floor that I forgot to take notes. Our nightcap was another off-the-grid venture to the Saxon Pub, where we caught guitar maestro Steven Bruton (and just missed Kris Kristofferson). "I am the ghost," sang Bruton, in a voice that’s seen its share of closing times. Honey, after three straight days and nights of SXSW, I know exactly what you mean.
SXSW’04 Music Report
by Mitch Myers
Although the SXSW music festival featured hundreds of bands at a variety of different venues and showcases there was one semi-exclusive show that stood out from all the rest. In the back of Las Manitas restaurant, early on the Saturday night of the festival, Austin musicians came together for a show to benefit local legend Alejandro Escovedo, who’s suffering from illnesses related to hepatitis C and has been undergoing a variety of medical treatments. Proceeeds from he event went to the Alejandro Escovedo Medical & Living Expense Fund.
With Kris Kristofferson, Joan Baez and Escovedo himself in the audience, a number of old and new friends honored the much-loved Escovedo, including Los Lonely Boys, Rosie Flores, John Cale, Bob Neuwirth, the Mekons and Chris Stamey. Los Lonely Boys, who collected a number of trophies at the Austin Music Awards earlier in the week, performed two quick songs before leaving to play their own show across town.
The uplifting postscript to this show was that Escovedo and his band performed their traditional concert on Sunday, the closing night of the SXSW festival. It was the first time Escovedo’s group had played in almost a year, and they rocked the Continental Club in no uncertain terms. Looking slightly tired but very happy, Escovedo blazed through two hours of music, including a dynamic encore of Mott The Hoople’s "All the Young Dudes."
A benefit double CD, Por Vida, will be to be released this summer. The CD will feature performances by Los Lobos, Billy Bragg, Billy Corgan, the Cowboy Junkies, Ian Hunter, Vic Chestnutt, Los Lonely Boy, Cale and many others.
The Continental Club did itself proud all week long featuring Southern Culture on the Skids for five straight nights of swampy, guitar-driven rock’n’roll. Yet another Continental classic, harmonica king Charlie Musselwhite played with Austin guitar-slinger Charlie Sexton, who’s high-powered playing brought Musselwhite’s roadhouse revival to a whole new level of intensity.
Singer Jesse Colter was also on hand at the Continental that night and her band featured bassist Don Was as well as some noted Nashville studio vets who had played with her late husband, Waylon Jennings. Kristofferson was in the audience (again) and so was his fellow outlaw Billy Joe Shaver. Colter dedicated her old hit song, "My Name’s Not Lisa," to Kristofferson, who was very obviously moved by her splendid performance.
Other interesting SXSW events included the interview of keynote speaker Little Richard. While Dave Marsh was hardly able to get a word in edgewise, Little Richard entertained the crowd with vintage reminiscences of the Beatles, James Brown and his own career. Richard encouraged all the younger musicians in the audience to always "sign your own checks."
In his interview session, former manager of the Rolling Stones, Andrew Loog Oldham, spoke about discovering the Stones in a small nightclub and the band’s subsequent skyrocket to success. Oldham also poked fun at "Dame [David] Bowie" and addressed the failure of his label, Immediate Records.
My own favorite concert at this year’s SXSW was undoubtedly Alex Chilton and his group, Big Star. Along with original drummer Jody Stephens and longtime accompanists John Auer and Ken Stringfellow (also founders of the Posies), Chilton rocked the Austin Music Hall with a number of Big Star classics like "Back Of A Car" and "September Girls."
With their Rickenbacker guitars ringing like a cross between the Beatles and the Byrds, Big Star performed letter-perfect versions of songs from their early ’70s albums,. Guitarist John Auer sang the songs associated with the late Chris Bell and Chilton delivered Todd Rundgren’s "Slut" and the Kinks’ "Till the End of the Day." The group’s harmonies on original songs like "The Ballad of El Goodo" were absolutely astounding.
By Mitch Myers
The South By South Southwest Film Festival draws an interesting crowd to Austin, Texas, and nowhere was this more in evidence than on SXSW’s opening night at the Austin Film Society’s 2004 award ceremony for the Texas Film Hall of Fame. For their 4TH-annual star-studded ceremony, the Hall of Fame inducted actors Ethan Hawke, Forest Whitaker, Judith Ivey, and screenwriter Edwin "Bud" Shrake, and honored film veterans Robert Duvall and Ali McGraw.
The event, in true Texas fashion, was a grand celebration with former Texas Governor Ann Richards cutting things up as the evening’s emcee. Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson was also on hand; the musician conducted a fast-moving charity auction to benefit the Film Society while celebrities like Christina Ricci ate, drank and shouted their encouragement.
It seems that anyone can rate as a Texan in one way or another at the Hall of Fame awards. Duvall was given the Tom Mix Honorary Texan Award and Ann Richards presented Ali MacGraw with the Frontier Award, which she accepted on behalf of the cast and crew of the 1972 Steve McQueen cult-classic, The Getaway. It should be noted that while the rest of the cast of The Getaway is deceased, MacGraw still looks absolutely fabulous.
Besides the award winners themselves, there were other celebrities on hand to induct their peers into the Hall of Fame, including Treat Williams (he inducted Ivey) and Austin director Richard Linklater (he did the same for Hawke). Dennis Hopper inducted Shrake and director Jonathan Demme did the honors for Forest Whitaker.
The Hall of Fame awards were just the beginning of a four-day festival packed with panels, feature films, documentaries, shorts and animations. Tim Robbins starred in Code 46, which enjoyed its US premier. Director Michael Winterbottom’s science fiction film is a strong follow-up to his 24-Hour Party People and Tim Robbins shines as a hero/fugitive in this surrealistic future-fantasy.
I Love Your Work directed by Adam Goldberg and starring Giovanni Ribsi was only fair, but Goldberg’s paranoid vision of fame did benefit from authentic performances by Christina Ricci and Vince Vaughn (and a cameo by Elvis Costello—playing himself).
Canadian director Peter Wellington presented the most herb-friendly film of the week with Luck, a clever/funny/cautionary tale about gambling set against the 1972 hockey championship between the Soviet Union and Canada. Leading man Luke Kirby and (Chris Isaak-regular) Jed Rees are both quite convincing as stoners-in-arms with a desire to win it all.
Even better was Greg Lombardo’s Knots, an outrageous relationship saga with some hilarious bed-hopping starring Scott Cohen, Annabeth Gish, John Stamos and a red-hot Paulina Porizkova.
More grimly comic but less satisfying was Curtiss Clayton’s Rick starring Bill Pullman. The ending is predictable but the dialogue is sharp and Pullman shows some real dramatic power. And with the bright young actress Agnes Bruckner engaging in some spicy cyber-sex with co-star Aaron Stanford, Rick is still worth seeing.
A special screening Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes was a welcome surprise. It’s a series of small vignettes revolving around caffeine, nicotine and star power with intelligent acting by Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Steven Wright, Roberto Bengini, Steve Buscemi, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, the White Stripes, the GZA and the RZA of the Wu Tang Clan and many others.
Dogville, the first part of a trilogy by Lars Von Trier, is a challenging, three-hour drama that forgoes traditional movie sets in favor of a single, sparsely tailored soundstage. The film, which stars Nicole Kidman and is set in the depression-era Rocky Mountains, requires a large amount of indulgence from its viewers. The film succeeds thanks to great acting by a talented ensemble cast, a very solid plot, and an apt analysis of regrettable human foibles. It opened last week in New York and LA.
Another highlight was Mind the Gap directed by Eric Schaffer. Weaving five different story lines together, Schaffer deals with an idealized father-and-son relationship, a female musician’s life in Brooklyn, a cranky old man and his memories, one girl’s escape from trailer-park hell and the director’s unembarrassed rooting for the Mets instead of the Yankees. A warm, gentle film, Mind the Gap manages to tie everything in its path together quite nicely.
The documentaries at SXSW were numerous and mostly of good quality. Supersize Me deconstructs the land of Ronald McDonald and obesity in the United States with hilarious-yet-ominous results. Bush’s Brain pulls back the curtain on Republican mastermind Karl Rove and while the documentary leaves a lot to be desired, the insidious politics of Bush’s associates cannot and should not be ignored.
League of Ordinary Gentlemen is a fascinating examination of professional bowling and the competitive (mullet-headed) men that populate the sport, while The Naked Feminist examines several career women in the porn business and their efforts to legitimize themselves (and their porn) in an industry dominated by males.
Paul Kell’s 5 Sides of a Coin is the best documentary on hip-hop since Scratch and includes commentary by originators like Kool Herc and Afrika Bambatta as well as contemporaries like the Jurassic 5, Mix Master Mike, The X-Ecutioners, DJ Krush and many, many more. 270 Miles From Graceland, Danny Clinch’s examination of the 2003 Bonnaroo festival, will surely inspire more people to make the pilgrimage this year. Footage includes performances by Medeski Martin and Wood, the Dead, James Brown, the Roots, Sonic Youth, Ben Harper and others.
Antone’s: Home of the Blues is a great tribute to Austin club-owner Clifford Antone and his early devotion to musicians like Muddy Waters, Albert King, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Interviews include Willie Nelson, B. B. King and many veterans of Austin’s old-school blues community.
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is an unusually powerful film about an unusually powerful band. The documentary takes us through the typical problems of a group that sells 90 million records, including clashing egos, departures of key members, rehab detours and other debilitating events before the group finally rises from its own ashes to tour the world one more time.
Ondi Timoner’s Dig!, which took the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, deserves kudos and more for its uncompromising look at the rivalry between two marginal bands, the Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown Massacre. While the former achieve moderate success, the latter are consumed by internal problems that lead to the band’s virtual destruction.
One movie that was not part of the SXSW Film Festival but still deserves mention is Hellboy, directed by Guillermo del Toro. The special midnight world premier of Hellboy at Austin’s Paramount Theater had a line that went around the corner and down two blocks. With its killer cinematography and great acting from Ron Perlman as Hellboy, this comic-book fantasy delivers all the adventure one could want. del Toro has created a perfect film for pop-culture addicts of the 21st Century and Ron Perlman’s Hellboy should be the action hero of the summer.
That’s a wrap.
FILM FESTIVAL WINNERS
o Narrative Feature/Audience Award: Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story (dir.: Brant Sersen
o Documentary/Audience Award: A League of Ordinary Gentlemen (dir.: Christopher Browne)
o Narrative Feature/Jury Award: Luck (dir.: Peter Wellington)
o Documentary/Jury Award: A Hard Straight (dir.: Goro Toshima