SXSW Day One
March 14, 2006
There I was, blowing green mucus into a tissue, eyes puffy and unwashed hair spiking every which way but loose. I had decided to travel to Austin on Tuesday for the SXSW music festival/industry schmoozefest, even though my body had shut down soon after Mardi Gras and had resisted my attempts to get it back into partying condition. I must have been drinking 100 ounces of Gatorade per day, and I'd even given up alcohol in the past two weeks, which included the New Orleans and Metairie St. Patrick's Day parades. You try resisting when there's green beer everywhere.
So, because I was gonna be in a strange city, I needed my body to be at a place where I could waste it away with a social lubricant. I was about to stock up on more Gatorade in the Shell food store north of Lafayette when the grizzled, bearded man from the next pump station walked by. He was dressed in a plaid shirt, overalls, and an unironic trucker hat, and when he took a quick glance at my David Bowie t-shirt, he did exactly what I expected him to do. The representative from North Louisiana questioned my sexuality with a quick burning stare and a furrow of his brow. I wiped my red, chafed nose, shook my head and smiled at the void where he just stood, half bemused and half pissed. I had a feeling us freaks from the city weren't welcome in the country between Austin and New Orleans.
I grabbed my drinks and jumped in my dusty blue BMW, which had no spare. Living dangerously--look out! My car comes complete with the first sign of a writer who's an only child: papers everywhere(I like to take care of my things). Local writers Josh Clarke and Chris Champagne also have very dirty cars. I remember Josh telling me once that I had to find a girl that would clean out my car for me. That had almost happened a few times, but only out of disgustion and a feeling that if they didn't clean it, they wouldn't be able to be with me. Actually, now that I think about it, my aversion to neatness has been one of the roots of two failed relationships. Since I'm not likely to change and I'm approaching thirty, my only choice is to go Josh's way. I need a maid/lover.
I only listened to one CD from New Orleans to Austin. The night before, when I had met with the four members of local rock band Rotary Downs at Reginelli's, they had entrusted me with a few demos of five new songs. Along with other managerial tasks to be completed once I got back, I was supposed to find anyone in Austin I thought was worth handing the demos off to--basically, anyone who might be able to offer them a record deal. Luckily, for me, I wasn't gonna be selling crappy music. I had heard at least three recorded new songs and a bevy of live new songs since the hurricanes, and their high quality was the reason I had approached Rotary Downs to help promote the upcoming album, anyway. The standout track on the demo is "False Protection," a sunny, poppy rocker with a Jamaican accent that ponders ghettos, handcuffs, and luck. The super-bright pedal sateel guitar playing makes it the perfect summer song.
I arrived in Austin after uneventfully traversing the peaceful yet boring plains of east Texas with a parched mouth, out of Gatorade. I pulled up to my extended-stay hotel, Crestwood Suites. I secured this place a day before, when I got worried that I wouldn't be able to get in touch with Big Blue Marble's Dave Fera once I got into town. The local rock band's frontman had offered me a place to stay during SXSW, and I appreciated it, but the idea of showering and sleeping anytime I wanted was worth the money. The Suites were ten miles outside of downtown, but the commute didn't become a hassle until Friday and Saturday, when the road into SXSW became most crowded. Apparently, the hotel was a sign of my status, because I was asked at least twice during SXSW where I was staying, and the question wasn't delivered in an innocent way. It was delivered in the way that an honor student asks you what your GPA was so he can gloat. I answered "the Crestwood Suites," in a faux, upper-class accent, in an attempt to be funny and defuse the tension. On one hand, I felt retarded even continuing the conversation and saying the name of the hotel, knowing that just like when I tell my Mom what band I'm going to go see, they weren't gonna have heard of what I was talking about. On the other hand, a part of me was actually mad at for not being "cooler" and getting an upper-class hotel. I bought into that bullshit a little bit, and that worries me.
I checked into the Crestwood a good eight hours after I left New Orleans. Before I departed, I had researched the concert schedule, and the Belle and Sebastian and New Pronographers double bill on Wednesday night was high on my to-do list. I entered my room to find a microwave, stove, and fridge. This was exactly the type of room that my Dad moved into after he and my Mom seperated. Transitories frequented, sex offenders hid, and husbands went there to do their penance. I put my bags down and quickly headed out the door so I could get downtown to the convention center and get my badge before registration closed at 8. The badge, which gets you into all interviews, panels, and night concerts, costs $500, and at first, I had to wonder if SXSW was worth the price. Depended on how much it meant to me, and seeing this much music(at least five bands a day) meant a lot to me. I arrived on Wednesday afternoon last year, my first year, when most people were checking in, but on Tuesday night, most people hadn't arrived yet, so the line was miniscule. After the registration volunteers took my picture and put it on my badge, I went downstairs with my new laniard to pick up my bag, which SXSW gives to every registrant. It's full of swag--magazines, newspapers, compilation CD's, and other objects people pay to get into the mix. I met up with NO friend David Terrell outside of the convention center, and we decided to get something to eat. We headed down to 6th street, the Austin equivalent of Bourbon street, only less dirty, decadent, crowded, and covered in neon. Not being picky, we stumbled into a seafood Mexican place. Austin may be closer to Mexico than NO, but this food sucked. I had the enchiladas, and the cheese inside wasn't even gooey. It was still a little hard, like someone had just microwaved it on low in the back. Since there was so much to see in the next four days, food wasn't on my list of priorities. I just needed something to fill my stomach before we saw Portland rock band Sleater-Kinney at a warehouse across town. SXSW was holding a party for all badgeholders to celebrate the beginning of the festival.
Dave and I walked in to find a small stage in a room the size of One Eyed Jacks. I got really excited about Sleater-Kinney in such a small space. I enjoy SK's new, heavier album, "The Woods," and I had seen them translate well in an arena when they opened up for Pearl Jam in New Orleans a few years ago. I had fallen in love with drummer Janet Weiss on the spot because a woman that drums is sexy, but a woman that drums better than me is even sexier. Weiss ruled over her kit. Unfortunately, for no one really, I fell out of love with her when I got a close-up of her witch-like face at the warehouse.
Before the band started, Dave and I decided to mingle. I quickly remembered I have no mingling skills. I'm not gregarious, and I'm not gonna say something stupid to a stranger for small talk's sake. So, since most of the people from New Orleans weren't in town yet, David and I just talked to each other. A short time later, we were accosted by two girls from Manhattan who's deal was that they were gonna tell everyone they met they were sex therapists(and funny enough, Dave saw the blonde on Saturday wearing a "Sex by SXSW" t-shirt). Was this a come-on? Am I dumb? I don't know, I have a girlfriend, and I'm also not ready to play the game where I have to come up with all kinds of innudendos dealing with their supposed sex therapy. Man, I sound like a real party pooper, but I felt pressure to be the douchebag who says, "Maybe you can practice your therapy on me and Dave back at our place. I've got a hot tub, so let's blow this joint." Is that what they were looking for, because even if I didn't have a girlfriend, I wouldn't miss Sleater-Kinney for some girls, and I guess this will always be my downfall. So, the conversation with the girls quickly ended, but the concert started.
Sleater-Kinney rocked for ninety minutes. They played a few subdued numbers, but they were at their best when they played hard and fast numbers from "The Woods." They were so tight with one another and such good musicians that they could improv around one riff for a while and still make the music interesting, unlike some unforgiveable noodlers(String Cheese Incident. Guitarist/vocalist Corin Tucker provided bass guitar with her bass strings, and guitarist/vocalist Carrie Brownstein performed Red Army high kicks when she got really excited and things got rockin'. It was easy to see the passion, sweat, and anger in Tuckerís contorted face. This, along with her bad-ass solos, was hot. Weiss was tasteful yet bombastic, and she also broke out the harmonica for one song. You try playing drums and the harmonica at the same time. SK covered Danzig's "Mother," which made me laugh, just because it's "Mother." It was a faithful rendition, with Tuckerís vocals understandably higher than Danzigís. Tuckerís voice throughout the set was scary in how alarmed it could sound. Shit, who killed somebody, ya know? Take that voice down. Youíre making me wonderfully uncomfortable.