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News:
SXSW kicks off with birthday bash...and more
 

By GARY GRAFF
For Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

AUSTIN, Texas – You kind of know you’re at South By Southwest when a solo ukulele player from Hawaii brings a bar crowd to hushed and reverent silence – with a solo rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

That’s what Jake Shimabukuro, making his first visit to the annual music and media conference that’s considered the industry’s spring break, did on Tuesday, March 13, as part of Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson’s 61st birthday bash. It was a reminder that when more than 2,000 musicians descend on one town – along with 13,000 or more conference registrants – some special things are bound to happen.

Benson’s celebration has become one of SXSW’s annual highlights, held as a fundraiser for Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) and featuring food from some of the city’s finest restaurants and confectionaires. The music, meanwhile, was the traditional all-star affair, with Benson and the Wheel playing Texas swing standards such as “Miles and Miles of Texas,” “Route 66” and “Six Pack to Go” before hosting an array of guests over the course of three hours. And while Shimabukuro was the surprise highlight – he and the Wheel also combined for a killer version of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – he had plenty of company. Carolyn Wonderland blew the roof off with a fierce rendering of “Judgement Day Blues,” while the Mother Truckers’ husband-wife team of Teal and Josh Collins swaggered though the Rolling Stones’ “Tumblin’ Dice.” Kat Edmonson shined on the early 20th century standard “After You’ve Gone” and previewed a new track, “Lucky,” from her forthcoming new album.

And Nakia, one of last seasons finalists on “The Voice,” led the troupe through Freddy Fender’s “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,”

It was a big night, easily one that will – when all is said and done – hold its own with any number of more hyped showcases.

If the Benson bash was a uniquely Texas experience, BMI and SESAC helped SXSW attendees say Howdy Texas! with its annual party at Stubb’s barbeque restaurant. The mostly rootsy affair showcased groups such as the Ben Miller Band, Whiskey Shivers and Lera Lynn, along with the ambient rock of Austin’s Courrier. Meanwhile, the Hobart Brothers and Lil Sis – the all-star trio of Freedy Johnston, Jon Dee Graham and Susan Cowsill – had a good time making fun of their lack of preparedness for their three-song set; it was the first time they played live since last year’s SXSW, though they just released their first album earlier this month. Cowsill sang with lyrics taped to her microphone stand and cracked that, “We never rehearse. Rehearsal is for sissies!”

The trio will likely become much tighter, however, with 16 more shows slated for the week.

Over at the British Music Embassy showcase in the club Latitude, British singer-songwriter was also full of quips as he ran through a solo acoustic set of his songs – mostly remembering that only four people turned up for his first SXSW show awhile back, which initially soured him on the gathering. He felt otherwise on Tuesday, however, delivering a boisterous set for a packed house that included songs from his four albums as well as Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ “American Girl.”

South By Southwest continues through Sunday, March 18, with a keynote speech and performance by Bruce Springsteen on Thursday, March 15, and scheduled showcases by Lionel Richie, Norah Jones, Fiona Apple, Keane, The-Dream, the Shins, Counting Crows,Jack White and many more.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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