Now did you really think that I could talk about SXSW and not mention Bruce Springsteen? Springsteen delivered the conference keynote and then joined the E Street Band and guests that evening for an unforgettable performance.
The keynote speech was clearly geared towards the musicians in attendance. Springsteen delivered a rollicking history of rock and roll with the personal perspectives on how it influenced his music. It was filled with humor and a rock and roll attitude, plus a few acoustic guitar performances to illustrate his points.
If there was a singular message, it was that musicians need to fully commit to their craft. Without directly saying so, he cautioned that there are no shortcuts to success. He stressed the importance of studying those who came before you to learn from their experience. And he counseled that the live show matters, both to sharpen your style and build your audience.
You can view the entire Bruce Springsteen SXSW keynote speech here, courtesy of NPR.
Springsteen continued the lesson that night with a special performance with the E Street Band. The show took place at the 2,700 capacity Moody Theater (home of Austin City Limits), a much more intimate venue that the arenas and stadiums that the band usually plays. The band more than rose to the occasion with a nearly three hour show that, while heavy on songs from his newly released Wrecking Ball, included some gems from his extensive catalog.
And the special guests? Spectacular. Tom Morello reprising his contributions to two tracks from the new album plus a furious “Ghost of Tom Joad.” Jimmy Cliff, decked out in all red, joined for three of his classics (although curiously not “Trapped”). Eric Burdon, whom Springsteen had lauded earlier in the day during his SXSW keynote speech, appeared for the Animals classic “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” And perhaps the most random moment of the evening, members of Arcade Fire suddenly appearing alongside Joe Ely, Garland Jeffries and openers the Low Anthem and Alejandro Escovedo to join Springsteen and the E Street Band for a closing rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
The exclamation point, for me at least, came just over a week later when I saw the band play at the nearly 20,000 capacity Boston Garden. Simply put, the energy was the same! Springsteen and the E Street Band brought the same fervor to a venue ten times the size of the Moody Theater.
Now that’s talent and commitment to craft. Here is an artist in his early 60s not content to rest of the laurels of his forty-year career. Rather, he throws himself into every performance with an unbridled enthusiasm, making it a mission to connect with his audience regardless of whether the venue is big or small.
Said Springsteen in the keynote, “young musicians, learn how to bring it live and then bring it night after night after night. Your audience will remember you.”
And there endeth the lesson.
Photo credits: Nathan Malone.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.