SXSW 2014 — The Scene

The Hold Steady
For me, the true harbinger of spring is the arrival of the SXSW Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas. Or rather, spring begins for me when I arrive in Austin for SXSW. With upwards of 2,500 bands and 20,000 attendees from around the world, SXSW is the world’s premiere music conference. Even better, it is one heck of a party. Over the next week I’ll be sharing some of my highlights from SXSW 2014.

THE TRAGEDY Any discussion of SXSW has to start with the horrifying hit-and-run tragedy that occurred early Thursday morning. There are two schools of thoughts, views that are not mutually exclusive. First, that SXSW has simply grown too big to control. Second, that is that it is near impossible to prevent stupid people from being fucking idiots. The irrefutable truth -- this was a senseless tragedy that will forever scar the event, the city and all those whose lives were impacted.
TOO MANY PEOPLE, TOO MANY CORPORATIONS Ok, maybe I’m starting to sound like a grump but it was damn near impossible to navigate through the thousands of people who descended on Austin. The mass of humanity on 6th St was at best frustrating, at worst unnerving (but apparently not for the infamous pizza-eating guy.) Still AvailableI’m hardly the first to make note of the ever-increasing corporate presence. Of course, that didn't stop me from taking advantage of the fully-charged replacement batteries being handed out by a cell phone manufacturer or catching a complimentary ride from the car manufacturer showcasing their latest vehicles. The definition of absurdity, however, was Lady Gaga performing a private concert for those who posted to a particular social media channel about a specific brand of corn chips.
BOSTON REPRESENTS Dan BlakesleePerhaps it is because I’ve become a bit more passionate about my home town, but Boston damn sure came on strong at SXSW this year. You’d think that I have plenty of opportunity to see these artists in Boston so would focus my attention elsewhere while in Austin. Yet there I was, loving every minute of it. A plethora of New England artists planted the regional flag on 6th Street for the two-day South by Northeast celebration. The Silks, Tigerman WOAH, Old Jack and others demonstrated why the region is such a hot-bed of great music these days. Personal faves Girls Guns and Glory, Amy Black and Sarah Borges all but set up shop at the G&S Lounge. The Girls Guns and Glory crew told me that they played a whopping 17 shows in five days, a mix of their own gigs and backing up Black and Borges. The icing on the proverbial cake? After an absence of several years, Boston busker Mary Lou Lord made her return to the streets of Austin. There's nothing like closing out a night watching her strum a couple of tunes, both originals and classic covers. (That's the always colorful Dan Blakeslee in the photo.)
SOUNDS OF THE CITY The Singer-Songwriter Rises Again One of this year's great pleasures was the return of the song. Sure, it's never quite gone away but it came into clearer focus this year. Brooklyn’s Chris Mills and New Orleans artist Andrew Duhon brought bands but let their songs stand front and center. Later in the week I watched Austin songwriter David Ramirez captivate the crowd in a hotel lobby. Bring on the Rock Never Mind the Punk RockThere was plenty of good ol’ rock and roll to be found all over Austin. Personal favorites the Hold Steady celebrated the release of their latest album with a healthy dose of their dual guitar attack. Lydia Loveless raised the stakes to three guitars with her spirited sets while her fellow Columbus Ohio residents Two Cow Garage served up their own sets of ferocious rock and roll. Austin’s own the Riverboat Gamblers celebrated their first ever gig at their hometown’s legendary Continental Club with an electric performance with no less a rock authority than Peelander Z's Kengo Hioki rushing the stage towards the end of their set. Sidemen Stepping Out It was great to see some notable musicians step from the shadows and into the light. Chief among them was Social Distortion guitarist Jonny Two Bags (aka Jonny Wickersham) who just released a solid new roots-rock album. Among the others that I caught were longtime Paul McCartney guitarist Rusty Anderson who, not surprisingly, played a healthy dose of melodic power pop.
Click HERE for more Twangville coverage of SXSW. Photo credit:  All photos courtesy Mike Panico except "Space Available", courtesy Brandon Carson

In Memoriam – Dave Lamb

Dave Lamb of the Providence, RI-based duo Brown Bird passed away this past weekend. The circumstances are heart-wrenching. Lamb fell ill with mysterious symptoms while touring Texas last year. In a tale that is all too familiar, Lamb had no insurance. Fortunately, he was able to get home and secure insurance for what became a year-long battle with leukemia. Lamb was a fighter to the end, persevering through chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. He kept an optimistic attitude and continued to write as he counted down the days until he could return to the road with his wife and musical partner MorganEve Swain. When all seemed hopeful, the situation suddenly changed as his leukemia returned with a vengeance. Within a week he was taken from us. The outpouring of support that Lamb received during his battle and upon news of his passing is a true testament to the man and the musician. His appearance was somewhat intimidating yet he was, by all accounts, a gentle giant. His music, while seemingly dark, was rich in texture and vibrant storytelling. Rest in peace, Dave. You'll be sorely missed. Here's a song that Lamb wrote during -- and about -- his battle. Below is a video from Brown Bird's appearance at the legendary Newport Folk Festival in 2012.

Music With a Purpose — Matthew Ryan’s “An Anthem for the Broken”

Let me get straight to the point. Buy this song. Buy it not because it is a great song, although it is. Buy it because when you do, you'll be supporting a fellow music fan and longtime friend of Twangville who is waging a fierce battle with ALS (otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's Disease). Click play to listen while you read more about this incredible song and the wonderful people that it benefits.
This is a story of two incredible people. One you may know; one you likely don't. The first is Matthew Ryan, a singer-songwriter who personifies everything that I love about rock and roll. Whether he is singing a stirring acoustic ballad or a ragged guitar-driven rock song, Ryan’s performances are consistently as passionate as they are powerful. The second person is my friend John Anderson. John, with the love and support of his wife Amanda, has been waging an extended battle with ALS, a debilitating disease often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. John’s name may be familiar to some of you. For many years before ALS took its toll, John annually shared his SXSW highlights with the Twangville community. His posts, including this review of a 2008 Matthew Ryan show, were always some of my favorites. They are wonderfully written and are filled with John's wit and wisdom. (See all of John’s Twangville posts here.) I suspect that if you’re reading Twangville, you probably share something in common with John – an unbridled passion for music. Yet I would wager that your intensity pales in comparison to John’s. Hell, even I stand in awe of his boundless enthusiasm. As Ryan said in a moving note about John, “John being a true believer in the ability of Rock N Roll to throw fists in the air and inspire hope against odds wouldn't have it any other way.” To raise funds to support John and Amanda as they cope with the financial and emotional realities of ALS, Ryan is sharing a song from his recently recorded but unreleased new album. It’s not just any song but a staggering rock anthem. Ryan explains:
It was my idea to do this, I was grateful when they accepted the gesture. The song we chose is not a sublime lament, but a noisy and pounding rallying to the better parts of our nature and perseverance with gang vocals, poetry and some giant propulsive electric guitars. The song was written with a lot of people in mind. But John was absolutely one of them. Something beautiful happens to people when they're fighting for something.
Knowing John as I do, he would undoubtedly insist that I speak to the glories of the song and the forthcoming album from which it was taken. I'm more than happy to oblige. After 2012’s wonderfully sublime and cinematic In the Dusk of Everything, Ryan was apparently ready to rock. He traveled to Woodstock New York to work with Kevin Salem, a masterful guitarist and producer. The duo, along with a crack band that included The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon, cranked up the guitars with such intensity that one wonders how Salem’s studio wasn’t reduced to a pile of rubble. Don't believe me? Listen to "An Anthem for the Broken." If ever there was a song that is the perfect rock anthem, and one that embodies the spirit of the man with whom I'll forever associate it, this is it. We won't quit.
**Learn more about ALS here.**
Matthew Ryan AN ANTHEM FOR THE BROKEN An anthem for the ones who hurt Who broke their fists on dreams and dirt Who climbed the hills and found the sea Who saw the tops of home and tree Who never left their hearts in scars Who caught the fire in the stars Who held their kids when they were scared Who found a way from here to there An anthem for the real reward The sometimes broke and bent before Where hope is lost and winter birds Float from the wires when shots are heard An anthem for my mother's arms The bravest walk, the big alarm The boxers, cops and soldiers too The ones who need no gratitude We won't quit... An anthem for the brotherhood The light in the dark and the lean for good The knowing not which way to go But here but for the grace of the unknown I know A dollar's not a peace nor end I'd do it all and all again An anthem for the broken hearts That made it worlds from where they'd start We won't quit...

Shane Sweeney’s Morning Drawings

For all the magical moments spent performing, I gotta imagine that life as a touring musician has plenty of shortcomings. Set aside the extended drives and junk food sustenance, there are undoubtedly hours of monotony and boredom. In those instances it pays to have a hobby to occupy the time. Two Cow Garage’s Shane Sweeney appears to have found an enjoyable was to pass the time. While on a recent tour, he set pen to paper and began producing what has become a steady stream of lyric-driven art work. Each piece contains a simple drawing based on a song lyric. The artists whose songs Sweeney has selected have been intriguing, ranging from Lucero to the Bee Gees. Below are a few personal favorites. Like what you see? Sweeney is selling these one-of-a-kinds and even takes commissions. View more and get purchase details here.
Shane Sweeney's Song Drawings
Shane Sweeney's Song Drawings
Shane Sweeney's Song Drawings
Shane Sweeney's Song Drawings
Sweeney gets back to his day job when Two Cow Garage heads out on a US tour this month. Check out the dates here.

Monday Morning Video: Boston Music Awards Winners

The Boston Music Awards were held in, um, Boston last night. Congrats to all the deserving winners, a list that included several Twangville faves:
Kingsley Flood -- Album of the Year

Girls, Guns and Glory -- Americana Artist of the Year + Male Vocalist of the Year (Ward Hayden)

Session Americana -- Best Live Ongoing Residency

Charlie Chesterman -- Unsung Hero Award