Voices at Large

In The Trenches At SXSW

19 MAR 08 ROBERT SMITH

There is an odd thing that happens in Austin at SXSW and nowhere else. It's the fervor that touches everyone attending. It's not just the 1,750 official bands, 12,500 registrants, thousands of others who flock to free concert parties: it's a palpable sense that music is alive and well and thriving around you.

It's too big to be affected by hype, sponsorships, 40-pound bags of giveaway stuff, buzz bands and big bands. It runs on its own creative steam, like a Clockwork Orange or the British Rail System -- every hour, everywhere, from noon until 2 a.m., there is an artist going on stage. Sometimes to play for 35 people, sometimes a couple of thousand. And no matter how hard you might try, you miss 90 percent of what you hope to hear. When artists break through the clutter, you really sense it.

Sia was ablaze at the Blaze TV taping, drawing a crowd double the expected size and was stunning -- hard to be so cool and so hot at the same time. And then, she took the show to the big stage at Stubbs BBQ. Christian Scott was downright cool, loud and collected at Momo's.

Tift Merritt did KUT, KGSR, Blaze TV and Metelevison and connected handsomely Saturday night: a crowd that pushed all the way to the back wall at The Parish, a usually roomy big club. And just about the entire crowd left with her before the much-ballyhooed Arts and Crafts label show that followed. She and band were rocking and outstanding. All three brought a vibe to Hear, Concord and Fantasy that you cannot put a price on today, but will down the line.

Too much other great stuff, but some highlights for me: North Mississippi Allstars went on at 1 a.m. capping a Six Degrees of Memphis night at Opal Devine's and had an excited, crazed crowd; the Chatham County Line at the Continental Club; the Tift/Lucinda Williams/Amy Cook, et al hootenanny at the San Jose where Bullethead holds court; and Concord staffer Margi's orange Mustang parked by the outdoor facilities at the Enchanted Forest. I have pictures.

And the last song of SXSW? "Walk the Dinosaur," ending Was Not Was' set at 2 a.m. Sunday morning at the fabled La Zona Rosa. You leave SXSW with a sense of renewal -- some things concrete and others almost spiritual, like giving out glow sticks to the crowd pouring in to see Sia. Nice.

Roberto Fonseca - Yo