South by takes over this town, for good and not. It clearly brings an overwhelming focus and celebration of creativity to the town and generates a huge level of excitement and revenue, but also it seems a strain on the area and it’s resources.
Initially I couldn’t make it to town for a networking breakfast due to my bus running almost half an hour late (I was running late anyway) and I just about managed to make it to the convention centre for 11.30 where I was due to meet the band I’m tagging along the coat tails of, Gulp in order to pick up my music wristband. It turned out I could pick it up on my own, as as they were running late, was just as well. Without any coffee or breakfast and rather tired from however many nights little sleep it’s been now I walked past Jarvis Cocker who looked like he’d just arrived – of course I recognise him so I gave a friendly nod, smile and hello. A momentary glimmer or recognition from him faded into a confused scowl. I forgot his doesn’t know me. (but he’d probably like to).
I got to the dregs of the network breakfast and freeloaded on coffee, croissants and the strongest bloody Mary I’ve ever had (these Texans do like to free pour). A coffee shop meeting also failed to happen, so I spent the time drinking a cappuccino skyping with my wife.
At a bit of a loss, and deciding to save music for the evenings, I went to the Charles Long exhibition at the Contemporary Austin. I place of solace away from the crowds and a space to consider the impact humans are having on the planet due to our greed. An ode to Catalin – an early toxic forerunner to plastic and how our hunger for cheap and ‘safe’ substitutes has lead to the slow destruction of the ocean and our need for air conditioning and a comfortable life errodes the ice caps. There’s nothing subtle about this show, but that’s probably a good thing, and the 3D ‘datamapped’ iceberg sculptures have an ephemeral delicate beauty about them that certainly helped to centre me ready for main Congress. Towards the West or downtown, I took snaps of the area and visited Book People, local bookshop who’s had a who’s who of visitors from Simon Pegg to Timothy Leary (their photographs adorn a celebrity wall). I read a book on some interesting sketching techniques which gave me a little inspiration to get drawing (one of my personal aims of being here) . It’s not a library, so after browsing for a good hour , I bought a postcard, some chocolate and left. I LOVE American indie bookshops, well any bookshop really, I could spend all day in them browsing and feeling rejuvenated by the wealth of ideas, cover designs and knowledge (even if I’m terrible at actually getting to read of the bloody things once I buy them)
Across the road was Waterloo Records, one of the larger records shops – not first on my list as I was holding out for a smaller place, but I went in anyway, as one doe and left with a few cheap second hands: A Willie Nelson (I’m in his town afterall), A solo Todd Rundgren, and the new St Vincent album. I had a fantastical vision that if I did, somehow I’d actually get into the gig tonight and she’d be happy to sign it for me.
Another juice later (it’s all I seem to be eating and drinking here as I’ve lost my appetite in the heat, travel and sleep dysfunction) and I went into Hut’s Hamburgers, an old style joint from the 30’s with authentically delicious grass fed Longhorn burgers to match. Nothing mind blowing, but how I imagine a very good all American burger should be, with fries that have their skin on. Whilst eating I Met an LA PR agent who’s been doing SX since the 80’s. She’d had a few glasses of wine as it’s her day off, but we got on well and she insisted on walking me out to where she was heading. I drew my first band of the day, and headed to town.
The NPR showcase was tipped to be a good one, and some of the crew Cymraeg where at the venue. I discovered that they don’t allow ‘Cameras’ into the venue (more on my thoughts on this in a another post), and I pleaded and tried to work out a solution with the security and venue staff to let me in as I never take (digital) photos of bands these days, and how I was only out tonight to see St Vincent, but no. The man at the gate took a photo of me on his cameraphone and said I’d be able to jump the VIP queue if I came back after stashing it, which was really good of him. thanks to the sound engineer at the British Music Embassy, I stowed my cameras with him and heading back to Stubbs and saw Kelis then St Vincent play live. It was fantastic, despite the crowd taking lots of pictures with their cameraphones after being asked by the woman herself beforehand not to and afterwards I wandered backstage unhindered to see if she (St Vincent) would sign my record, but she was clearly upset about something and apologised before being hurried away by her people. I was the only person there, Vinyl and sharpie in hand, but no.
Wandering lonely around 6th Street, a homeless tour guide told me where to get pancakes near my house and about the oldest jazz bar in town – literally underground called the Elephant, so called because they found a wooly Mammouth bone while building it. I wasn’t sure if I beleived him, but sure enough there it was after everyone else had dumped me. I sat at the quiet bar drinking a nightcap of local bourbon on the rocks and a Spanish Austinite told me about the best burger joints in town and some super local tips as well as where Willie Nelson was playing tomorrow.
On the bus home, we drove past a street of police cars where an hour earlier a drunk driver ploughed through a crowd killing 2 people and injuring dozens. A sobering end to the day.