Sunday, March 20, 2011

Thank God That's Over

In the end, I actually did not do a single official SXSW-related activity. But I did spend four days at the Hilton during SXSWi, nannying for my friends' adorable five-month-old. And then I spent all of the music conference portion of the insanity avoiding the actual events but somehow paralyzed by whole thing nonetheless. I think it's a combination of having so many people in town-- I swear the energy changes. And also I have memories of so many SXSW's of years gone by that I did throw myself into the fray. Those were fun but exhausting days. Anymore, I think, "Maybe I'll catch a day show," but then I'm so overwhelmed by the choices, and by the knowledge that there's no way I can do everything (or even a fraction of everything) that I just pace around nervously until it's all over.

I am thankful for KUT-- the agoraphobic's solution to wanting-to-but-not-wanting-to take in all the live music. I spent a lot of time glued to my radio, listening to Jody Denberg hosting shows from the Cactus and Jeff McCord hosting from MoMo's. And on Saturday night I was beside myself when I discovered they were broadcasting the Bright Eyes show from Auditorium Shores. That was the one show I was truly determined to get to, but after I heard about the near-trample at the Strokes show, I decided to skip it. But skipping it triggered a severe bout of FMS-- 'Fraid of Missing Something-- from which I suffer regular bouts. So the KUT broadcast alleviated some of my sadness at missing. Even though the live feed crapped out and they had to switch over to recorded Bright Eyes music, it still got me going. To the point that I actually drove down to Auditorium Shores just so I could cruise past in my car and catch an audio-glimpse of Conor Oberst's voice live. I heart that boy SO MUCH. He is like the Leonard Cohen of his generation, absolutely the real deal, a stunningly gifted poet  who played one of my top five all time favorite shows a few years back at Bass Concert Hall.

And my FMS was further quelled if not entirely cured thanks to the fact I did host a band-- Peter Stampfel and the Ether Frolic Mob-- made up of PS (co-founder of the '60s psych-folk band The Holy Modal Rounders and former member of the Fugs) and a trio of young whippersnappers aka the Dust Busters. Peter's in his seventies but you wouldn't know it. He kept up with the youngsters just fine. The band plays old time music on banjo, fiddle and mandolin. I connected with Peter through my old Knoxville friends Kathi and Steven and any friends of K&S are friends of mine. EFM arrived Thursday night and played a little concert in the backyard for the dogs and me from about midnight til 2 a.m. I kept wondering if the cops were going to show up but apparently either the neighbors were down with the banjos or we managed not to violate the sound ordinance.

Friday night they wanted to go out to dinner and I recommended Texas French Bread, which seems to be the best kept secret in Austin. Brothers Murph & Ben Wilcott took over the business from their mom Judy and they serve up this stunning menu that is based mostly on local food. They also have a parking lot which is always nice, but even more so during SXSW when to find parking is to dream the impossible dream. I got this idea-- me and my ideas-- that maybe the guys could play a set post-dinner, so I called Ben to ask if he was down with it. (Murph, demonstrating admirable commonsense, fled Austin for the duration of the conference). Ben was quite receptive to the idea, and so, voila, I became insta-promoter of an unofficial showcase, FBing and Tweeting the news to try to round up a crowd.

Dinner was, as it always is at TFB, over the top. I went with the Salad Lyonnaise (which I always do) and the mussels (with fennel-- mmmm, mussels with fennel). We ate about forty loaves of bread before our entrees arrived which did not stop me from insisting that we all get the Butterscotch Budino for dessert. This is, hands down, the best dessert I have ever had in my entire life. Even though at heart I am a dedicated whore for chocolate, as I told our out-of-town friends, I would forgo chocolate for the rest of my life if I knew that a steady supply of BB was available to me. It's sort of super thick pudding with a hint of salt, a layer of caramel, and an obscene amount of super fluffy fresh whipped cream on top. It's served in a glass and Friday night was not the first time (nor will it be the last) that I actually lick the inside of the glass when I can no longer scrape another drop out with my spoon. OMG OMG OMG-- the Butterscotch Budino makes me feel so many things at once: excited, dirty, pleased, and simultaneously satisfied and wanting more more MORE!

As I settled into the attendant sugar coma of the BB, my temporary roommates took the makeshift stage-- four chairs in a semi-circle. A dozen or so of my friends showed up to listen and I had the very spoiled sense of throwing my own private party at Austin's best little bistro. Peter, in the role of vocalist, was out of control in the best sense of the expression. And for the hour that they played, all my SXSW edginess subsided, and I was right in the moment.

Saturday brought the relief of an out-of-town wedding, a reminder that you can take a short drive out to Drippin' and forget all about SXSW. It was also another reminder of how much I love doing weddings, but we'll save that story for another day. I came home to find the band gone, the house cleaned, the dishes washed, and a stack of CDs of their music waiting for me. Yes, they may stay with me again next year.

And now it's Sunday, you can feel the relief of the massive exodus of tens of thousands of music fans like a blister popped. I'm cooking up a huge meal for Henry & friends this evening as a means of hearing a full SXSW report and, more importantly,  a farewell party for our beloved Samantha, who is heading off to NYC in a couple of days to follow her dreams. There's some nice synchronicity here. When I was in NYC earlier this month, I picked up a copy of Patti Smith's Just Kids for Sam (and I swear, any minute now, I'm going to post my review of that book over at WriteWithSpike). In the book, Smith-- who headed to NYC to follow her dreams when she was about the same age Sam is now-- recounts a sort of religious conversion she had one night (her religion being rock and roll) when she saw a particular band play. That band was Peter's Holy Modal Rounders and Smith fell in love with the drummer, who would go on to become the father of one of the Ether Frolic Mob/Dust Busters. See-- THIS is what I love most about Austin in general and SXSW in particular. I might get stressed at too many people in one place at one time, but I almost always find myself in the midst of some happy coincidence as a result of the mayhem.

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