|With Pamela Des Barres|
|Peter Buck (with Baseball Project)|
Afterward I hung a bit with Streng and Peter Buck in the cooling shade inside, then saw Steve Wynn (an under-appreciated songwriter) and his band the Miracle 3 play a solid, muscular set of passionate, desperate songs. Great stuff. Buck played a song with them, and then returned with Baseball Project, Wynn's and Scott McCaughey's band devoted to baseball, goofily but earnestly singing songs about Pete Rose, steroids, and Bill Buckner. I loved Baseball Project because I love baseball and rock and roll, but the songs were sturdy and hook-filled, any too-cute/obsessive qualities shamed by good songwriting. The afternoon at Ginger Man had a fantastic feel to it: old friends among the bands warmly hanging out and playing for an appreciative, well-oiled crowd under a high sun.
Walking up and down Sixth Street, you can find the music pouring out of venues to be overwhelming, a hipster sensory overload, but the sheer volume, in decibels and foot traffic, is part of the fun. If you're not paying attention you miss stuff like this:
An acoustic band from Alaska busking on the street. An old-school, upright washtub-and-broom handle string bass acoustic duo playing in the sun of an open-door venue. Tacos and beer brats all around. Bliss, really.
The coolest moment of SXSW was an unexpected one, as is often the case. On Saturday, our last full day in Austin, starting to feel a bit of festival burn, Amy and I hopped on a bus to north Austin to catch Twangfest at the Spider House. Staggering in the sun, we went from stage to stage, inside little clubs and outside to back-patios, but no Twangfest. (It turns out that I had the wrong venue; the sets were happening below the river off of Southern Congress at Jovita's near where we'd just eaten lunch.) Oh well. We grabbed a bus back down to our hotel, then decided to head over to Hole In The Wall, a great-looking dive bar on Guadalupe that we'd walked past a night or so earlier. It was five-ish in the afternoon, a band was wrapping up in the front room, and we headed to the back, where we hoped it'd be a bit quieter. As funny as it sounds, I was a little surprised that it was virtually impossible to find a quiet bar in town. Anyway, we loved the historic place. Stylized 1950s-slash-punk stencils on the walls, a great (though unplugged) jukebox, front and back doors open letting in breezes, and Austin Amber drafts in our hands. We were winding down the trip, and it felt like a perfect, unassuming, friendly bar to be in. A minute or so of sipping and chatting, and a band starts setting up on a stage in our end of the bar. I was a little irritated (and tired) but it is SXSW and, what the hell, we had a good view and good beers. The band was a trio, kids who looked to be pushing 21 (as was the case with the drummer, we learned after the set, when the guitarist happily announced that it was the drummer's last under-21 gig!!). They looked like my students, and gave off an earnest English Lit-major vibe.
Best of all, they were good. The singer played an electric acoustic, the bass player was shy, the bushy-haired drummer was a maniac—but they controlled their wide dynamics very well, and sang earnest songs with memorable melodies, occasional awful, grinning harmonies, and precise arrangements that felt loose and limber. Two of the musicians' moms were there, singing along, mildly dancing, taking photos. There were maybe a dozen of us there watching the brief set. Festival-weary with my defenses lowered, I found their little performance—one of hundreds of others by hundreds of bands that week—confident but humble, sweet but energetic, nerdily swaggering at time. In short, memorable, touching, even moving. They were just a little band of Austin kids playing in a back room at a campus bar, invisible in the blinding rays of buzz bands and established artists and label reps and bloggers and journalists who were nowhere near their little gig. We loved them.
Their name is Marmalade. I think. [Correction: Marmalakes. See comment below.] I have no idea if I—or you—will ever hear from them again.