SXSW: Della Mae, Jamestown Revival, Wille Watson, and Haden Triplets All Shine
On Wednesday night at the South By Southwest Music festival in Austin, Texas, stand-out performances seemed to be the norm.
Much has been made in recent years about how the SXSW has gotten too big and too commercial for its own good. With Lady Gaga set to deliver a keynote speech this year it would be easy to dismiss the festival as another casualty of the spotlight. Like Burning Man or Sundance, longtime SXSW attendees can easily make the case that its better days may be behind it.
Still, after a stranger offered me and two other men standing at the taxi stand a ride to downtown Austin in her jeep because she'd become upset about the high prices cabs were charging, hopping out of her vehicle, and immediately bumping into local heroes Jamestown Revival outside the convention center, the vibe remains decidedly friendly here.
Really, who has time to complain at SXSW? At 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Della Mae took the stage at Shotguns, a new club on the main drag, 6th Street. The all-female bluegrass band kicked the night into gear, with lead guitarist Courtney Hartman eliciting cheers from the crowd for her intricate solo passages.
Navigating SXSW is somewhat treacherous, if only because there are so many shows you want to see in the same time slot, but at different venues. At 9 p.m., I opted for the Haden Triplets, who were singing a few blocks away at showcase at St. David's Historic Sanctuary. The church provided stellar acoustics, and the three daughters of jazz legend Charlie Haden, and whose new record was produced by Ry Cooder, sang wonderful harmonies backed by two acoustic guitars and a stand-up bass.
Rather than stick around for Wanda Jackson, who this reporter has seen on other occasions, I hoofed it over to a bar called Haven, where Texas natives Jamestown Revival began their set with a great cover of the Everly's "Kentucky." From there, the boys started stomping their feet on the makeshift stage, tipping over beer cans in the process.
"Maybe we should have added bibs to our rider," keyboardist Zach Chance told the crowd, while guitarist Johnathan Clay mopped up the mess with a hand towel.
Suffice it to say that more beer was spilled as the set progressed and the crowd pressed forward to get a glimpse of who was making such fine music.
Back at St. David's, former Old Crow Medicine Show member Willie Watson showed off his chops. His forthcoming debut solo album, which will be released on May 6, was produced by David Rawlings, and the material he played from it had the clarity and edge of Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan. Alternating between acoustic guitar and banjo, Watson had the crowd on his side from the very first notes he played.
As he finished, I spotted Courtney Hartman leaving the venue. "He was great," she said. "And did you see Wanda Jackson?"