SXSW | 03.21.09 | Austin, TX - Day 4

Words & Images by: Sarah Hagerman

K'naan

K'naan :: SXSW :: 03.19.09
As his backing band threw down funky Afrobeat rhythms that got the room moving from the get-go, K'naan strode onstage at The Parish to do battle armed with the crackling street poetry of a peaceful hip-hop warrior. SXSW runs on buzz bands, but this is an artist who truly deserves that excitement. Inside his music shines the hope and courage to face down darkness, inspiring an unforced conscience shift. My friend summed up his set nicely in one word – "refreshing." The last song he performed, "Waving Flag," opened with an extended a cappella section, where he sang a story about his childhood in Mogadishu. His words capture the innocence of youth shattered by the horrors of one of the most violent cities on earth. The chorus - "When I grow older/ I will be stronger/ They'll call me freedom/ Just like a waving flag" - turned into a mass sing along, the journalists putting down their pens to back him up. Then, the band swelled behind him, the trumpets blaring triumphantly and an overwhelming feeling swept over us as the song moved through everyone in that room. The power of the moment nailed me to the floor, and as I turned to my friends I could see them biting their lips as well. When the set was over, his eyes widened at the cheers he received and his smile expressed more gratitude than words ever could, triumphant in his humility.

Velvet Truckstop

Velvet Truckstop :: SXSW :: 03.19.09
One of the cool things about SXSW is that there is music in every nook and cranny of Austin. So, even if you can't get into the big stuff at the Red River or 6th Street clubs, you may find yourself seeing something intriguing while going to get coffee on South Lamar to fuel up for the evening. Although a young band - I was surprised to hear they had only been together about a year - Velvet Truckstop are building a solid foundation and have certainly absorbed lessons from the right teachers. Guitarist Dorsey Parker and keyboardist Brad Curtioff were particularly dynamic musicians, with Parker taking some pages from the book of Duane Allman, his playing wound tight and full of color. Frontman Jamie Dose has the sort of Southern rock growl that commands your attention. What impressed me most over a lengthy set, at least by SXSW standards, was that they never played a single cover and their original material had real hook and solidity that held my attention despite being unfamiliar. Although striving for a unique voice in the Southern rock-based jam scene is certainly a challenge, this band has the right elements and perhaps most importantly, the aching hunger that drives real musicians. By the end of their set, they were really cooking with gas. As they notch up those asphalt miles and their shout strengthens, I could see them carving their names on those tall lonesome Southern pines with the heavy hitters. This set made me think that SXSW is really about taking risks and welcoming chance encounters, whether undertaken by the bands dreaming big or by the fans in search of something new.

Phosphorescent

Phosphorescent :: SXSW :: 03.19.09
As I stood on the balcony at the Mohawk and watched crowds snake through Red River Street, frantically checking schedules and cell phones in the neon accented, bustling din, I felt my own jangled nerves fraying. My day had been spent running around, making mostly unsuccessful attempts to get into the shows after waiting in long lines, failing to meet up with friends and arriving at venues to find schedules changed at the last minute. In my first year here in any official capacity, I feel I learned a lot about how to cover SXSW on Thursday, and Phosphorescent taught me the biggest lesson of all. Sometimes, you need to relax, breathe and just listen. Find your place in the corner of the madness and just dig in. Glistening rivers of steel guitar washed over me and I felt like my soul was drinking chamomile tea. Although I think Phosphorescent would have benefited from a room more inclined to listen, this show was a moment of meditative bliss, and I think others were feeling that, too. I overheard someone say, "Wow, this band is just so soothing." Although hailing from Brooklyn, Matthew Houck is originally from Alabama and he's got an arrow straight through to the dusty back roads in the heart of Texas. A new song he said was called "I Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down" swung us in a honky tonk jangle, and I let myself go and just danced, rocking in its rustic arms.

Bonus Props: Bird's Barbershop
Bird's is a cool Austin institution, of sorts (where else can you get a Lone Star Beer while they cut your hair for dirt cheap?), and the new location on the increasingly-gentrified east side proved to be hosting quite the throw down - complete with hilariously flamboyant and dangerously generous bartenders – in a laid-back atmosphere for the mid-afternoon happy hour. Although their schedule was all kinds of messed up on the outside stage, inside the DJs were stoking a hell of a dance party. Folks spinning in barber chairs, beers in hand, and twirling across the linoleum, truly embodying the quirky spirit and revelry in music that makes Austin such a great town.

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