With Saturday being my last day in Austin, I grabbed a breakfast at 24 Diner and then began making the rounds of record stores. I wanted to promote some of our Select-O-Hits new releases, and also wanted to see if I could find some items I wanted to purchase. I went down into South Austin to End of an Ear and to Turntable Records, but eventually ended up out north because I wanted to grab a charcoal-broiled hamburger at Top Notch out on Burnet Road for lunch.
My last dinner in town was at my beloved Pappadeaux’s with my friend Greezo Veli from the League of Extraordinary G’z, a great an innovative Austin hip-hop group, and afterwards, I headed down to Fuze for the last night of hip-hop showcases. There I ran into Truth Universal from New Orleans and Skipp Coon from Jackson, Mississippi. It was a great way to close out the 2011 South By Southwest.
For me, the third day of South By Southwest started with a breakfast at The Tavern on Lamar Boulevard just at the north end of downtown. Breakfast was something they had just started doing, but it was decent and got me started for the day. Once I got downtown, I headed over to the Louisiana tent, across the street from the Convention Center, where some artists were performing. But my panel on which I had to speak was being held at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center in East Austin, so I had to walk a considerable ways from the community center to get there.
My hip-hop panel was, to say the least, disappointing; because the festival had moved it from the Convention Center to East Austin, attendance was slimmer than normal. There was no formal, scheduled transportation between the locations, either, which hurt even more. The organizers thinking was that the East Austin location would bring out more local artists, but it did not seem to, and the conference attendees had trouble getting out there, or perhaps just did not bother to do so.
But the walk put me in East Austin, and the walk back I found pleasant, taken at a leisurely pace. There were all kinds of restaurants and small shops; East Austin had been a Black and Hispanic neighborhood, but was now gentrifying in an odd pattern; bike shops and coffee bars stood chock-a-block with projects, churches and old juke joints. A barber shop had a DJ performing out in front of it. The streets swarmed with people. One old building had a sign identifying it as the “Historic Victory Grill,” and another sign stated “Since 1945.” It had been a famous stop on the Black entertainment route called the “Chitlin’ Circuit.” A rock band was loading in their equipment through the back door.
Back by the Convention Center, the German Reeperbahn Festival had taken over the Downtown Burgers truck, and were giving away charcoal-broiled hamburgers. The only thing better than charcoal-broiled hamburgers is FREE charcoal-broiled hamburgers, so I grabbed one and dug in. It made a satisfying dinner indeed.
Afterwards, it was mainly lots of walking; down Sixth Street, a coffee from Halcyon on Second, and then finally into one of the Texas rap showcases where I encountered a group from Austin called the League of Extraordinary G’z, with which I was quite impressed. Then it was more walking, under I-35 and back to the east side, trying to catch a performance by the Oklahoma City artist Jabee, which I missed, although I caught up with him under the tent afterwards.
On the east side were more crowds, more DJ’s, and lots of food trucks. Austin in fact had lots of food truck courts, kind of like trailer parks, except all the trailer parks sold food. They were generally shaded by trees, colorful and funky, with plenty of picnic tables for the patrons. Nobody seemed to feel like going to bed. Except me.
Day 2 of South By Southwest 2011 was also St. Patrick’s Day, which made everything all the more crowded, as well as a sea of green. I started the day at the 24 Diner, which is sort of a crossroads in Austin during the conference. Nearly everybody ends up there at some point, since the place never closes and the food is good. It’s also in the same building with Waterloo Records, the city’s best record store. To eat there during SXSW requires getting up early, because eventually the parking lot will be closed for Waterloo Records’ performance stages. On this particular grey morning, which seemed to be threatening rain, they were setting up the stage while I enjoyed my breakfast.
The problem during South By Southwest is not finding something to do; rather, it is deciding which of the hundreds of options you want to do. On this particular day, a Treme day party at The Ghost Room caught my eye, primarily because of the great New Orleans musicians who were scheduled to play, including the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. I really was not all that familiar with Treme, the television series. I didn’t have HBO at home; if I had known that the series was made by the same folks who had done The Wire I likely would have been more aware and more interested. As it was, I found a huge crowd out in the street in front of the venue, snapping photos of some of the actors in the series. Inside, a group I wasn’t familiar with was on stage, but the music was good. Unfortunately, a call from the home office of the music distributor I worked for took up thirty minutes as I sat out on the deck, and I missed some performers I had wanted to see. All the same, it was enjoyable, and as we left, we were given DVDs that had the first episode of the series on them.
Elsewhere downtown, St. Patrick’s Day was in full swing. Not the least pleasure of Austin during SXSW is the warm, almost-summer weather, while Memphis and points east and north are still shivering in winter cold. Rooftop bars were full, and many venues had lines of people waiting to get in. Not far from the CNN Grill was a parking lot that had been repurposed into the Pepsi Max Lot. Here people were enjoying table tennis, Mexican street corn, and, of course, cups of Pepsi Max. After spending some time there, I decided that I would leave downtown for dinner and head out to Lake Austin.
Lake Austin, the city’s primary water reservoir is located west of downtown. It has a couple of restaurants on it, included Abel’s on the Lake and Chuy’s Hula Hut. Chuy’s, despite the Hula Hut name, is primarily a Mexican restaurant, so I chose Abel’s and had a delicious hamburger there, although the lake view was blocked by heavy shades that had been pulled down across the windows. Out on the deck, however, it was a different story. There I was able to photograph some beautiful views of the lake, boats and restaurant decks, including the quaint Hula Hut next door, complete with its tiki statues and palms. Next door, Mozart’s Coffee Roasters made a good place for an after-dinner coffee.
Back downtown, I briefly ran into the Texas reggae/singer/rapper Papa Reu, who was chilling outside his van at the Four Seasons Hotel, before I headed over to a club near Sixth Street called Fuze, where a Texas rap showcase was taking place.
My first day of South By Southwest each year tends to follow a pattern. I usually start the day with a visit to The Omelettry, a quaint breakfast place on Burnet Road justifiably famous for its omelettes and biscuits. Breakfast is generally my favorite meal of the day anyway, and it is especially important during SXSW, which requires so much walking each day. From there, I usually head down to the Austin Convention Center for conference registration, which is generally easy for me, as I am usually a mentor or a speaker.
Since registration puts me at the Convention Center, I usual head straight into the trade show, which is always a lot of fun, especially on the hybrid day when the tech side of the conference is concluding and the music side of it is just beginning. There are all kinds of tech companies showing off new devices, new services or new technologies, as well as all kinds of music companies and music commissions. On this particular year, the Memphis Music Foundation had a special booth, where I ran into some folks I knew.
Out and about in downtown, there were crowds, but not as many as there would be later in the week; all the same, the city had the streets blocked off in anticipation. Once the music week gets under way in earnest, there is an endless array of day parties, live shows, free food, free drink and street performers. It becomes practically sensory overload, a musical equivalent of Mardi Gras with a million people descending on Texas’ capital.
Having eaten at Saltgrass the night before, I grabbed my first Austin dinner at Texas Land and Cattle Company. Both restaurants have great steaks, but they are somewhat different. Texas Land and Cattle is especially known for their smoked sirloin, which is sliced a lot like roast beef; it is coated with black pepper, and has a spicy kick. Also, because it is slow-cooked, it tends to be more tender than sirloin usually is.
For after-dinner dessert and coffee, I headed to another one of my favorite Austin hang-outs, a dessert bar called Dolce Vita on Duval near 42nd in a neighborhood called Hyde Park. In Italian, “Dolce Vita” means “sweet life,” and the name is quite appropriate for this charming cafe, which features espressos, gelatos, sweet pastries and occasionally a DJ late at night. Although there is no end to Austin coffee options, Dolce Vita is always one of my favorites.
After dinner, I decided to head down to Sixth Street to see what was going on. Although there were large crowds, there was nothing musical to really grab my attention. Instead, I was attracted by a local restaurant that had been converted into the CNN Grill at SXSW. The place was full of diners, but I soon learned that it was invitation only, and I could never learn how one obtained an invitation. Thoroughly tired, I went back to my hotel room to get some rest.
In the old days, when I was in Shreveport, I would have grabbed a breakfast at Murrell’s or Joe’s Grill, but both of them were gone nowadays, so I headed over to the new Another Broken Egg on Pierremont Road to start the day with coffee and an omelet. Then I went by the record stores I had not made it to the day before, including Disc Daddy and Lil J’s Music and More, which was owned by the radio celebrity Jabber Jaws, before hitting the interstate into Texas.
I dropped some promotional items and posters off at Sound City Records in Marshall, and normally would have stopped by M & M Records in Tyler, but I had spoken with the Dallas rapper Mr. Lucci, who had recently done a distribution deal with Select-O-Hits Music Distribution, and wanted to meet with me over dinner. So when I left Marshall, I stayed on the road straight into Dallas.
Lucci and I met up at Saltgrass Steak House, one of my favorite restaurants whenever I am in Texas. We talked over promotional ideas for the new release, and enjoyed a steak dinner, before I headed off to the hotel for the night.
The drive from Memphis to Austin for the annual South By Southwest conference is usually one of my favorite days of the year. Although I usually go by way of Texarkana and Dallas, on this particular year, I decided to head down through Monroe, Louisiana and Shreveport instead. My primary goal was to leave promotional posters and compact discs from Select-O-Hits Music Distribution with record stores and urban clothing stores in the areas I visited on the way down. The Monroe, Ruston and Grambling area had once had numerous record stores; all were gone now, and I was limited mainly to hip-hop clothing outlets like Mad Flavors and Urban Zone. West Monroe did indeed have a new record store called Spazz Records, but it seemed to be oriented toward indie rock, and in any case, it had more clothes than it did records.
Shreveport had also once had more record stores than it did now, but I was able to visit at least the two most important ones, All Around Sounds in the Queensboro neighborhood, and Garland’s Super Sound in Cedar Grove.
One day after the Southern Entertainment Awards in Memphis, Ricardo Hunter of Hunter Promotions sponsored an Industry Summit at Zodiac Restaurant and Lounge in Hickory Hill, and the event was extremely well-attended. Janie Jennings, Bigga Rankin, DJ Drop, Bigg V, Joe Gotti, Criminal Manne, Don Tripp, Smurf, 2 Deep, Devin Steel and Care Bear were just some of the regional industry veterans who were present.
This weekend was a busy one for the music industry everywhere, with the CIAA basketball tournament in Charlotte, Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, Ocean Springs, Mobile and a number of other coastal cities, and two urban music conferences in Memphis, the Southern Entertainment Awards and the Mid-South Radio and Records Conference.
The SEA’s continued at the Cook Convention Center, with panels and the opening of the exhibit hall, and then at noon, the Mid-South Radio and Records Conference got under way a few blocks away at the Doubletree Hotel. The honored guest at this year’s conference was Al Bell, former CEO of Stax Records, and current chairman of the board of the Memphis Music Foundation. Other notable guests included Ruby Wilson, James Alexander of the Bar-Kays, Toni Green, Skip Cheatham (former program director of Dallas’ K-104), and Melvin “A-Cookin'” Jones.
Saturday night, despite the cold, rainy weather, SEA attendees enjoyed the Welcome 2 Memphis Kickoff Party at the Minglewood Hall, sponsored by Memphis promoter Ty Sanders.
The first day of the Southern Entertainment Awards kicked off in Memphis Friday with a performance showcase at the Cook Convention Center downtown, followed by a industry meet and greet at Zodiac Restaurant and Lounge in Hickory Hill.
Picked this cool new mixtape up at City Gear in the Wolfchase Galleria the other day, and it is really good. I had not heard of D-Cinn, but he is a young up-and-coming rapper from the Whitehaven neighborhood of Memphis. While some tracks like “Club Crunk” exude an atmosphere of traditional Memphis buck-jumping, others like “We Ain’t Cool” show off D-Cinn’s considerable lyrical skills. Incredibly, this mixtape is available for free at all local City Gear stores.