In order to get an early start on my drive back to Memphis, I grabbed a quick breakfast at Austin Java Company on Lamar Boulevard. Their food wasn’t bad at all, and their coffee was outstanding. All the same, I was fairly depressed about having to head back to Memphis after a week in Austin; even so, I had talked to a friend of a friend in Memphis who now lived in Dallas, and she wanted to meet for lunch on my way back, so I met her at Your Way Burgers and we enjoyed some burgers and fries. There was a Saxby’s Coffee next door, and we grabbed a latte there before I headed on toward Little Rock. As is so often the case, Little Rock had gotten Five Guys Burgers before Memphis, so I stopped there for a dinner (good but not outstanding), and then headed on home.
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.
Matt Sonzala had invited me out to a South Austin softball field for an early-morning after-South-by-Southwest softball game for staff and friends, but due to the extreme cold brought on by the “Blue Norther,” attendance was sparse. I left there and headed to the original location of Kerbey Lane Cafe for a brunch, but they were extremely crowded, and it took me almost two hours to get seated. When I finally did, however, I found Kerbey Lane worth the wait. Austin has an incredible array of breakfast options.
Later in the afternoon, I stopped by Teo, an espresso and gelato bar on the north side of Austin, whose owner had actually studied in Italy to learn the traditional process of making authentic gelato, and despite the cold weather, I enjoyed it greatly. For dinner, I grabbed a burger from P. Terry’s Burger Stand, but I was not pleased with the fact that they do not offer bacon as an option to go on their burgers.
Downtown Austin provided a drastic contrast from the nights of the previous week when the streets and clubs were jammed with people. Only a few people were out, and only one club seemed to have anything going on. Facing a long drive back to Memphis the next day, I grabbed a coffee from Halcyon and returned to my hotel.
On the fourth day of South by Southwest, I drove down from the hotel to a place called Cafe Java in a North Austin industrial park, listening to a CD of early works of the American composer Marc Bliztstein which I had bought at Waterloo Records the day before. Although I am usually a fan of Bliztstein, I cannot say I enjoyed these highly-dissonant early pieces where the young composer was trying to shock the world. Cafe Java had a decent and inexpensive breakfast, and afterwards, I drove down toward East Austin, to a conference event which had caught my attention in the daily schedule.
Unlike Memphis, New Orleans made a big splash at this year’s festival. DJ Jubilee, Anders Osborne, The Stooges Brass Band, Partners-N-Crime and K. Gates all performed a couple days ago at the Only in Louisiana day party in Brush Square Park. But today’s event seemed even more exciting—a bounce music photo exhibit called “Where They At” which had started in New York and was now being shown at the Birdland Gallery in East Austin.
I expected an exhibit of bounce-related photographs and flyers, and that was there, of course, but I had not expected there to be a DJ, or for bounce artists to be performing. I noticed that a female friend of mine, Ms. Tee, was prominently featured in the exhibit; I wasn’t sure she was in Austin at all, but I decided to call her and tell her to come over to the exhibit because people were asking about her. As it turned out, she was in Austin, and I agreed to come and pick her up from her hotel and take her to the gallery.
DJ Jubilee was performing when we got back to the gallery, and I don’t know if Ms. tee had originally been scheduled to perform, but they allowed her to, and she was of course a hit with the crowd. My fun afternoon could have taken a turn for the worse, however, after I bought a brownie from a sales table. I noticed that it cost $5, but I didn’t think much of it; everything is expensive in Austin during the festival. But after I sat down and started eating it, a boy sitting next to me said, “You know those are special brownies, right? That’s why they’re $5.” I grew alarmed, and said, “What do you mean, special brownies?” He looked at me like the greenhorn I was at that moment and said, “They’ve got weed in them.” I was devastated. Not that I had any moral qualms about eating something like that, but I didn’t know, and I had to speak on a panel or mentoring session in an hour back at the Convention Center. And I had my car, and was going to have to drive it over there. I started praying that the brownie wouldn’t have any noticeable effect, and, to my surprise, it didn’t.
I managed to get through my mentoring session fine, and then headed out for dinner. But violent rainstorms came down, followed by absolute bitter cold. New Orleans artists were supposed to be closing out SXSW with a New Orleans Block Party, but the weather would not co-operate, and it was moved into a night club near the Convention Center called Submerged. Magnolia Shorty was performing, and it would have seemed to be the kind of event I couldn’t help but enjoy, but the temperature had dropped into the upper 30s. I had brought no clothing of that type, as Austin is usually bright, sunny and in the 70s during South by Southwest, so I shivered. The rain had ended, but the northern winds were cutting like a knife, so I made my way back to the car and headed back to my warm hotel room.
My third SXSW day began at Magnolia Cafe for breakfast, and then I spent the bulk of the day going around to the various record stores, including End of an Ear and Friends of Sound. Then I headed down to see Bobby Bernard at Sundance Records in San Marcos; his brother Gary is our buyer at Select-O-Hits in Memphis, and Sundance is a great outlet for a lot of our rap product. I had a trunk full of posters and promotional discs for him.
When I got back to Austin, I met one of my homeboys for dinner at Pappadeaux’s, which is one of my favorite restaurants whenever I was in Texas. I ran by Antone’s Record Shop too, but had very little time to browse there, as they were about to close, so I ended my day with a homemade dessert at Dolce Vita.