It’s St. Patrick’s Day. The members of Back Pocket Memory and myself mark the occasion with a breakfast consisting chiefly of beer, and a couple of hours later can be found at Rudy’s barbecue joint on the outskirts of Austin, the serious business of South By Southwest having taken a temporary backseat to the demands of the road — namely laundry, updating notes, and sampling the local cuisine. Satisfied that I now understand why Texas barbecue is a big deal, I accompany Ian and Chris back downtown to find our next musical fix.
Two swings, two misses. Both the AV Club’s day party at Club Deville and The Used’s show at Red 7 prove inaccessible due to the thronging lines stretching from the venues’ respective doorways. However, a third beauty of SXSW is that there is always something else to do, and so we return unfazed to Rusty’s, where Ryan Spaulding and Adam Duritz’s Outlaw Roadshow is in full swing. (Spying the Counting Crows frontman occupying the same patch of sidewalk as me, I can’t resist introducing myself and gushing a little bit about last night’s show. Fortunately he turns out to be a very nice man.)
Inside the venue, acts ranging from the garage rock of Heartless Bastards to the glam-pop of Casey Desmond keep the slightly sozzled St. Patrick’s Day crowd entertained whilst outside LA acts Spencer Kent and Harris Grade play impromptu acoustic sets to respectable gatherings of passers-by. I had heard stories about the debauched madness of March 17 at SXSW but — bar the occasional abusive drunk on the streets of Austin — that madness seems largely positive and musical in nature.
Our posse has split into two parties, with Ian and Chris driving to some mysterious location beyond the reaches of downtown to see a friend’s show and Justin, Eddie, Rob and myself rendezvousing with the members of Hollywood folk outfit Possum and the Peach at the University of Texas’ Lyndon B. Johnson lawn. The occasion? An encore screening of Emmet Malloy’s Big Easy Express, which premiered earlier this afternoon at the Paramount Theatre in town. This screening, however, is preceded and followed by performances by the film’s subjects: Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show.
The bands’ members appear together onstage at the outset of the bill, jamming on some old standards including Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.” Malloy then introduces the film, an engaging if lightweight rock doc chronicling the band’s 2011 Railroad Revival Tour. The screening is followed by a short set by the Magnetic Zeros that begins with frontman Alex Ebert proclaiming, “Austin, you make a motherfucker want to sing,” to cheers from the crowd, and culminates in their most recognizable hit, “Home” — the distinctive chorus riff fleshed out into something truly triumphant by Mumford & Sons’ touring horn section.
The Mumfords themselves then play a longer set, incorporating several songs from the band’s upcoming sophomore record that push the band’s established pop-bluegrass formula in some intriguing new directions. (One of these saw frontman Marcus Mumford abandoning his acoustic guitar for a full drum kit.) The set’s most rousing moment comes when the band is joined onstage by the Austin High School Marching Band for a performance of “The Cave,” echoing a similar collaboration seen in Big Easy Express. Afterwards Mumford bounds back onstage clutching a wall clock. “The kids told me they stole this from their rival school. I don’t know who they are but fuck them, I suppose.” More cheers from the crowd.
The show concludes with the members of all three bands once again gracing the stage for an extended jam on Old Crow’s “Wagon Wheel,” during which Ebert draws laughs when the jumbotron catches him reading the song’s lyrics off his iPhone. He acknowledges the laughter with a good-natured shrug of his shoulders, but this moment is perhaps indicative of the larger SXSW experience — a thrilling meeting of old and new, musical street hustling amplified by social media, grassroots art relayed through the series of tubes that we know as the internet.
One again, I find myself sitting and waiting in the Austin-Bergstrom airport, Southwest Airline’s lackadaisical attitude toward flight scheduling having left me with an extra hour with which to reflect on my visit to the city. Austin has been, in short, everything that I was told it would be — grassroots and artsy-fartsy in the best way — and I can’t wait to pay it another visit when it isn’t in the grip of South By Southwest madness.
After parting ways with Back Pocket Memory earlier today, I managed to check off the biggest remaining item on my hypothetical Austin to-do list and see a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse — for those who are interested, the film in question was Jay and Mark Duplass’ Jeff, Who Lives at Home and I highly recommend it — so I have to view the week’s activities as a resounding success. I just hope that they have also made for a not-boring read and have provided a glimpse into not just SXSW itself but the experience of an up-and-coming band out to increase their fanbase and exposure at the festival. Back Pocket Memory is just one of the many underground acts who flock to Austin every March and make SXSW such a vibrant melting pot of music. See you there next year maybe.
Special Thanks to:
Dave Gironda Jr.
More info on South By Southwest
More info on Back Pocket Memory
Black & White Photography by Khris Poage
Crappy Photography by Ben Gill via Instagram