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2007 South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival Coverage

By Brian T. Atkinson, March 2007

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Not bad for what Brothers calls a "mix tape."

Three years later, though, the Los Angeles-based songwriter still hasn't released a proper full-length album. But this afternoon at a private party held on the Iron Cactus rooftop, he promised that one will soon be on the way.

Judging by his five-song set, there'll be more sonic thrust behind the new material than his earlier songs. The guitar riffs are meatier, but Brothers' trademark ethereal lilt – soaring vocals, angelic keyboards – remain.

"I'm from Nashville," Brothers told the crowd before singing "Blue Eyes." "And this is the closest thing to a country song I've written." That might seem like a stretch, but not in the scope of his catalogue. There's as much naked emotion in "Blue Eyes" as any George Jones heartbreaker.

Speaking of tearjerkers, plenty have echoed throughout Austin's Continental Club. The gloriously dingy venue is a twang-music landmark that looks as shady as the stories that are told within. A rugged biker-type in the front row tonight wears a t-shirt bearing a typical message for this room – "Bush: Pull Out Like Your Daddy Should've."

(To localize it for some, this is the club that North Twin (Seattle), Buckskin Stallion (Denver) and Bottle Rockets (St. Louis) would call home if they lived in Austin. As is, James McMurtry and John Dee Graham are the regulars.)

A female bluegrass quartet with members hailing from all over the country – Nashville; Asheville, N.C. Lyons, Col. – this evening these fast-pickin' ladies turned in one of the most captivating sets of this week. Their lighthearted stage banter certainly helped.

"Oh, it's so great to meet you – text me," singer-guitarist Kristin Andreassen joked with an eager, talkative fan. "I'm sure you get a lot of that at South By Southwest – 'Text me.'"

That reference was about the only modern-day thing about Uncle Earl. Songs like "Buonaparte" and "Don't This Road Look Rough and Rocky" turned back the clock a couple hundred years. The crowd ate it up.

The highlight, though, was a traditional fiddle tune that banjoist Abigail Washburn wrote lyrics to in Chinese. On the surface, it was a hilarious farce – but a little deeper it showcased exactly what accomplished musicians each of the ladies are.

Day 3 - Billy Joe Shaver, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt tribute

Friday, March 16, 2007, Austin, Jo's Coffeeshop, The Parish, Maria's Taco XPress

"This is my favorite spot on earth – you just can't beat it," Billy Joe Shaver beamed from the outdoor stage at Jo's Coffeeshop. "I'm Billy Joe Shaver, and these are all songs I've written over the years – hope you like them. Might as well start with ‘Georgia on a Fast Train.'"

And it kicked off his 50-minute set with the power of a full-steam locomotive. The energy level didn't waiver once as Shaver joyously – grinning and fist-pumping – sent up a hit parade of his most famous songs: "Honkytonk Heroes," "Old Chunk of Coal" and "Live Forever" among them.

That last one was transcendent. It's one thing to hear The Highwaymen or Cory Morrow sing "Live Forever," but something altogether profound to see Shaver – arms outstretched, as if embracing the entire audience – perform it. This is a man who clearly believes with every ounce of his earthly being in the truth of his words: "I'm gonna live forever/I'm gonna cross that river/I'm gonna catch tomorrow now."

Few songwriters are capable of reaching the same plateau as Shaver. Steve Earle does. The Texas native opened his solo acoustic set at The Parish with an autobiographical new song about "leaving Guitar Town with a redhead."

(Earle and his wife, singer Alison Moorer, relocated last year to New York City from the Nashville area. "I just needed to see a mixed-race, same-sex couple walking down the street holding hands," Earle said. "That makes me feel safe. And it ain't happening in Nashville.")

Earle dug deep into his catalog early on with "Someday" and "My Old Friend the Blues," then offered a look at the polar sides of love with "Now She's Gone" and "Goodbye." "Same girl, different harmonica," he said by way of introducing the latter.

Earle's admiration and respect for Townes Van Zandt – a god-like figure around Austin – is no secret. In fact, he'll scream the troubadour's praises to anyone listening. Earle did his songwriting mentor proud by covering Van Zandt's "Rex's Blues," which segued into his own "Ft. Worth Blues," written about Van Zandt after his 1997 death. The capacity crowd – there were about a hundred folks left outside waiting to get into the venue while Earle performed – hollered with their own appreciation for Van Zandt.

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