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South By Southwest Festival: more country than you could shake a stick at

By Clarissa Sansone, March 2002

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The scene then became musically schizo, with former Whiskeytowner Caitlin Cary following Ingram's act and the Drive-By Truckers following hers. Cary had the same energy as Ingram, but channeled it inward. Her smiling "thank you very much" after each song, the undulous musical grooves and thoughtful lyrics provided a breath of fresh air to the overheated audience. Fellow North Carolina resident Thad Cockrell joined Cary on "Thick Wall Down."

When the Drive-By Truckers walked into the spotlight, though, all hell broke loose. A band of baseball-capped college rowdies crowded the edge of the stage as the DBT were setting up, and let loose with both hoops and hollers between each song, and after toasts such as "We're gonna drink to arena rock." The band was having too damn much fun, and it spread all the way to the back row of listeners. When the atmosphere became less like a concert venue and more like a University of Texas kegger, however, the more mild-mannered among us read that as a cue to go.

The backyard of the Texas CafŽ (formerly Under the Sun) hosted another lineup of Twangfest-related artists on Friday afternoon. Warm sun, cold beer, and dusty ground lent the convivial air of a rowdy picnic to the event. A mixed bag of slick-haired cats, rockabilly fillies, locals and festival-goers filled the backlot, bopping to the strains of early rock-n-roll sound provided by a stylishly collected James Intveld.

The mild, professorial countenance of Bill Kirchen appeared behind the microphone around 5:30, and he and his band, which included special guest Chris Gaffney, brought the guttural guitar of truckin' songs into the open air. "When was the last time you spent time in a barroom?" Kirchen asked the audience, and proceeded to construct an aural barroom for them. Not surprisingly, Kirchen closed his set with "Hot Rod Lincoln," during which he mimicked the guitar licks of, among several others, Johnny Cash, Weezer, Bob Wills, Bo Diddley, The Ventures, Johnny Rivers, Elmore James, the Sex Pistols, and "the whole King family," which included B.B. King, Albert King, Ben E. King, and The King. Kirchen closed that afternoon's Twangfest party, clearing the stage for Austin band Hay Bail, who performed covers of classic country songs as the sun went down.

On Friday night, Antone's played host to honky-tonk sound once again when Austin's own Roger Wallace and his band took the stage, with fellow Austinite Jim Stringer on guitar and pedal steel. Wallace played a set of solidly performed yet docile Hank Williamsesque tunes to a rather stiff, sparse crowd, whose only saving graces were the two fearless young women dancing in front.

Since Don Walser, who had been scheduled to follow Wallace, was in the hospital, a Don Walser Tribute Band - which included Slaid Cleaves, Wallace, Bosworth, Morlix and others - filled in at the last minute, after completing what Wallace called "an Austin rehearsal." Morlix sang Lefty Frizzell's "Mom and Dad's Waltz," a tune he said Walser often requested he play. Bosworth's contribution included a version of the wonderfully schmaltzy, poignantly tragic ballad "Paper Rosie." Cleaves, however, had the audience in his palm when he covered Walser's "My Ride with Jimmie" (a number Cleaves often performs in concert), holding forth with yodels that would make Walser proud.

Saturday night, the last full evening of SXSW showcases, offered more country-tinged music than one person could possibly see. Opal Divine's Freehouse hosted the Slewfoot Records showcase, Mother Egan's had artists signed to Bloodshot, the Austin Music Hall's lineup included Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis, Reckless Kelly, The Derailers and Cowboy Mouth, and the Flatlanders were scheduled to appear at Mercury at midnight.

But what about the Continental Club? Their showcase, which started earlier than the others, opened with The Hyperions, a hard-edged rockabilly quartet from LA that included the impressive double-slapping stand-up bassist Annette Faltermier and lead singer and guitarist Jason Planco, whose deep voice kept the crowd's interest with its menacing resonance.

The pleasant surprise of the evening - or perhaps of the festival - was a hard-driving, bluegrass-flavored country group called the Weary Boys. Lining up at the front of the stage in the manner of bluegrass musicians, but with an electric guitar and snare drum in additional to the more old time instrumentation of acoustic guitar, fiddle, and acoustic bass, the group breathed new life into old standards like "Worried Man Blues" and "Rock Island Line" and proved adept songwriters in their own right.

The compact frame of energetic lead guitarist and singer Mario Matteoli took center stage, flanked by the lean, laconic presence of drummer Cade C. Callahan on one side and the burly bearded form of acoustic guitarist and singer Darren Hoff on the other, with fiddler Brian Salvi and bassist Darren Sluyter rounding out the edges. The Boys' music elicited ample audience participation, including foot stomps during each song and excited hoops after. They closed with a sizzling, manic rendition of "Orange Blossom Special."

The only thing capable of bringing the spirits down after such a performance would beÉ.hmmmÉhow about: to head to the Mercury a short time later and see that the line to hear The Flatlanders - not the mile-long affair to which wristband-wearers were relegated, but the line for registrants with badges, badges that usually let one saunter into a venue, to the disgust of non-badged concert-goers - was about 15 people long and as stagnant as a Lubbock river in summer.

Better to drink and hear live music than stand in an unmoving line, as the saying goes.

It was decidedly St. Patrick's Eve in Mother Egan's densely populated outdoor tent, where the Bloodshot showcase rolled on. The Bottle Rockets energetically Doug Sahmba-ed their way through a set and were followed by Chicago's Waco Brothers. The group of Pogues-ish rogues closed the evening with a set of unrelenting, hard-edged tonk-n-roll. "It's very frightening what's going on in this country and if you don't know that you're a fucking idiot!" proclaimed vocalist Jon Langford, before launching into a rendition of T-Rex's "20th Century Boy" followed by the Who's "Baba O'Reiley." The crowd was happy, the band was loud and appropriately raucous, but certain country music writers couldn't jot down (much less remember) any further information, what with a margarita in each hand.

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