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Hank III, Stuart, McMurtry, Foster set the Americana stage

Antone's, Austin, March 16, 2006

Reviewed by Adi Anand

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Day two of the SXSW Music Festival in Austin can often feel like day four. Excessive day shows and indulgent after-parties have turned the festival into a 24-hour a day event. Add to that multiple mouth watering shows all set in the same time zone and often at exactly the same time, and one could be excused for being a zombie if not delirious very soon into the weekend.

Usual SXSW dilemmas like choices between Kris Kristofferson and Hank the III on the same night only publicize the grandeur and allure of this festival. The Americana Music Association has been an activist for the genre of singer/songwriters meddling in folk, bluegrass, country and blues.

For SXSW, AMA put together a line-up of the highest merit. With Hank, localite James McMurtry and "twang" genius Marty Stuart headlining the impressive bill, the early part of the showcase was hit or miss, with a restless crowd wandering in and out of a jam packed Antone's.

A Del Rio, Texas native Radney Foster, who went solo in the early 90s after the demise of his earlier project, Foster and Lloyd, was on tap early in the evening. Foster mixed country and folk with R&B in an enterprising if not exhilarating set as the masses started to settle.

Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives followed with Stuart dressed for success in his best black waistcoat and silver buckles' lined pants.

The maestro piloted the crowd through a series of staples. While he was not charming the crowd, Stuart found time to pay tribute to Johnny Cash and play himself into a guitar "smackdown" with Kenny Vaughan on stage. The swing and twang lasted almost an hour (almost a no-no at SXSW's 45 minute sets) and included a cover of Pops Staples "Somebody Saved Me." The loudest cheers might have been reserved for "That's Country," an ode to all that is right about growing up in this culture.

McMurtry was up next and would have a tough act to follow, but unfortunately, Kristofferson a mile away at La Zona Rosa beckoned. A return to Antone's was well after 1a.m. and into Hank III's already electrifying set.

Touring to support his new record, "Straight to Hell," Hank III made his album title intentions clear with songs about alcohol, pillaging and illegal substances. Hank has peddled in punk and metal throughout his career in accord with his country roots. Pedal steel guitar, fiddle, bass and drums were all meant to keep up his electric guitar this night as he rattled through "Smoke & Wine," "Pills I Took" and crowd favorite "Thrown Out Of The Bar."

This set was not sans cover either with Wayne Hancock's appearance for a version of "Juke Joint Jumping," providing another soaring moment at this extravagant showcase. Save for that "soft" moment, the energetic show was packed with rip roaring psychobilly and speedy backbeats as Hank captivated the crowd to adulation.

Jeff Green, executive director of the AMA, made cameos between sets, promoting and glorifying the genre. He could not have hoped for a better showcase for the lasting genius of Americana.