Another year, another South by


Since I have all but abandoned the blog, I’m not sure why I feel so compelled to post an update of my most recent and fourth SXSW experience.1  But I do. And it appears to be happening.

Perhaps it’s because I feel like I’ve got the South-by thing down now, and I want to brag about it. Or maybe it has to do with my crazy experience with Airbnb that resulted in me realizing a company can totally buy my love (through great customer service and well, buying me stuff). Or possibly because this was the year I felt most like an insider & realized how many people I know only through this annual trek to Austin. Likely, it’s all those things, along with the fact that I should be writing a conference paper.2 

This was the first year I went without a wristband of any sort, and the second time I did not rent a car. I did not miss the wristband at all, and thanks to a $50 Lyft credit that was available to new users during SXSW, I spent around $90 in transportation (including getting to/from the airport). Last year, I got a great deal on my car rental, but with the rental fees plus parking fees, I spent over $300. Even without the Lyft credit, $140 is way more manageable than $300!

I booked my Airbnb & flight pretty early this year, and was SO pleased with myself – great deals & a great location! And then… at the sort of last minute, my Airbnb host cancelled on me. Like any good disgruntled customer, I tweeted about it & tagged @Airbnb. Nearly immediately, Airbnb customer service contacted me via Twitter, email, and a phone call. They offered to find me a replacement place, but as soon as I could, I started searching for another place & eventually found something pretty close to my price range, and in an OK neighborhood. Airbnb customer service followed up again, covered the price difference between the two bookings, and then gave me a $100 credit towards my next Airbnb. They also had a gift bag waiting for me at my place when I arrived in Austin, gave me $200 towards a pair of boots at Allens Boots, and a free two-stepping lesson at the White Horse. Consider my satisfaction and love bought, Airbnb.

Enough of all that – how’s about the music?!? For the past couple of years, my South-by plan has been go to all the Bloodshot things I can, and then hit anything else, if possible. This year, I did the following (pics to follow):

  • Tuesday
    • El Mercado3  for James McMurtry, Robbie Fulks, and the Grahams
    • A bit of the Swollen Circus at the Continental Club
  • Wednesday
    • Gingerman for the Blurt showcase, including Freedy Johnston, Brett Harris, Robbie Fulks, and the Supersuckers
    • Continental Club for the Bloodshot Records showcase, including Al Scorch, Banditos, Yawpers, Lydia Loveless, and the Waco Brothers
  • Thursday
    • Broken Spoke for (the last song by the Wacos), Luke Winslow-King, Robbie Fulks, and Corb Lund
    • Gingerman for the Wacos, Banditos, it’s not true to say I really paid attention to Churchwood, but I certainly heard some of their stuff, and a song or two by Bad Luck Jonathan
    • Thursday night, I may have gone to watch the UK-Stoneybrook basketball game & made friends with some folks from Kentucky who now live in Austin.

And of course, Friday was the Bloodshot Yard Dog party, with Possessed by Paul James, Rosie Flores, Robbie Fulks, Luke Winslow-King, Lydia Loveless, Al Scorch, Banditos, the Yawpers, and, of course, the Waco Brothers.

Some general thoughts? Any time the Wacos play it’s a blast, and I’m continually amazed that Jon Langford always remembers me. I saw Robbie play a solo show, but the rest of the time, he was playing with a full band, including pedal steel, and it was all awesome. The Yawpers are crazy. Like, seriously crazy, and you need to see them live. Al Scorch, another new Bloodshot signee, is just as charming as heck. The Banditos have gotten even better since I last saw them. At Ginger Man, when they played their cover of “I Put a Spell on You,” Mary Beth ended up singing on a table in the middle of the crowd, and we were basically all dead. It was possibly one of the best live songs I’ve ever seen.

IMG_1360

Here’s a version, if you’re curious, but that day at Ginger Man was way better. I promise.

Finally, when I saw the Supersuckers play at Ginger Man, I noticed their bass player looked a lot like Danny, the bass player for Banditos (or Danny looked a lot like him). When I heard that the Supersuckers had been added to the guest list at the Continental for the Bloodshot Showcase that night, I knew what I had to do. I put a few folks on the lookout, and managed to snag a photo. It was as awkward as you’re thinking it might have been, but the guys were pretty good sports about it.

IMG_1323

And finally, finally, one of the best parts of the week was seeing all my Bloodshot pals and South-by friends.


1. My previous SXSW blog posts had been sad and sorry excuses for updates, but there are some photos. You can check them out here, here, and for my first year, here and here.

2. Yeah, you know it’s really because of that… professional procrastinator and all that.

3. You should not be surprised to know that El Mercado is a Mexican restaurant with a venue in the back.
Back to Top

Favorites bands and favorite chord progressions

My favorite band is the Old 97’s. However, Freakwater would also be an honest answer (as would Gillian Welch). I can thank a super cool friend from high school for introducing me to the Old 97’s, a Bloodshot compilation for introducing me to Freakwater, while one of my college roommates properly introduced me to Gillian Welch.1  

A (not very good) photo of Catherine Irwin & Janet Bean from a Freakwater show in Atlanta (November 2005, I don't remember the venue)

A (not very good) photo of Catherine Irwin & Janet Bean from a Freakwater show in Atlanta (November 2005, I don’t remember the venue)

Freakwater appeared on Bloodshot’s first compilation album (way back in 1994), and subsequently was on Thrill Jockey for years. BUT coming in February 2016, according to the Freakwater Facebook page, “We will be releasing our eighth studio album this fall with our dear friends Bloodshot Records!!” So… since I wrote a dissertation on Bloodshot Records and all, and what with loving Freakwater, I’m really, really, REALLY excited about this.2   As Bloodshot noted today, you may have thought that Freakwater was already on Bloodshot, but this upcoming studio album is, in fact, the band’s first with the record label. You can hear the first single from the album here, and you can pre-order the album and/or get the 7″ single here.

The announcement of this single inspired me to listen to pretty much the entire Freakwater catalogue throughout the day today. As I listened to the song “Cricket Versus Ant” (Thinking of You, 2005), I was reminded of my most favorite chord progression, which is in this song: V/vi – vi, or III – vi, or a major three chord to the minor six. This song is in D Major, so the chord progression is F-sharp major to b minor. The first time it happens, the lyrics are “If it all goes terribly wrong” at 1:27 in the video below.

I have done absolutely no research on this progression; I just know that I always love it when it happens. I think I first noticed it when I had to play chord progression for a piano proficiency exam or something equally dorky, but I remember first LOVING when I heard it in a Dixie Chicks song, “Tonight the Heartache’s on Me” (Wide Open Spaces, 1998).3   This song is in F Major, and in this case, the magical chords are A major to d minor in the chorus. The first time it happens, the lyrics are “Bartender, pour the wine” at 0:47 in the video below.

Isn’t it great? Sure, there are other secondary dominants that are nice, but this one is by far my favorite (and the best). Hooray for a new Freakwater album & hooray for V/vi – vi! Feel free to share examples with me!


1. The same high school friend likely introduced me to Bloodshot, or at least I was with her at CD Central (a fantastic record store in Lexington, KY) when I bought that compilation album.

2. At this point, I’m probably more excited about the album, rather than the research possibilities, but that’s a topic for another post.

3. This is the first song I look for if/when I ever karaoke. Seriously. Feel free to judge me.

Oh, hey there!

I think it’s safe to say things have been slow here at the blog. A long time ago, I started a post-SXSW post, but… didn’t finish it. Good story, right? It seems dumb to recap all of that in detail now since it was so long ago, but some pics/highlights are below.

***Regarding the Talkable Vegetables, you can watch a video here.

Upon returning from South By, things got hectic fast. I know I have been way busier other times in my adult life, but for some reason, the second half of this semester seemed more challenging. Maybe it’s because I’m an old lady, or maybe it’s because I’m still recovering from the dissertation.1  In any event, everything pretty much wrapped up this past weekend, and I’m glad. Also, there’s still a hole in my ceiling, which will hopefully be repaired in the next year month.

In addition to the ceiling, I have one more project to complete that I’ve been putting off for months. Of course, my plan was to knock that out tonight, which is why I’m blogging (er, professional procrastinator, anyone?). ICMC is at the end of the month, and I’ll also head up to Kentucky to see the Very Tall Nephew graduate from high school (!!!). After that, it will be the first summer in many years that I won’t have degree-required academic work to do.

I can’t wait.


1. It is just as likely that Kentucky’s loss to Wisconsin in the Final Four was to blame. Sigh. Go Cats.

Back to Chicago (plus, a random guy discounts my research!)

I went to Chicago last week. It had been over a year since I visited the city, so I was very glad to be back. The purpose of this trip was to attend the American Music Festival at FitzGerald’s Nightclub in Berwyn. I’ve been before, and it’s a really great festival – and this year, several Bloodshot bands played to celebrate the record label’s 20th anniversary. It wasn’t the only 20th anniversary event, and it won’t be the last, but it was certainly a great excuse to get back to the city.

I got to see friends (thanks as always to the wonderful folks who let me stay with them–and their ridiculously cute one-year-old), and I managed to spend some time wandering around downtown. I ate at a couple of my favorite vegetarian restaurants – Pick Me Up Cafe and Handlebar. Even though I had a definite plan to eat lunch at the Chicago Diner, I planned rather poorly and ended up not making it (which only means I can’t wait a full year before I visit Chicago again!). Oh, and I also did some research/follow up work at the Chicago Public Library.

The trip was fun, productive, and tiring, but I have to share one particular story, if only because of its absurdity. The short version is that I had a complete stranger (older, male) discount my dissertation and research after hearing approximately five sentences about it. His general take on my work was, “That’s not gonna cut it. That’s just not gonna work for you.”

As I was in Chicago at a music festival devoted to American music when this conversation took place, I initially thought for a moment that I was being schooled by a senior scholar in musicology or ethnomusicology from a Chicago institution. As this person continued to speak, I realized he was not in my field, but was likely in a related academic field, such as history or anthropology. But then he kept talking. And then I asked him point blank, and he told me, no, he was not a PhD, nor was he in academia. After I told him Advisor was in disagreement with him about my work “cutting it,” as it were, not to mention my committee, he said, “That’s just one person’s opinion – or just a few people… it’s really not gonna cut it. You’ve really got to do more.” At this point, I replied, “It seems you don’t know how folks go about getting PhD’s. I really would like to pay attention to this band now.”

So, basically, I had my dissertation mansplained to me by a person who was not an academic AT ALL. He was not a musician, nor was he really familiar with Bloodshot, alt.country, or country music, or even academia. After I walked away, I had at least 80,000 other wonderful and witty and clever things that came to mind that I wish I had said to him. And of course, I wondered why in heavens I even spoke with him for as along as I did.

In any event, I’m glad that guy’s not on my committee.

 

Guitar Slide Wednesday and Other Stuff…

According to that calendar over on the right of the home page, I updated this blog twice in March and once in April. To keep the bar low, here’s at least one post in the this lovely month of May. And in the interest of efficiency, here are some things I would be writing about here on the blog, were I not at least moderately concerned with writing a dissertation.

1. Writing a dissertation and the exciting adventures of revising chapters1 

2. My second trip to SXSW that happened way back in March

3. Alumni weekend at my undergrad alma mater. I went because a.) it was my 15th year reunion (!!! #oldlady) and b.) our choir director/music history prof of 41 years retired & we had an alumni choir.

Finally, since it’s Wednesday, here’s a guitar slide for you. This song is called “Kerosene” by a band called Big Black, and the big guitar slides occurs at 1:05 and 3:45 or so.2  You might not be probably are not familiar with Big Black, but this band was a hardcore punk or industrial or post-punk band out of Chicago in the 1980s, and one of Steve Albini’s early bands. Albini is a Chicago-based musician and recording engineer, likely most famous for recording Nirvana and the Pixies, but has done, you know, lots of other things. This song appears in my dissertation, and I say a lot more about it there, but I know you only care about that guitar slide.3  http://youtu.be/HuO3wwLuF0w  


1. Just kidding. The process is pretty miserable, and I’m certain you don’t really want to hear/read about it at all.

2. As I write this post, I’m imagining the sort of feedback Advisor might provide and how she probably would disagree and/or not like it. This might be a sign I need to graduate soon. If you would like me to update the blog more frequently, perhaps you could let Advisor know that she should let me graduate in August.

3. I have listened to much of this song at least 200 times in order to transcribe it, well, because apparently, that’s what musicologists do. I really should have been a journalism major.

Happy Friday Gratitude!

Lots of parts about graduate school pretty much suck (and by graduate school, I mean specifically a doctoral degree in the humanities). The bureaucracy, the seemingly arbitrary hoops to jump through, the reading, the writing, dealing with difficult professors, etc., this stuff just isn’t very fun. Add to that all of the woe, wailing, and teeth-gnashing regarding the job market, work loads and such, and one must wonder why anyone would subject themselves to such experiences. Well, for me, it’s the other parts that make it worthwhile, such as learning gross amounts about something that I find fascinating and compelling, the reading, the writing, dealing with brilliant professors (often the same individuals who are difficult, of course), and commiserating with folks who are equally compelled by similar interests.

As much as I would like to end up with an academic job, I have no idea if I will ever get one; but I do know that I have (mostly) enjoyed the past seven years. The actual experience of earning this degree (assuming this actually happens in August) has been worthwhile. If nothing else, I will have spent seven years of my life Thinking about, Reading about, and Writing about Music in (mostly) new and different ways, which I think is better than just about anything else I could have been doing for that time.1 

I spent a chunk of time this morning with a producer/recording engineer. We listened to an assortment of Bloodshot and non-Bloodshot tracks and talked about what they sounded like, recording and mixing techniques, and other such details. And it was great – interesting and super helpful for me.2  As I walked away from that meeting, I was reminded again of how much I like music, and how grateful I am that I get to write a ton of pages about music that I really, really love (even if the actual thinking and writing part is Really Hard). And of course, I was overwhelmed (yet again) by how nice and helpful so many folks have been to me through this whole process… and all of this on the eve of SXSW – where I will attend again as an “artist” (make that ROCK STAR, at least in terms of wristbands)! I’ll get to see more live shows than you can shake a proverbial stick at, and get my fill (and then some) of great music.3 

I’m not finished with my dissertation just yet, and I’m in a relatively challenging place in the journey right now. However, I have moments where I’m beginning to believe that I might actually one day finish the dissertation, and after that, graduate. In the dissertation, I will get to write a page of acknowledgements to thank folks and publicly proclaim my gratefulness to specific people, but for now, in the middle of a not-always-fun part, I’m pretty glad for some reminders of the fun parts.


1. Enjoy the journey, value the process, and all that… Besides, in the “real world,” when it comes down to it, wouldn’t seven years be considered a pretty good run at a job? Not sure how my committee members might view this perspective, though…


2. Here’s one of the tracks we listened to – Robbie Fulks’ “The Buck Starts Here,” from his Bloodshot Records debut, Country Love Songs (1996).


3. I absolutely cannot wait to get back to the Broken Spoke!

SXSW, part two

I went to South by Southwest a couple of weeks ago, and I wrote about my first couple of days here.

On Thursday of SXSW, I headed out to the Broken Spoke on South Lamar for the Twangfest Day Party. The Broken Spoke is a honky-tonk dance hall, that (according to their website) has a history that dates back to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. So much about the Broken Spoke is remarkable, but it’s certainly curious to see high-rises in construction on either side of this meeting hall/barn-like structure. On the inside, not much has changed at the Broken Spoke. It’s a restaurant, a bar, and a music venue with a huge dance floor. I saw Kelly Hogan, Bruce Robinson and Kelly Willis, and Dale Watson there. I also caught a bit of the Carper Family and Ron Sexsmith in the small restaurant-like front room.

When I arrived, I wandered around to check the place out, and eventually sat down at a table on the edge of the dance floor. Shortly thereafter, I was joined by an older couple who were Austinites and regulars at the Broken Spoke. Thanks to these nice folks, I got a thorough history of not only the table at which we were sitting, but also the property, the room, the repairs to the ceiling, etc., the owner, and the way things usually work at the Spoke. They were generally appalled and irritated that folks were gathering on the dance floor as Kelly Hogan was taking the stage (there’s a sign, and eventually the dancers cleared out the standers). These folks were so nice and informative, and introduced me to other regulars and friends — it was like my own official tour! But the best part was that I got to dance my first official two-step. I’ve gushed about mentioned that I love the Empty Bottle on Fridays, but I certainly fell in love with the Broken Spoke on my first visit!

Thursday night, I went down to Sixth Street with plans to see Rodney Crowell, Shonna Tucker, Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale, and Emmylou Harris. I saw Rodney Crowell and Shonna Tucker, and was pleasantly surprised to see Shonna’s band is mostly Athens guys that I know. I was heading toward Antone’s to catch Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale when I got a text saying that the Waco Brothers were doing a surprise/secret show on the rooftop of a very random bar. I changed directions, and went to see the Wacos. The stage was quite small, which didn’t quite suit the Wacos, but they made the most of it. And there was a fog machine, which was fun and funny.

After the Wacos show, I went to grab a bite to eat with a friend, and as we were eating on the back patio, apparently Ice Cube, LL Cool J, and Public Enemy were performing just on the other side of the patio wall. We were able to catch glimpses of the performance on the building-turned-gigantic-vending-machine-turned-screen, and we were certainly able to hear them. And with that, I called it a night.