Row one: Jon Byrd, Troy Campbell, Eilen Jewell, Row two: The Hickoids, Zoe Muth, The Wagoneers with Joe Ely
Row three: James Hand, Eddie Spaghetti, James Intveld.
This was my first visit to both Texas and SXSW and yes it was as crazy as everyone had said it would be. The amount of music on offer, in any given genre is overwhelming and, in truth, as has often been said you can't see everything. So you set your targets and try to catch those you haven't had a chance to see live previously. John Conquest's alternative show is one you could just simply spend your entire weekend sitting at the one spot, in this case the G & S Lounge and listen to a whole lot of good music. Another spot where a lot of good things were happening was inside in Threadgills. Though it's a working restaurant and unless you want to eat continuously a little less easy to spend an entire day there.
As it happened I caught two bands who played in both locations Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers and Eilen Jewell. Both play contemporary country, are strong singers and songwriters and have fine bands. Jewell, interestingly played substantially different sets at both locations. At Threadgills she played more songs from her upcoming album. In a way these two sets provided a fuller more normal picture as the nature of SXSW showcases is that most acts are playing 30 to 35 minute sets. This is often a pretty good way to get to know a new act. I saw some singer/songwriter sets that included the inventive songwriter Matt The Electrician among others. At the Bloodshot showcase at the Yard Dog shop I got a chance to view Jon Langford's original artwork and to see Exene Cervenka, Freakwater, Whitey Morgan and Eddie Spaghetti. The latter two playing some roughed up country songs in their sets. Other highlights included a rare performance by Troy Campbell, who played a new song in his short set but proved he should be playing more. Jon Byrd with guitarist Tom Mason was good as was the roots rock of Deadman. The Hickoids are a combination of many influences but the pedal steel gave a roots edge to their raucous and entertaining set. James Hand and his backing trio played a very hardcore set of traditional country music at the Saxon Pub and proved why he is a local legend. Two other acts caught at the Continental Club were John D Graham and James Intveld, the latter with Rick Shea playing lead guitar. The highlight, however for this writer was catching the first set from the newly reformed Wagoneers who still sound unique and vibrant with their Buddy Holly inspired country music. The songs were largely from their debut album but sounded great, as did the closing song were they were joined by Joe Ely (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rQUWKzTPYk). This is one of the bands that got me interested in the music in the first place and they sounded good at the Austin Music Awards. However I caught a second appearance later at the Continental Club where I got up close but their sound was unbalanced and bass heavy from where I stood and lacked the impact of the earlier performance but both bode well for the future. I also got to see Roky Erickson but that's a whole other story.