The only thing that there might be more of than actual music at SXSW in Austin, Texas, – where more than 1,000 bands perform over five days – is coverage of that music (and associated music-related events, such as panel discussions, live performer interviews, industry mentoring and networking sessions, and an artist-delivered keynote, which Thursday morning came from the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl). Here’s a small sampling of what’s been written so far:
The ever-more-impressive profile of the festival, once pretty much solely the province of unsigned or less-known bands, has begun to draw performers with impressive profiles of their own. Lil Wayne and Bruce Springsteen were last year’s biggest names; this year, Justin Timberlake and Prince play Austin. The Village Voice ran a thoughtful piece titled “Why We’ll All Try To See Justin Timberlake at SXSW, and Why That’s Completely Wrong,” in which the writer called him “one pop star too far” for an event whose spotlight is supposed to be on the underground and the overlooked.
Thursday morning, Grohl stepped into the spotlight that Springsteen, Neil Young and Bob Geldof have occupied in recent years and gave the keynote speech for SXSW 2013. (The complete text is available on Rolling Stone’s website; you can watch NPR’s video recording in full on NOLA.com.)
Grohl waxed rhapsodic about the creative role of the musician, in a feel-good talk that chronicled his personal experience in the business – though “business” might not be the most apt word to use there, as Grohl’s emphasis was on creativity, and the idea that “the musician comes first.” USA Today applauded his affable, self-deprecating wit; the Austin Chronicle, comparing him to elder statesman Springsteen, deemed Grohl “not your father’s rock star.”
The second must-see talk at the Austin Convention Center Thursday was NPR critic Ann Powers’ one-on-one interview with Stevie Nicks. Unfortunately, it took place at exactly the same time as one of the New Orleans panels I attended and was far too crowded to comfortably pop in and out of. (Also, my husband was on the NOLA panel, and though choosing between Stevie Nicks and your own spouse is a tough call, I opted for harmony at home.)
The Dallas Morning News and the Austin Chronicle both enjoyed the chat, which they agreed was a peek behind the glittery, diaphanous curtain of the witchy Nicks’ many years in rock ‘n’ roll. Rolling Stone’s review focused on Nicks’ thoughts on her role as a powerful woman in a pre-feminist music industry – which reminded me, not for nothing, that SXSW has not had a female keynote speaker since Lucinda Williams gave the address in 2009.
I wish very much that Powers and Nicks might reprise their conversation on the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage during Jazz Fest 2013, which Fleetwood Mac is scheduled to headline. (Quint, are you reading this?)
And rather neatly, what’s turned out to be the runaway success of SXSW’s 2013 music weekend thus far featured Grohl and Nicks together, along with many others, Thursday night at Stubb’s barbecue. Grohl’s new film, “Sound City“ (which screens a few times in Austin this week), is a loving biography of the venerable Los Angeles studio of that name, and the Thursday night show was an all-star reunion of its many alumni.
The group performance united John Fogerty, Rick Nielsen, Fear’s Lee Ving, Rick Springfield and a host of others for a set list that would have made for an awfully unlikely mix tape – Nicks’ “Landslide” was played in the same hour as Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” – but the reviews were uniformly adoring. Yes (like many SXSW attendees) I was on the list and no (also like many others) I didn’t, in the end, make it in. But here’s what Billboard (“a glorious noise”) the Los Angeles Times (“they went big”) the New York Times (“thrilling”) and Fuse TV (“epic”) had to say about the 3 1/2-hour monster show, which looks like it’s one for the record books.