SXSW Music: Dion

Bronx bard was never, ever a Dick Clark confection

Clad in black and wearing a beret, 76-year-old Dion DiMucci cut a compelling figure when he took the stage alongside Conan O’Brien house band leader Jimmy Vivino. The headliner on acoustic and the latter manning electric guitar, Thursday night’s storyteller session drew heavily upon the newly-released New York is My Home.

Dion (photo by Gary Miller)

Introducing “I’m Your Gangster of Love,” Dion recalled wannabe Mafiosi hanging around George’s Bar in his native Bronx. The fact he mentioned the name of the bar hints at why he’s such an effective songwriter. Details matter.

Likewise, hearing Dion perform in an unadorned blues context drove home the degree to which he introduced an undercurrent of raw, ribald emotion into seemingly cheery AM pop hits. Freewheeling stud fantasy “The Wanderer” still sounds appropriately nasty more than 50 years later. That never happens with a Dick Clark confection.

As a 19-year-old leading Dion & the Belmonts, he narrowly avoided being on the same plane that crashed and killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson. Then he had to keep playing the Winter Dance Party to its conclusion. “Visionary Heart” found DiMucci entering a dream as a mechanism of coming to terms with the tragedy.

If the performance was a bit uneven, the catharsis was palpable.

1961 chart-topper “Runaround Sue” was the logical closer. The crowd augmented the sparsely arranged rendition with singing and clapping that belied the Driskill Hotel’s themed Victorian Room. Queen Victoria wouldn’t have had a chance against high emotion, pelvic thrust, and Dion’s magic touch.

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Playback: Biggest Austin Music Stories of 2016
Playback: Biggest Austin Music Stories of 2016
Looking back on the biggest Music news headlines of the year

Kevin Curtin, Dec. 23, 2016

Playback: Welcome to Terrordome: Sixth Street During SXSW
Playback: Welcome to Terrordome: Sixth Street During SXSW
Appraising APD's solution to Sixth Street during SXSW

Kevin Curtin, April 8, 2016

More by Greg Beets
Friday ACL Fest 2018 Record Reviews
David Byrne
American Utopia (Record Review)

Oct. 5, 2018

Sunday ACL Fest 2018 Record Reviews
Neighbor Lady
Maybe Later (Record Review)

Oct. 5, 2018


SXSW, SXSW Music 2016, Dion, Jimmy Vivino, Conan O’Brien, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, Dick Clark

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle