Dancing About Architecture

All Things Must Pass

Well, it's over. We made it through another South by Southwest. The problem is, not all of us will be making it much further. After resorting to benefits earlier this year to support themselves until SXSW, the owners of the Electric Lounge report that their festival income didn't meet expectations and that the six-year-old live music venue will be closing its doors April 10. In a group chat with Mark Shuman, Jay Hughey, and Mike Henry, the three co-owners said that given the club's rising costs, the Lounge didn't get the boost it needed from SXSW to continue. "If every week was like SXSW," says Henry, "we'd be open forever, but you can't hang your whole year on one week." The partners also say that they consider the Lounge to have been a success, providing a venue for the "cross-pollination" of the music, art, theatre, and poetry communities in town, despite the best efforts of nature (the club was razed by fire five years ago) and commerce (property taxes and rent hikes are no less distressing) in the Lounge's neighborhood. Shuman further assures that the suddenness of the announcement in no way should be taken to indicate that the threesome kept the club open through SXSW in order to "take the money and walk," saying that the trio are still well in debt as the saga of the Electric Lounge comes to a close. Though they hung in there as long as they could, says Henry, "you can only eat art for so long." As for the future, the three will remain active in the music/arts community in various ways; Shuman will continue his work as a film/video producer, Henry as a performer and in other capacities, and out-of-state commuter Hughey assures that he will "continue to see live music in L.A."

End of an Epic or: Vaughan Moves On

The Lounge's goodbye is hardly the only surprising announcement to burst forth with the embers of SXSW not yet done cooling. Equally unexpected is the revelation that Jimmie Vaughan and Epic, as of March 8, have parted company. Early assertions had surfaced that the label had become disgruntled last year when Vaughan opted to support his second Epic release, Out There, rather than work on the proposed Stevie Ray Vaughan box set the company had hoped would bring some needed Christmastime revenue to the Sony corporation, which has seen a bit of a downturn in its musical fortunes over the last several years. Label representatives deny any such hard feelings, with new Vaughan manager Corey Moore dismissing these charges completely. "They gave us an option," he explains, "and we passed on it. We wanted to move on." The split was amicable, he claims, with the reasoning behind it being that, "I think they wanted more pop records. Jimmie wants Texas guitar 'Vaughan-stamped' records." As for finding an outlet for those records, Moore says there are already a couple of "no-hassle deals" on the table and hopes to have further news by the first week of April.

As far as the key element of the rumors, the notion that Sony could proceed on the SRV box without Jimmie, Moore states that the surviving Vaughan "still rules the roost. They have to deal with him, and they'll continue to work together." And that's far from problematic, he says, as the box set and Jimmie's contract are totally separate, and the guitarist looks forward to continuing work on the collection with Sony, even as he returns to the studio in May, tours with Buddy Guy in June and July, and gets ready to release his next album on a new label. "Everything's cool," Moore reiterates, "[the split with Epic] wasn't nasty, goofy, or weird."

At Ease, Troops

To read the Statesman's daily's reports, as well as Neil Strauss' write-up in The New York Times, you'd think just about everything that happened during SXSW was either nasty, goofy, or weird, but apart from a few notable disasters, I really don't see where all the bile is coming from. Hell, even Austin Fire Department representative Bob Wheless described the festival as "getting better every year." Yes, this from the same fire department that descended on the Continental Club last Thursday night flanked by a squad of policemen in full riot gear. The apparent contradiction therein is explained by Wheless as a matter of simple precaution. After sending a Lieutenant to the club and announcing that they were over capacity, Wheless says there came a point when the AFD realized that getting customers to leave a bang-up show -- including Mike Ness backed by the Reverend Horton Heat's band -- wasn't being completed to their satisfaction. The decision was then made to bring in additional help to thin the crowd, and Wheless notes wryly, "People who have paid a substantial charge [to enter a club] aren't really that appreciative about that and they can become violent." As a result, the police were called in to ensure the safety of the AFD in the face of what Wheless calls potential "groupthink." (Of course, making a place look like a war zone in the first place is a good way to bring on such mob mentality.) The only other citation issued to a SXSW venue, according to Wheless, was to Fat Tuesday over a locked rear door that has presented problems before and really didn't relate to SXSW in any way. Nonetheless, grumblings on the street from various SXSW and club personnel over the weekend was at least equal to that heard during 1998's fest, and SXSW Creative Director Brent Grulke's unconditional "no comment" on the matter says volumes more than any prepared statement could.

There were other nasty elements to SXSW 99: some long lines, Thursday's bad weather -- forcing the cancellation of some shows at Stubb's and Scholz Garten (gig cancellation due to weather is practically unheard of during the fest's entire history), and the Visa problems leading to Cubanismo's conspicuous absence (I assume they'll be resolved in time for the band's La Zona Rosa appearance April 29.) Still, from my vantage point, this year's SXSW was definitely a comparative breeze; I kept myself exempt from taking part in any performances, panels, party plannings or other such distractions (with the exception of putting Zodiac Songs man Harvey Sid Fisher up for one night). Not only did I manage to pass the Badgeholder's Challenge -- making it through the conference without paying a cent for food or booze -- I also, unlike Tom Waits superfan Michael Corcoran, managed to pace myself so that I wasn't passed out cold at home during the entirety of Waits' rare performance at the Paramount. That's not to say I was actually at the show myself; hearing about the clusterfuck at the Paramount Theatre, I blew off the show. Of course, knowing that a Waits performance is likely for Austin City Limits later this season helped ease my distress. Anyway, attending that show would've meant missing my houseguest Harvey Sid's performance, and that wouldn't have been right -- just ask David Byrne and Terry Allen, who also chose Fisher over Waits' gig (and who were spotted at too many other shows to count). It would seem that normally laid-back Austinites turn radical when it comes to matters involving the former Talking Head, and I'm not just referring to the guy who bought the True Stories script I found in a dumpster from Fringeware for $50. An e-mail from Flipnotics details the stalking and trapping of Byrne thus: "Upon the ending of Fisher's set, Byrne, Terry Allen, and crew attempt to leave Flips. But heroic efforts led by doorman/talent buyer Michael Nowlin leave no choice for Byrne and entourage as he barricades exit with trash cans and chairs. The amused Byrne makes way through barricade and is now gaining way to parking lot. But the relentless Nowlin, now with the help of Matt the Electrician, bribe Byrne with $1.76 to stay and check out the Barbers. Byrne again amused, takes offer and stays to a very satisfying and grand show."

For those of you in the "wristbands only" line, I gotta say I hope you had a good time, because if you didn't, it's your own damn fault. I'll even go out on a limb here and say I think there was as much entertainment to be had at SXSW 99 without a wristband as there was at SXSW with one. Hell, there was so much going on that even the so-called private parties didn't seem to care who they let in half the time! A notable exception was the party for Robbie Williams at Club DeVille, which quickly revealed itself to be a potential sardine can of schmoozers, losers, and boozers. Early on, the panicked owner, short on help, began barking out orders to everyone in the vicinity to get the place ready for visitors, and was shocked to recognize Williams, UK superstar and seller of millions of albums, when he took the stage, as the fellow she had assigned the duty of taking out the garbage! Williams reportedly performed the task without complaint, though he was probably as bemused as Billy Gibbons, who was mobbed by Japanese journalists at the Electric Lounge after they recognized him as the star (along with his fellow ZZ Toppers) of a recent Honda Commercial. Even if you just hung out at the various non-SXSW events, you should've had a fulfilling week. A good f'rinstance was Saturday afternoon's Fuck X Fuck You, held at a warehouse on the Eastside, which was shut down by admittedly apologetic cops before the sun had even set (!). Forced to clear the property before his headliners could play, the organizer of the event was seen tearfully muttering "... and every single member of Squat Thrust had actually showed up!" The pathos in that statement is matched only by a ProjeKct Three audience member at the Electric Lounge on Sunday who mourned that, "I don't think it's fair for them not to do an encore when Adrian Belew has been in the audience yelling for one for five minutes!" That's hard logic to counter, except when you consider that they "encored" with two more shows at the Cactus Cafe and another one tonight (Thursday) at Antone's!

Mixed Notes

Life goes on, post-SXSW. The Austin Record Convention, for instance, is this weekend (hope you saved some shekels). Amongst the vinyl and CDs, look for Ian McLagan, who'll be signing his new disc and book (and some of that old vinyl, no doubt...

A frustrated would-be art buyer tells me that sometime during SXSW "someone with titanic balls apparently walked into Emo's and strolled away with all three of Al Frank's black and white paintings of those three freaky zombie girls (aka needle-arm girl, razor-arm girl, and that other one) that had been taken off the front room wall and were awaiting pickup by Al." Apparently, someone in a truck came and snagged them. These monstrous canvases are hardly the easiest thing to hide, so call Emo's or the cops if you spot 'em...

--Contributors: Raoul Hernandez, Andy Langer, Margaret Moser

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