SXSW Live Shots

Wednesday Night

To Live Is to Fly: The Townes Van Zandt Story Panel

Convention Center, Saturday, Mar 18

When KUT deejay and panelist Larry Monroe played a segment of an interview he did with Townes Van Zandt just before he died, the latter's voice booming off the room's high ceiling and blank walls, it did for a moment feel as if a ghost was in the room. Unfortunately, that snippet of conversation and a short video shown by panelist Ingrid Weigand were the only moments that the audience really got a sense of what Townes Van Zandt was all about. There were a few funny stories and a whole bunch of quotes, but not much over what you'd get if you go see Steve Earle or Butch Hancock play a gig. Any attempt at a thorough discussion about what makes Van Zandt's music so intensely engaging would have to tell the singer-songwriter's story -- how he was born to wealth and spurned it for life on the road, how his performances and his daily behavior were equally unpredictable, and how he eventually drank himself to death. But no one really talked about any of this. It seemed that everyone on the panel assumed all of this was common knowledge to everyone in the room. It may well have been, but in skipping the background, they built no framework for their discussion, which sputtered in the form of clipped anecdotes and off-the-cuff quotes that didn't give as much an impression of the artist that Van Zandt was as much as how this small group of people stumbled onto the man and his music. Sometimes, the stories were interesting, often they were funny, but just as often they were not. Beaver Nelson had a brief and charming story about his introduction to the music and his getting to meet and play with Van Zandt, while Monroe, Weigand, and John Lomax all offered insights as to the caliber of songwriter and the level of peer respect the songwriter achieved prior to and since his death. Moderator Harold Eggers, though, in not having a plan, lost the chance to really get something of value said about this incredibly important and enigmatic artist.

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Townes Van Zandt, Larry Monroe, Ingrid Weigand, John Lomax

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