Michael Fracasso (Photo By Todd V. Wolfson)
South by Soup FestCaritas of Austin, Wednesday 13
At first glance, it could've been any other pirate showcase or opening day party. There were singer-songwriters, media, and the irritating buzz of back-of-the-room chatter. There was also the ubiquitous free grub; not Mexican or barbecue, but soup, egg sandwiches, glazed doughnuts, and single-serving cups of M&M's. Under a portrait of Mother Teresa surrounded by the inscriptions "Need" and "Love," Caritas of Austin's Loaves and Fishes Community Kitchen serves more than 300 free lunches daily to the homeless and hungry. Their South by Soup Fest was business as usual, only that diners were being offered an hour of free music, including Michael Fracasso on Wednesday, Chapel Hill's Two Dollar Pistols on Thursday, and Ron Sexsmith on Friday. Remarkably, the music itself seemed business as usual, too, even if Fracasso's four-song set of working-class anthems seemed far more relevant and vital under the cover of a soup kitchen then it typically does at the Cactus Cafe. With his between-song smile ear to ear, it was clear Fracasso himself recognized the difference; it's probably hard not to feel a bit like Woody Guthrie when playing music for people that don't normally have access to shelter, let alone music. Just as notable as the performances was what the backdrop lacked: Anyone that cared about Michael Greene, Courtney Love, or the lack of "headliners" on the SXSW sked. It was also a reminder that patches of Austin's maverick spirit remain. Other cities might run their downtown homeless off for the weekend -- Austin showers them with music. Indeed, need, love, and music ain't a bad way to kick off SXSW.