Photo By John Anderson
Robbie Robertson Keynote AddressAustin Convention Center, Thursday 14
If the former member of the Band, record producer, film composer, Native American activist, solo recording artist, and record company talent scout Robbie Robertson wanted to get attendees' blood moving before his monologue, he got it in the form of Dallas' Polyphonic Spree. Led by former Tripping Daisy frontman Tim DeLaughter, the Polyphonic Spree packed the conference center's main ballroom stage with 23 members, making a joyful noise indeed. Which was worlds apart from Robertson's one-man keynote speech for the 16th annual music conference. While he began by explaining that he wasn't even sure what a keynote speech was supposed to be -- like so many other keynote speakers before him -- Robertson nevertheless spoke from the heart for 90 minutes, describing his own personal musical journey, and in the process, giving a strolling account of some high points in music and film during the past 30 or so years. And with all the doom-and-gloom predicted in the industry these days, Robertson noted that, "We're inclined to forget what our connection to music is -- that thrill, that chill that it gives us." Starting with a brief account of his formative years on the Six Nations Indian Reservation, Robertson detailed his experience playing with Ronnie Hawkins, the formation of the Band, and being booed by audiences around the world as they helped electrify Dylan. He then chronicled the endless tours, well-received albums, getting so big that they hit the cover of Time
, and all the trappings that come with huge success. Referring back to his journey metaphor, Robertson confessed, "Okay, I'm going to stay between the lines here. I'm not going to go off the road. I'm not going to get confused by this." Easier said than done, as he soon realized that he needed to switch gears in order to challenge himself: "I needed a left turn, a challenge, something to take me out of this." And he found it in producing and soundtracks. What kept his journey meaningful was the focus "to be in it for the music." Then came The Last Waltz
, the Band's Martin Scorsese-directed concert film, and a multitude of other musical projects, including the opening ceremonies of this year's Winter Olympics in Utah. Robertson didn't talk about such hyper-topical issues as the compression ratio of mp3s, Web-based copyright laws, or the pros and cons of cut-and-paste composing. Rather, he ended with, "In a nutshell, these are some of the pit stops in this journey that we've all been a part of. I'm just glad to have been bitten by the musical bug, and to have been taken on this wonderful musical journey." Those of us who tagged along are glad as well.