Ballroom Dancing

SXSW panels

Ballroom Dancing
Photo By Gary Miller

Keynote Conversation: Robert Plant

Austin Convention Center, Thursday, March 17

Folks waiting to hear Robert Plant were pleasantly surprised before the Rock God even entered the stuffed Convention Center conference room. Gospel songstress Mavis Staples belted out selected songs, backed by country superpicker Marty Stuart on mandolin and guitar. Then it was Plant's turn to be surprised, as the Led Zeppelin frontman accepted a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of his former Hall of Fame act. Given his locked spot in rock's pantheon, it was redundant for Plant's interview to start with his own promo video. Then again, Plant's one of the few solo artists who can sell 20 million albums while still living in the shadow of his former band. And in spite of Zep's gargantuan success, Plant seems well grounded: "It meant what it meant, when it meant it. But after Bonzo died, that was it. There's no going back." Self-proclaimed conference "Merv Griffin," author, and MTV exec Bill Flanagan did an admirable job navigating engaging topics: recording drums with a mono mic and a laptop in a garage for Plant's soon-to-be released new album Mighty Rearranger; talking music with Elvis for three hours; how Plant's parents cut the cord on his record player so he wouldn't listen to the blues; and donating to a Portland, Ore., public radio station when he heard them say they would never play "Stairway to Heaven." (Plant: "It's not that I don't like the song. I've just heard it before.") Plant hit upon art's central theme in confessing that his work's common thread is "to enjoy the excitement of discovery."

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