Playback: FREE WEEK!

2014, you're up

Band of the Year American Sharks light up the Austin Top 10 (see below).
"Band of the Year" American Sharks light up the Austin Top 10 (see below). (Photo by Shelley Hiam)

As the holiday fades and a new year unfolds, a favorite Austin tradition arrives to fire the music machine back into full swing.

Everyone's on the guest list during Free Week, a 12-night stretch during which participating venues wave their covers and pack lineups with local bands. It's a nice break for cash-strapped music fans as well as bands jockeying for exposure beyond their typical fan bases.

Free Week's growing. What started in 2003 as a weekend at Emo's devised by the club's then-booker Graham Williams has ballooned into an annual event that, this year, includes more than 20 venues and more than 300 bands over 12 days.

"There's always a lull in the later part of the year when it comes to people getting out to shows," observed veteran Beerland booker Max Dropout. "People resist the weather and everyone's saving money for travel and gift-getting. I'm incredibly grateful toward Graham for creating this thing and inviting other clubs to participate, because it truly is a great shot in the arm for our industry.

"Our main goal is to condense what our club has to offer over the year during that short period."

Dropout, who's observed a decade of Red River foot traffic from Beerland's patio, recognizes that Free Week expands the scene. Of the many fresh-faced concertgoers introduced to Beerland during Free Week, some return and become regulars.

"Even if just one person gets turned on to our local scene, or a new band, or a new venue, then it was worth it," he said, adding that those complaining that musicians shouldn't have to give away their services should, well ...

"The detractors can go fuck themselves," he says. "It's a good little economic boost to the folks who do this, and at its heart, it's an altruistic venture designed to reward everyone involved in some way."

Five Must-See Free Week Acts

Friday: OBN III's @ Beerland

Friday: Possessed by Paul James @ Stubb's

Friday: Casual Strangers @ Mohawk

Saturday: Ditch Witch @ Hotel Vegas

Monday: LNS Crew @ Mohawk

Charting 2013

Top 10 Austin

1) Churchwood, 2 (Saustex)

2) Possessed by Paul James, There Will Be Nights When I'm Lonely (Hillgrass Bluebilly)

3) The Bad Lovers, Wild Times (Burger City Rock N Roll)

4) League of Extraordinary Gz, #LeagueShit

5) Mammoth Grinder, Underworlds (20 Buck Spin)

6) Royal Forest, Spillway (King Electric Recording Co.)

7) Bobby Jealousy, The Importance of Being Jealous (Superpop)

8) American Sharks, American Sharks (The End)

9) Spray Paint, Spray Paint (S.S. Records)

10) Zorch, Zzoorrcchh (Sargent House)

Top 10 Singles

1) Max Frost, "White Lies"

2) A Giant Dog, "All I Wanted"

3) League of Extraordinary Gz (feat. Grupo Fantasma), "I'm Alive"

4) The Boxing Lesson, "Health Is the New Drug"

5) Grape St., "A Date With You"

6) East Cameron Folkcore, "Sallie-Mae"

7) The Black Angels, "You're Mine"

8) Walker Lukens, "Dear Someone"

9) Brennen Leigh & Noel McKay, "Before We Come to Our Senses"

10) Black Books, "The Big Idea"

Playback: FREE WEEK!
Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, 1953-2013

Sarah Elizabeth Campbell passed away last Thursday morning after losing a battle with liver cancer. The 60-year-old singer, known for her outrageous wit and tender songwriting, received her diagnosis after having lived with hepatitis C since childhood.

A Texas native with strong ties to the northern California bluegrass scene, Campbell enjoyed a long tenure with Fiddlestix before releasing her 1986 solo debut A Little Tenderness. She ruled Austin's singer-songwriter scene in the Nineties with her weekly Bummer Nights series, which tasked writers to share sad, beautiful songs – first at La Zona Rosa, then at Artz Rib House on South Lamar until the summer of 2012. Campbell moved the residency to El Mercado after Artz's closing, renaming it Mystery Mondays, because you never knew who'd sit in: Three days before she died, Campbell welcomed Slaid Cleeves and Butch Hancock.

"Sarah Elizabeth's voice perfectly matched who she was," reflected friend and bandmate Christine Albert. "It had depth, character, heart, soul, honesty, and was completely unique. Just when she brought you to tears, she could make you laugh 'til your gut hurt. There is a hole in all our hearts that can only be filled by the music and memories she left us with."

As of press time, several crowded send-off shows had already occurred, with a formal memorial being planned for January.

Half Notes

Steve Wertheimer's new nightclub C-Boy's Heart & Soul opened Saturday night bearing no resemblance in sight or smell to Trophy's, the former rock & roll ashtray that used to occupy the South Congress space. The dimly lit club, which will specialize in soul, blues, and R&B, features an upstairs lounge, back deck, and a tinsel-backdropped stage for weekend entertainment. Behind the bar hang vintage Austin blues posters and photographs of a young Wertheimer with his musical mentor C-Boy Parks, the beloved barbecue cook and spirit behind Austin's Rome Inn, where several legendary musicians cut teeth in the Seventies and Eighties. "I wouldn't be where I am without him," said Wertheimer, who ditched his career as an accountant to purchase the Continental Club in 1987.

› The Continental Club toasts Elvis Presley with its 28th annual Tribute to the King on Saturday, with performances from the unmatchable Ted Roddy's King Conjure Orchestra at 3 and 7pm. The following Wednesday, Hotel Vegas celebrates Presley's would-be 79th birthday with an appearance from King Pelvis.

› During Public Enemy's performance at Mohawk on Saturday, hip-hop luminary Chuck D instructed fans to "Support Austin hip-hop until the last beat" before shouting out local rapper Kydd Jones, which inspired PE emcee Professor Griff to add "And big up Alex Jones!" Meanwhile, historically amicable hype man Flavor Flav seemed unclear about whether Austin was a city or a state.

Poll Stars

Last year Gary Clark Jr. collected so many Austin Music Awards that he could've built two picnic tables out of the annual ceremony's commemorative wooden plaques. Without a singular dominant artist in 2013, forecasting 2013 became slightly more disparate. Here's a preview of my ballot. Voting commences now and runs through Jan. 31.

Band of the Year: American Sharks

Musician of the Year: Willie Nelson

Song of the Year: "White Lies," Max Frost

Album of the Year: Possessed by Paul James, There Will Be Nights When I'm Lonely

Best New Band: Living Grateful

Rock: Bobby Jealousy

Punk: Spray Paint

Metal: Headcrusher

Hip-Hop/Rap: League of Extraordinary Gz

Indie: Royal Forest

Avant-Garde/Experimental: Zorch

Country/Bluegrass: The Beaumonts

Roots Rock: East Cameron Folkcore

Folk: Scott H. Biram

Blues/Soul/Funk: Amplified Heat

EDM/Club DJ: Roger Sellers

Jazz: Ephraim Owens

Instrumental: Balmorhea

Latin Traditional: Conjunto Los Pinkys

Latin Rock: Brownout

World: The Inheritance

Cover Band: Children in Heat (Misfits)

U-18: Residual Kid

None of the Above: White Ghost Shivers

Female Vocals: Sabrina Ellis

Male Vocals: Gary Graves

Electric Guitar: Bill Anderson

Acoustic Guitar: Chase Weinacht (Marmalakes)

Bass: Glenn Fukunaga

Drums/Percussion: Erik Conn (Tia Carrera)

Keyboards: Mike Flanigin

Songwriter: Joe Doerr (Churchwood)

Horn Player(s): Minor Mishap Marching Band

String Player(s): Mother Falcon

Live Music Venue: Red 7 (Inside)

Acoustic Venue: Hole in the Wall (Front Room)

All-Ages Venue: Trailer Space Records

Local Label: Saustex

New Club: Empire Control Room

Producer: Erik Wofford (Cacophony)

Radio Music Program: Blue Monday with Larry Monroe, KDRP

Radio Personality: John L. Hanson Jr., KUTX

Radio Station: KUTX

Record Store: Waterloo Records

Hall of Fame: Nick Curran

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