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Stop complaining there's no hip-hop scene here because now it has its own festival

Three of a Kind: Jean Grae and Pharoahe Monch (right) with drummer Vince Wilburn Jr. at SXSW 2012
Three of a Kind: Jean Grae and Pharoahe Monch (right) with drummer Vince Wilburn Jr. at SXSW 2012 (Photo by Todd V. Wolfson)

Weird City Hip-Hop Festival: Rhyme & Reason

Over a quarter-century after the Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash introduced our city to hip-hop with a concert at Palmer Auditorium, Austin's rap scene – which has long endured stepchild status to Houston's syrup-soaked southern kingdom – takes a major step forward with its first hip-hop festival. The gathering, dubbed Weird City, lays out 14 weekend events at Downtown clubs Empire Control Room, Red 7, Holy Mountain, Beerland, North Door, and Lamberts.

Among Weird City's 100-plus performers: nationally accredited rhymers Dilated Peoples, Pharoahe Monch, Jean Grae, Black Milk, Open Mike Eagle, and Jonwayne working alongside top Texas talent like Doughbeezy, Maxo Kream, and A.Dd+, and Austin acts including League of Extraordinary Gz, LNS Crew, and Phranchyze. The fest also throws down rap battles, graffiti art, a dance party with Austin's Riders Against the Storm (RAS) and L.A. boogie maestro Dam-Funk, plus a kids' camp offering writing and turntable workshops for teens (see "Music Listings").

Any first-year festival remains a risky proposition. Taking that gamble isn't a deep-pocketed promotions company, but a handful of Austin true believers including KOOP radio host Leah Manners, rapper P-Tek, booker Aaron Miller, and RAS' Chaka Mpeanaji, with assistance from Empire Control Room's Steve Sternschein.

"You're seeing the power of a grassroots community based on a mutual respect for one thing," says P-Tek.

Considering that Austin Psych Fest started in a barn on Burnet Road and Chaos in Tejas began as a weekend at Emo's, the potential for genre-specific festivals to blow up counterbalances the risks.

"This is DIY for real, and I'm so impressed with what they came up with," says Matt Sonzala, an integral supporter of Austin hip-hop who first repped rap for South by Southwest, pointing out that Weird City uniquely bills local MCs alongside national acts. "Austin has a remarkable amount of talent: rappers, producers, and, most importantly, performers.

"Austin rappers have always been better at performing than Houston rappers."

Ever since Jamaican immigrant Kool Herc invented the break beat with two turntables in a Bronx project in 1973, hip-hop's been a street staple sound, requiring minimal equipment for powerful communication and thus standing as the last half-century's most important extension of American folk music.

Nowadays, Austin stages the genre heavily from SXSW to Fun Fun Fun Fest's Blue stage, but no one's brought the culture full force like Weird City this weekend.

"If you're involved in Austin's hip-hop community and you don't buy a pass to Weird City, then you're straight up full of shit," says Sonzala. "If it doesn't happen next year, you're part of the problem."

Alejandro Escovedo's Hurricane Honeymoon

Alejandro Escovedo found himself trapped in paradise when Hurricane Odile ravaged the Baja peninsula last week. The local rock & roll mainstay was honeymooning with new bride Nancy Rankin in Pescadero when the unexpected category 4 storm hit on Sunday, Sept 14.

"It came like a freight train," Escovedo recounted to the Chronicle's Tim Stegall. "The doors were starting to buckle so Nancy and I had to take this big couch and ram it against them."

When the wind and water came crashing in the middle of the night, the couple sought higher ground as the flood rushed down around the beachfront lodging of a friend.

"As we're watching it, the whole front of the house got washed away: the garage, the trailer, the truck, the car, the hangar for [my friend's] plane," he said. "Just like a piece of paper in a waterfall."

The morning found them trapped amongst the devastation of destroyed homes and palm trees snapped like toothpicks with little clean water, no power, no phones, and looters ripping off anything in sight. Their misadventures continued in La Paz where the couple spent three days fighting to get home amongst hordes of stranded tourists in a largely powerless city. A plate of Polvo's enchiladas and some good rest on home soil wouldn't come until a week later.

"Our life as husband and wife has already been put to the test in the most profound way," Escovedo concluded. "Our love is stronger than a hurricane."

For an epic recounting of the harrowing honeymoon, see the Chronicle's Music feed, Earache!

Half Notes

Lazy Lester hit stages at Justine's, King Bee Lounge, and C-Boy's, where, on Saturday, he sat in with Jimmie Vaughan, Mike Flanigin, and Frosty Smith. The 81-year-old singer/guitarist/harmonica player is putting the finishing touches on his first country album, tracked locally at Practice, Inc. studios with local blue-chippers Willie Pipkin, Warren Hood, Grady Pinkerton, and Herb Belofsky. "Country and blues ain't that far apart," Lester says. "It's WBB and BBB: 'white boy blues' and 'black boy blues!'"


Austin Vintage Guitars, the new and used six-string retailer and repairer – exiled north since South Lamar Plaza was chopped up for development – has built from scratch a magnificent new showroom at 4306 Red River near Hancock Center. The new compound has a heavenly stock of unique axes and glassed-in areas for acoustic instruments and amplifier cranking.


Former Skinny's Ballroom owner Brad Marcum has become a reliable shutterbug, directing his lens at underground bands. His photography will be included in "Frameworks: Photos From the Austin Music Community," an exhibit featuring recent prints from Steven Ruud, Tammy Perez, Trent Maxwell, Steven Anderson, and Jon Chamberlain. The show develops Saturday, 7pm, at the mysterious Museum of Human Achievement. Empty Markets, the Baffles, and the Same perform.

Roger Sellers' Primitive Loops

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Photo by John Anderson

A minimalist composer with maximum spirit, Roger Sellers may be Steve Reich for the Pabst Blue Ribbon crowd. His music deals infinite loops – segments of self-recorded melodies orbiting in layers and phases – and springs to life through a vibrant live show in which the skinny, mustachioed local jumps around mixing samples, singing, and beating drums.

"You'd be surprised how often I was being called a DJ because they see me with headphones standing in front of a table," exclaims the anti-laptop producer who's littered clubs with stickers reading "Roger Sellers is not a DJ." "But there's also a fucking drum set and I'm singing. That's not a DJ. Not to downgrade DJs, but I recorded all of the music."

Even fans have had difficulty knowing what to expect from the avant pop maestro's performances, which occasionally find him playing banjo while fronting an indie-folk ensemble. Then there are his albums; the previous three have sounded nothing like his live show.

"People were getting weird because the recorded music is chill, but the live show is aggressive," he says. "They seem to like one or the other, so my new album is a way of bringing it all together."

Primitives, arriving Saturday on Punctum Records, restructures Sellers' staple live loops into fresh cuts with organic instrumentation and tempered vocals.

"The challenge was balancing the performance's energy and the sounds of a good record," he admits. "I made the vocals sound professional instead of [like] an idiot running around onstage."

Roger Sellers headlines Cheer Up Charlie's Saturday night.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Weird City Hip-Hop Festival, Roger Sellers, Alejandro Escovedo, Lazy Lester, Austin Vintage Guitars

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