We're Not Like Everybody Else
2014-15 Austin Music Awards stay home
Montreal, Canada – Jazz Fest: Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Second and final week. Fourth of July stretch.
Between hometown composer Benoît Charest accompanying Les Triplettes de Belleville live with his award-winning aural animation, and blind Malian powerhouse Amadou & Mariam electrifying a rain-soaked central plaza like Hendrix at Woodstock, a skinny Austin minstrel in an undershirt tank top holds a sun-baked side stage gathering casually glued.
Independence Day 2013: Springsteen–esque.
Globally renowned jazz (Vijay Iyer), blues (Fatoumata Diawara), gospel (Soweto Gospel Choir), reggae (Alpha Blondy), even country (Lyle Lovett), and ... pop (Molly Ringwald) arouse the French-Canadians of Quebec. The Texan hypnotizes an audience similar to his sold-out run on Sixth Street at the Parish: young women up front, men behind them, and live music veterans making up an outer ring. All of them plug into this one-man show strumming electro-folk and beating on a suitcase with his foot.
Now in no obvious way could this offhand scene compare to Gary Clark Jr.'s national christening at Eric Clapton's Crossroads guitar festival three summers earlier outside of Chicago. When the also Austin-born guitarist lit into Josh White's "Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed" that unforgiving afternoon in a soccer stadium, a star was b-o-r-n (dig up our report, "Crossroads 3," July 2, 2010). And yet, the undeniable grandeur of that moment echoed in young Alejandro Rose-Garcia (Shakey Graves) stopping a far more modest beer garden assemblage in its tracks.
ATX takes for granted its homegrown musical heroes until they begin selling out their every local appearance – Willie Nelson, Spoon. Moreover, seldom can it experience them through the eyes and earholes of their tour stops. Graves and Clark today make their livings the same as other successful musicians – on the road. When the two met by chance on East Sixth Street last August (re-read "Full Circle," Sept. 26, 2014), their point of intersection couldn't have been more grounded locally.
High School. Austin High.
Their classmate Phranchyze happened to be at that same summit – count the hip-hop MC in on Return to Austin High. Eve Monsees, Clark's first guitar foil and now Antone's Records owner and Eve & the Exiles garage-blues chieftain, she's down too. Fellow alum Suzanna Choffel – future Austin mayor – RSVP'd.
Another Stephen F. Austin High light, A-list tenor saxist Elias Haslanger, resides upstairs weekly at the Continental Club Gallery. Riding the Church on Monday quintet straight into classic Fifties jazz, his award-approved occupation already angles for greatness along the lines of the essentials downstairs – Dale Watson, James McMurtry, Jon Dee Graham. Warren Hood, quite possibly the Lone Star State's next Johnny Gimble (ask new Texas Music Officer Brendon Anthony), fiddles a magnificent seventh in the all-star reunion of sorts. Only here could a high school double as ATX's Berklee College of Music.
Incubator – hothouse for talent. In his reportorial roll call, "The Big Picture" (Nov. 28, 2014), singer-songwriter scholar Jim Caligiuri traced four generations of sisters doing it for themselves here in cow town. Grand dames Marcia Ball and Eliza Gilkyson released catalog peaks last year, The Tattooed Lady & the Alligator Man and Grammy-nominated The Nocturne Diaries respectively, while the flood gates they once breached broke open a tsunami of the fairer sex and their platinum platters.
Gina Chavez: Lydia Mendoza, Linda Ronstadt, and Lila Downs all rolled up into one (up.rooted). Sunny Sweeney: country-western cojones to rival Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn (Provoked). Kat Edmonson: front-runner for a major label (Sony), in a music capital (New York), on a world stage (TV): The Big Picture.
The latter demurred the 2014/15 Austin Music Awards, but Joan Jett protégé Nina Diaz, outlaw Carson McHone, and potential future Edmonson Jazz Mills take up any slack. New York still has Suzanne Vega, but Dana Falconberry pulls her boots on in Austin. A metro stacked with soul – Latasha Lee, Akina Adderley, Miss Lavelle White – still has room for Tameca Jones, a mere hairdo the same way Tina Turner was just a shaggy mane.
Together, these seven women dust off state and local standards as the elders once did; Nanci Griffith decades ago at the Hole in the Wall, and Lucinda Williams busking just down the Drag from her.
Viva la Diva? Long live Patty Griffin! American Kid (2013) resonated deeply personal Americana into searing folk in a way Ian McLagan no doubt deeply identified with.
In both the Small Faces and Faces, the sprightly keyboardist, who died at home in Austin last December at the age of 69, aided and abetted a musical bunch of hooligans – including another onetime local, the late, great Ronnie Lane – in besotting English folk and American blues into bar rock of the ages. At the time of Mac's death, KUTX was spinning his and Alejandro Escovedo's duet of the Kinks' "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" into a hit. As the godfather of our scene, the True Believer stepped up first to pay tribute to McLagan.
The Bump Band, the honoree's Lucky Lounge pub rockers: no brainer. And AMA Musical Director Charlie Sexton is still at this very second ringing up potential guests you wouldn't believe one man could have in his PDA. That he put in a call straight off to Patty Griffin and she was available continues to short my circuits.
Austin's built on exactly that sort of musical community, communion. Austin Music Awards honor those bonds. Audiences stirred through song bedrock this burg.
Billy Joe Shaver, song laureate of this state, begins the entire evening. He's my personal get, a pure musical soul who once let me baptize him in Barton Springs for the sake of a Chronicle cover. This town's an honest-to-God miracle.
2014/15 Austin Music Awards
Wed., March 18
Austin Convention Center, Ballroom D, 7:55pm sharp
7:55pm (and all evening): The Austin Music Awards House Band: Charlie Sexton, Michael Ramos, Conrad Choucroun, George Reiff
8:30: Billy Joe Shaver
9:10: Viva la Diva! starring Gina Chavez, Nina Diaz, Tameca Jones, Sunny Sweeney, Carson McHone, Jazz Mills, Dana Falconberry
10:40: Return to Austin High featuring alumni Gary Clark Jr., Shakey Graves, Phranchyze, Eve Monsees, Suzanna Choffel, Elias Haslanger, Warren Hood
11:15: Ian McLagan Tribute led by Alejandro Escovedo, Patty Griffin, the Bump Band, and with very special guests