SXSW News and Carryings-on
Brent Grulke Memorialized
Late SXSW Creative Director Brent Grulke gains yet more turf Downtown today when the trailhead deck at the revamped Auditorium Shores reopens with his name on it. Even so, he made his mark in Austin long ago.
Look around you. Listen. The magnitude of music at SXSW remains a result of Grulke. His appetite for bands grew the Festival from a 500-act event when he took over booking in 1994 to hosting over 2,000 performers in 2012, the year his heart stopped beating during dental surgery.
"He nurtured the Festival and assured its success according to two simple, unbreakable rules: Music is all, and all are welcome," Rolling Stone Senior Writer David Fricke told the Chronicle the day Grulke died. "Even as SXSW exploded in numbers and stature, Brent held on tight to his passion and stuck to his standards."
Grulke's kindred association with Austin music extends far beyond his 18-year tenure as SXSW Music boss. Since the early Eighties he'd been omnipresent as a local critic, manager, songwriter, publicist, and agent, but above all he was a friend to musicians. Fitting, then, that a plaza named for him will be unveiled on the water during SXSW. That location, ground for free concerts at the Fest, represents music for the people and Grulke deserves the best seat in the house.
A public dedication will be held at 5:30pm near the southwest side of the First Street Bridge, followed by a reception, right before Charles Bradley, Superchunk's Mac McMaughan, and Grulke-approved locals Spoon play into the night.
Rubber Tracks on Reel-to-Reel
You can't escape the logos at SXSW. Commercial branding permeates the Festival to such an extent that it's a wonder every square of toilet paper in a club commode doesn't have a hashtag on it. Contrary to contemporary belief, however, not every corporate sponsor exploits musicians at SXSW.
Believe it or not, some are giving back.
Converse, whose tread marks at SXSW include the Fader Fort and Death Match concerts, have entered year four of Rubber Tracks, a program that gives free studio time to Texas musicians, who then retain full rights for the recordings. Utilizing neighboring Eastside studios Shine and Big Orange, Rubber Tracks extends daylong sessions to 20 acts, primarily from Austin, who submitted applications. This year's participants include Magna Carda, Residual Kid, Hard Proof, Tele Novella, and the League of Extraordinary Gz – not all of whom are showcasing at SXSW.
Josh Buckley, a ragged-heart country singer who recorded at Shine Studios on Tuesday, is an appropriate choice for the footwear-sponsored sessions. His old, beat-up Chuck Taylors, nicknamed "Pancho" and "Lefty," are hanging above the Hole in the Wall stage.
"Having someone give you free studio time is a real motivator," he reasoned. "You can sit around waiting for the right time to make a record, or you can just come into the studio and start cooking."
The latter proved true for Buckley. He cut three songs with Shine owner/engineer Justin Douglas that have led to plans for a full album even though the two didn't know each other previously. For Douglas, an expert analog engineer and guitarist for Royal Forest, those connections have been frequent in his four years working with Rubber Tracks during SXSW.
"Pretty much none of the bands that come in for Rubber Tracks are groups I've worked with before, but it always leads to relationships," he says. "There's a band in Houston I worked with two years ago that now drives here to record and another from Austin I've done two records with who I never would have run into otherwise."
Connections like that fulfill the promise of SXSW.
Hair of 3-Legged Hank
Even those cat-worshiping ancient Egyptians would be taken aback by modern culture's infatuation with celebrity felines. While SXSW has become a proving ground for VIP kitties like Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub, today's a dog day belonging to the three-legged canine who guards the Chronicle office: Hank.
The "Hair of the 3-Legged Dog" day party howls all afternoon at Eastside bar the Liberty (1618½ E. Sixth). The event, noon-4pm, includes four stellar local acts selected by our music staff: the vintage pop/modern punk collision of Sweet Spirit (noon), breaking female MC Anya (1pm), White Denim frontman James Petralli's new project Bop English (2), and fast rock smartasses Flesh Lights (3). RSVP: austinchronicle.com/dayparty.
Bloody Marys and tacos on hand, and Hank too. You can't miss him. He has a SXSW badge.
Visit Willie's Joint
If there's a single living symbol of Texas music, it's Willie Nelson. In the off chance that a music industry insider like yourself hasn't witnessed the octogenarian's nasally tenor and squirrelly nylon-string guitar runs, tonight's your night. The Red Headed Stranger and his Family Band headline the annual Heartbreaker Banquet on Nelson's Luck Ranch. The HHB, running noon to midnight ($50), features 22 bands on two stages including Hurray for the Riff Raff, Nikki Lane, Leon Bridges, Delta Spirit, Heartless Bastards, and two projects fronted by Willie scions: Lukas Nelson's Promise of the Real and Micah Nelson's Insects vs. Robots. The ranch itself remains a sight to behold, located in the magical territory of Spicewood, 45 minutes from Austin. A ghost town of buildings and facades used for the film Red Headed Stranger, it's been going through a restoration process after being battered by heavy wind and rain last June.
Third Man Records' Rolling Record Store returns to Austin for SXSW, where it debuted in 2011. Today, Jack White's sweetest ride parks at Antone's Records (2928 Guadalupe), a vinyl shop founded by late blues patron Clifford Antone, that's still the best spot in town to browse inexpensive vinyl. The big yellow bread truck backdrops performances by Lazy (3pm), Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires (3:30), Girlpool (4), Webster X (4:30), and Screaming Females (5:15).
Austin Psych Fest leads into its eighth run, May 8-10 at Carson Creek Ranch, with exponential growth. The three-day gathering recently changed its name to Levitation, partnered with local promoters Transmission Events, and booked a mindblowing reunion by local psychedelic rock pioneers the 13th Floor Elevators. Take a hit of their medicine at Hotel Vegas with the Levitation Day Party, highlighted by 2015 performers Thee Oh Sees (4:45pm), plus sitar and tabla masters Gourishankar Karmakar & Indrajit Banerjee (5:30pm).
Begin today with a charitable act. The Fader Fort compound (1101 E. Fifth) opens early to host a concert benefiting MyMusicRX, an in-hospital and online music therapy program founded by the Children's Cancer Association. The You Who Rock Show for Kids, 10am-noon, features performances by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Best Coast, an acoustic set by the Zombies, and Austin's Heartless Bastards – performing as Heartless "Bathtubs" for the kids. General Admission tickets are sold out; Family of Four VIP passes are $120.
The ink-stained hands of poster artists high-five at Flatstock, an international summit of concert poster designers beginning today (11am-6pm) and continuing through Saturday in the Convention Center's Exhibit Hall 4. As well as being a great resource for decorating, the free event also features live music. Today's lineup leaves nothing to complain about: T-Bird & The Breaks (1pm), Ruby Jane (1:40), Holiday Mountain (2:25), Whiskey Shivers (3:10), Moon City Boys (4), Zig Zags (4:45), Jacuzzi Boys (5:30).
Half German/half Turkish power duo Mantar have landed a label to handle the U.S. release of their breakout album Death by Burning, which arrived via Finland's Svart Records last year to rave reviews. The anarchistic LP, which sews together black metal tones, punk energy, and sludge guitar, hits the American vinyl market May 17 on Brutal Panda Records. Their first U.S. tour collides with SXSW tonight at Dirty Dog Bar, 8:20pm.
Japan Nite celebrates 20 years at SXSW with tomorrow evening's blowout at Elysium (705 Red River). The showcase institution, which hosts J-pop, J-punk, and everything in between, typically reaches capacity, but you can preview the action today with a free Japan show at the Grackle (1700 E. Sixth). Featured are 11 Japanese acts from noon-7pm including punks Samurai Dynamites, all-girl bizarros Tsushimamire, Tokyo rockers Quorum, and electro-rock fourpiece the Fin.