Playback: Hip-Hop at Home With the Armadillo
Weird City Hip-Hop takes another strike, but Austin City Limits hits a home run in landing Kendrick Lamar taping
Weird City Hip-Hop Fest can't catch a break. Saturday's unrelenting rains washed out the showcase of local rap talent midtown at Spider House. It was a meteorological kick in the nuts for the downsized do-over of September's festival, which had doubled down on expensive headliners and then went bust due to poor ticket sales.
Weird City's double redo is now scheduled for the same venue on January 16.
Despite the snakebit fortunes of Austin's budding rap fest, the greater genre's brightest star makes his mark on a local institution this weekend. Friday, Kendrick Lamar appears at the Moody Theater to tape an episode of Austin City Limits. He's the only rapper not named Mos Def to be featured on the 41-year-old music program.
"That just shows you that hip-hop – as an art – is the epicenter of today's music culture," attests ScoreMore's Sascha Guttfreund, the local promoter who brought the mostly unknown L.A. MC to Red 7 in 2011. ScoreMore then ramped up K-Dot's local profile with subsequent gigs at Beauty Ballroom, Emo's, and New Braunfels' Whitewater Amphitheater.
Today, Lamar could likely fill the Frank Erwin Center, particularly since he hasn't hit Austin since releasing To Pimp a Butterfly, a landmark LP that infiltrated the pop chart's top position with radical black poetry. Instead, he agreed to preview his increasingly dramatic stage show with a free show taping. Like thousands of locals, ACL Executive Producer Terry Lickona first witnessed the wordsmith at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2013, where he overloaded a secondary stage with a massive audience that collectively lost its mind over his Good Kid, M.A.A.D City material.
"I thought it was the most electrifying performance of the whole festival," says Lickona. "I went back the next weekend to see him and he blew me away again."
A few months later, while moonlighting as co-producer of a little award show called the Grammys, Lickona sat with Lamar while the rapper single-handedly plotted out his own performance, enlisting Imagine Dragons for a collaboration that ended up stealing the show.
"Hearing him talk – his visions, his ideas, what he wanted to do for the show – the guy was completely focused and he wasn't letting other people tell him what to do," recalls Lickona. "That's when the lightbulb moment happened: 'I've got to get him to come do ACL.'"
Lamar's performance at ACL Fest proved a game-changer. He was the lone hip-hop artist on the Zilker Park bill in 2013, but ever since, the fall festival's lineup has leaned heavy on rap. Could his appearance on the festival's namesake television program instigate a similar result?
"It's always been a struggle getting urban acts to do the show over the years, but not for a lack of trying," says Lickona. "Obviously there's a challenge in making the language appropriate for broadcast TV, but it's more about getting artists who want to do it. Most of them could give a rat's ass about coming to do a PBS show for a few hundred bucks. I hope this will open the door.
"Having Kendrick on the show will hopefully get the attention of other artists who might be a little quicker to come do it in the future."
D'Angelo, who enjoyed a similarly stellar year with acclaimed comeback disc Black Messiah, would have been the perfect coupling for Lamar's ACL episode. Unfortunately, the notoriously unreliable soul singer called in sick in advance of his Nov. 7 taping. Worse yet, news broke on Wednesday that he wasn't planning on showing up for his headlining set at Fun Fun Fun Fest either.
Bookers found a suitable replacement in rapper/singer/Fugee Lauryn Hill.
Jonathan Terrell's Americana Homecoming
In 2009, Jonathan Terrell was living in a camper on a farm in deep East Austin, out where the night sky beams with stars, and putting the finishing touches on a batch of spacey country songs. It was set to be the young songwriter's third collection on the Americana mantel, a cerebral album correlating the spacious vibes of nature with mental serenity. He called it Past the Lights of Town.
"I had the whole record finished and then Not in the Face started getting a lot of attention," reasons Terrell. "We had to see where the band was going, so I shelved it."
For the next six years, Terrell took a ride with the feral Not in the Face, recording with Pink Floyd/Kiss/Alice Cooper producer Bob Ezrin and growing a fan base, but never breaking through nationally. The group remains intact, but now Terrell's pulled a U-turn and circled back to Past the Lights of Town. Perhaps due to the success of deep country singers like Sturgill Simpson or the unfolding legalization of pot, Terrell thinks the music world is ready for it.
"Now there are avenues within the Americana genre that didn't used to exist," he says. "The beer companies are losing a little bit of grip, and the kids who were listening to mindless Texas country about pickup trucks and bottles of strawberry wine have graduated college. They want to open their minds and hear actual songwriter stuff – a story, a song that matters."
Terrell burns his country flame tonight, Thursday, at Lamberts in a release show for Past the Lights of Town, with breakout songbird Carson McHone opening. Afterward, he splits town for a month of East Coast residencies. For the local songman it's a continuation of the journey.
"Six years ago, this was my path. This was my goal – to be a good songwriter," he reflects. "I had a really amazing detour with Not in the Face, but this is the path I'm going to walk till the end."
Trailer Space closes permanently on Saturday, thus ending an impressive dynasty as the most social – and drunken – record store in town. The legacy of free, all-ages shows concludes Friday with a punk rock triple feature, Scary Mary, Vorp, and Monkey Shines. Owner Spot Long clocks out early, 5pm, on the final day so he can go trick-or-treating with his kid. Until then, "bring beer."
Harlem reunion? Not quite, but two members from Austin's defunct garage-slop trio reconvene at Hotel Vegas next Thursday. Jose Boyer arrives fronting Brooklyn power-pop foursome Las Rosas, while Curtis O'Mara leads the delinquent jangle of locals Grape St. Can someone get Michael Coomers' homegrown act Lace Curtains on the bill?
Hurricane Patricia's northerly remnants caused a rash of concert cancellations in Austin last Saturday. Among the casualties: Devin the Dude at Emo's, Ben Rector outside at Stubb's, Adventure Club at Austin Music Hall, and Matoma at the Parish. F1 Fan Fest powered through, with rap legends Public Enemy delivering a mighty performance to a minuscule crowd. Undeterred by the wet stage, Flavor Flav spent most of the show on a Segway.
Euphoria Fest, Austin's annual EDM and electro campout scheduled for April 7-10 at Carson Creek Ranch, teased its 2016 lineup with the announcement of one headliner: big drop kingpin Bassnectar.
Transmission Events has pulled out as primary bookers of Houston venue Fitzgerald's after just two months because ownership has been slow to invest in promised improvements. "We realized that they're not where they need to be yet," explained TE partner Graham Williams. "We didn't want to commit to bands one thing and not deliver." Williams says Transmission is plenty busy booking events in Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin with next week's Fun Fun Fun Fest.