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Prelude...

March is here again… so soon? It doesn't seem like it's already been a year since my last pilgrimage to the heartland of American rock and roll culture and the biggest, scariest, freakiest music festival in the country. This year South By Southwest brought with it the promise of warm, dry weather and new barbecue joints… both are quite welcome things to a desert dweller like myself. I arrived in Austin a couple of days before the music portion of the festival officially kicked off, and it gave me a bit of time to hang with some buddies, visit some favorite restaurants, and catch some of my favorite local bands.

Over the past 12 years or so, it has been a custom of mine to begin my week of SXSW music by catching Michael Booher play with whatever band he's been fronting of late… This year, it was a close call, as I got to town a bit later than normal, but I got to town just in time to catch Booher and his current musical super-project, Ovenbirds. Ovenbirds are made up of some of Austin's finest pedigreed dudes, including Jeremy Gomez on bass guitar, Brian Hubbard and Ben Lance on guitars, Benjamin Houtman on keyboards, and Aaron Sinclair on drums. From first seeing Zykos play their very first show so many years ago it has been my pleasure seeing the musicians around Booher change as his songwriting has progressed and morphed into something more wonderful than I could ever have imagined. Ovenbirds is a very fine progression… the music has become more sonic (how could it not be with those guys one guitar?) and the songs have become more and more powerful.

I also got a chance to catch Zookeeper play their only appearance of the week… month… possibly year? Chris Simpson and company, including wonder-drummer Cully Symington, Seth Woods, Ben Lance, Ben Houtman, and prodigal son Alex Dupree, threw down a mighty fine set during an unofficial week-starting party. The band's set got cut short, but there was time for a few of Simpson's great tunes, as well as a cover of Neil Young's "Thrasher" and a brilliant reworking of Nina Simone's "My Man's Gone Now". Simpson was in fine form, his voice ringing clear above the sonic beauty that was backing it. Would that we would have had time for a much longer set. Word is there is a new record in the works, and I, for one, can't wait to hear it.

I've been eagerly keeping an eye on the emerging career of Denton, Texas' own Seryn. Their debut release, This Is Where We Are, on Velvet Blue music was just released in January and they were set to play a few shows throughout the week of the festival. Their first appearance was at a little Irish bar on 6th Street and definitely delivered what I was expecting to see. After a bit of a late start due to some parking and loading difficulties (at SXSW? No way!) the band launched into a tremendously powerful set of music, pausing only to invite more people from off the street into the more and more crowded club. This band and their take on harmony-rich Americana have a good bit going for themselves. Every time they play a show there are converts, not unlike a traveling revival show… the only thing missing is the tent. The music is powerful, dynamic, and rich in vocal and instrumental texture. The various members of the band switch between instruments - sometimes in the middle of a song and back again - delivering a spectacle of motion and musical beauty. The songs are acoustic instrument-based, drawing on the same reserves that bands such as Mumford And Sons draw from, but adding in a youthful exuberance and timeless traditionalism that lends a credence and pure, sensational power to the music. And the throttling drums don't ever hurt much, either.

On the barbecue front, I got to visit the newly opened brick and mortar storefront for the incredible Franklin's BBQ. What used to be the best little BBQ trailer on the I-35 corridor is now located down in the old Ben's Longbranch BBQ building, just east of the interstate on 11th Street. The food is as good as ever, the brisket the best that this tongue has ever tasted or may ever taste, and the service friendly. This little family run joint serves up whatever they've got out of the smoker 'til it runs out… so get in line early before they open the doors at 11. The line is long, but well worth the wait. I can honestly say that I see no point in making the trek out to The Saltlick anymore… I'll spend my dollars on the eastside.

-David DeVoe


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Mike Doughty



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