POSTED ON APRIL 11, 2012:
Producing Ecstacy Through Music
A musicians view of South by Southwest, part two
Ft. Collins is a town of about 140,000. On Friday they had a party, beautiful banners and a great promotional video on the Ft. Collins music and art scene. The bands were great, the team was super friendly and the Ft. Collins micro brew was very good, and uh, free. I had no idea about this scene in Ft. Collins, but I do now. No disrespect to the OK Film and Music Commission and anyone else who is there to promote Oklahoma and Tulsa music, but it seems to me Tulsa should have a party too. There are all kinds of music and creative people here and even if you are not that interested in the local music scene we should be proud; our city has a long legacy of producing music that influences the entire world. We should celebrate that and let people know about it so that someone, say, from Ft. Collins, Colo. would know about the scene here or from Atlanta, Ga., or Los Angeles, or New York, or from London. I think it's important for our city and our community and sometimes it's just cool to do things because they are cool.
When Austin created this festival, it was so small. The thing is, the mojo created is the soul of a community, drives the innovation and makes the city a more fun and interesting place to live.
As I learned at the panel, music creates ecstasy like no other art form. It's a genetic component inside all of us.
After resting, I pushed the button to "find me" on my SXSW go app on my iPhone and it found Skinny's Ballroom across the street. On the stage was Larkin Poe, a group with two sisters with great songs and extraordinary musicianship. I was particularly struck by the sister Megan who played the dobro and the lap steel; they were kicking ass and taking email addresses.
Yarn is an alt-country group from Brooklyn, N.Y. with great songs, a great vibe and an unbelievable electric mandolin player. They looked like they were at the end of a very long road trip but they rose to the occasion and were as cool as any vintage cowboy shirt. Uncle Lucias are local heroes in south central Texas. The crowd knew every word, the chicks were digging it.
Next up was another group from Brooklyn, N. Y., called Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. Four horns, one harmonica player, bass, drums, electric guitar (playing one of the only stratocastors I saw during the festival, what's up with that?) and a smoking hot brunette vocalist. They took over the room with amazing rhythms, amazing horn parts, amazing vocals. They started out in high gear and had every ass shaking in the place.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, Sister Sparrow reached down and unleashed the afterburners and blew everyone's mind -- ecstasy at the touch of a button, pretty cool and only at SXSW.
After giving high fives to strangers, I went on a full run to catch native son Reed Mathis and his band, which is a jam scene favorite, Tea Leaf Green. As always, Reed was the consummate shaman, coaxing notes out of his bass that seem impossible. The band rocked past curfew. One thing I didn't know is that there appears to be a standardized hairstyle for white guys with dreadlocks.
Saturday began with a breakfast of chili verde and a pedicab ride to see Andy McKee; two hundred million youtube viewers are not wrong. It was amazing -- particularly his homage to Michael Hedges. Then an hour and a half wait to hear Nora Jones premier her new album and her new band. It was as laid back and as wonderful as you would expect though her new sound is quite unexpected. Then for a few hours I poked my head in and out of about a dozen different venues. Nothing really grabbed my interest.
One of my favorite bands on the radio right now is White Denim, who were playing at the giant Doritos vending machine. When I got there the band was tuning up behind the curtain that represented the vending machine dispenser. When the curtain was pulled back I became completely conflicted. The band was a band that I'd seen many years working their way through SXSW. They have always been one of my favorites. They were putting it out like nobody's business. The crowd was ecstatic. It was then that I realized that the little festival that I started coming to two decades before had grown up and was wearing its big boy pants now; a two hundred million dollar impact on the city of Austin had brought this band to play here at the temple of Doritos. As the band played, nobody but nobody noticed the Doritos. Nobody checked their status on their mobile devices; they stood slack-jawed in ecstasy and the band that I had supported had made it and deserved all the attention they were receiving.
I headed back over to 6th street, St. Patrick's Day -- it is impossible to describe the crush of people, a rock and roll Mardi Gras. By now you can hear the thunder of at least a dozen bands at once, and the sidewalks are becoming littered with passed out revelers. You can't walk 10 feet without being force fed hand outs from rappers hawking their latest project. The line at The Stage At 6th takes 30 minutes to get in. On the patio Bob the Beat Box is burning down the house. What a party!
In the main room a very slight woman takes the stage and it is instantly obvious that this is someone special; her name is Nneka. In the panel on ecstasy they spoke of one of the levels of musical ecstasy called "V O G"; when you hear the voice of God. Nneka is on a mission -- she has a greater purpose, and her music is not entertainment. God has given her this voice, this talent. She is a vessel of truth. She takes the mission very, very seriously, and it weighs heavy on her. Her clarity of vision is here to lead us out of Babylon -- the Babylon of oppression, the Babylon on the street outside, away from whatever compromise that is contemplated everywhere.
As she sings, the room quiets, the noise of the street falls away and it is the most beautiful, most true sound I have ever heard. The sound man tells her it's time to quit, she waves her hand and says "No, I have come a long way and I have something to say, I have one more song: It's called My Home." You could hear a pin drop as she sang. For that moment she delivers us out of Babylon and leads us home, she leads us home. Home.
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