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South By So Huge

Austin's little music festival is all grown up

And in between those two legends, in the club itself, you had Dallas Wayne singing Merle Haggard songs with Redd "No Stranger to a Tele" Volkaert on guitar. Next door at a little diner there was Central Texas Hank Williams reincarnation James Hand. And at that point both of those clubs had 13 more hours of music to go, as did about 300 other venues from Austin's North Loop all the way to South Congress and Riverside Drive.

Madness. Here are some highlights I experienced along the way.

New Orleans's Hot 8 Brass Band took it to the streets throughout the festival. In between getting dispersed by the cops, they put on quite a few funk clinics, including one on the steps of the Austin Convention Center that I watched from behind a coterie of geisha girls complete with gaudy kimonos and white face paint.

Devin the Dude is the embodiment of hip-hop. I get so sick of people pontificating about the "four elements of hip-hop" and all that jive, but Devin makes that kind of talk seem necessary. He raps, he dances, he beatboxes with his mouth, and all of it scrawls positive graffiti on your soul. His show at the Back Room – hosted by Matt "Major Player" Sonzala – was everything a rap show should be, relaxed yet precise, an organized house party.

It doesn't get much odder or more surreal than the Perry Farrell/Drive By Truckers/Go! Team triple bill Scott Faingold and I caught at the Mean Eyed Cat on Thursday afternoon. Farrell and his glam-rock backing band for the day the Living Things took their time setting up, ripped through one song and then split. Always leave 'em wanting more...The Truckers traded off songs from their three front men – Mike Cooley did "Carl Perkins' Cadillac" and had the crowd singing along, Jason Isbell did a song off the new album, and Patterson Hood closed the set with old stand-by "Lookout Mountain." And then the Go! Team came on and plastered an iron grin on all our faces for the next hour. I had no clue what their set would be like – with their recordings it's a little hard to imagine how they make that hip-hop-goes-to-cheerleading-school racket, and harder still to imagine that it will be as fun as it is, but bands don't get much more fun than the Go! Team live. All my grousing about hype bands I did in this space last week? I take it back, at least in regards to these Brighton kids.

Nicolai Dunger is the Astral Swede. He's an unassuming guy with helmet hair and a blue suit who looks more like the Swedish consul to Uzbekistan than the Van Morrison clone he is. His quiet set in the 19th-floor bar of what used to be the Austin Crowne Plaza was a gentle thrill – Dunger's soaring, supple tenor wafting heavenward over his 12-string guitar. It was one of those sets you only see at South By – Dunger doesn't seem to tour the United States much, and whenever he has, Houston has not been on the agenda, but he alone is worth the trip to Austin.

And there were other magic moments, such as meeting New Orleans titans Monk Boudreaux and Willie Tee in the lobby of my hotel as we all checked out. Boudreaux is a Big Chief – one of the founders of the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indian tribe, and Tee is the author of such Big Easy gems as "Always Accused," "All For One" and "I Found Out" and an absolute master of Big Easy jazz and R&B. After exchanging a few pleasantries with these guys, we all hopped in our rides and promised that we would be back next year.

So yeah, it might be too big. But it's worth it.

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