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South By Southwest 2007

Stax, Scratch and a host of locals highlight my festival

To get to the Fader party at South By Southwest, you must first wend your way through a maze of Levi's products out to a back patio that is brought to you by Southern Comfort peach brandy. There, The Good, the Bad and the Queen, Ladyhawk, Vietnam, Redman and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony graced a stage brought to you by Fader as the assorted throngs passed around cups bearing the Southern Comfort logo.

Today, South by Southwest has evolved into a binary event.

By night, it is the same as it ever was. Bands play showcases in attempts to play the music game by the old rules -- to impress journalists, promoters, label execs and other such old-school music biz riff-raff in order to sell CDs, get signed or put together a few tour dates.

By day, when the buzz bands play the corporate shindigs, it's a different story, one that is by turns thrilling, fascinating, repellent and scary. At events like Fader's, not even some of the most exciting acts in the world can conceal the fact that, as far as corporate America is concerned, the sale of music is no longer an end in itself. It is just another accoutrement of a fashionable lifestyle, a mixer to pour in your cup with your Southern Comfort and perhaps slosh on your brand-new Levi's. Sales of recorded sound aren't carrying the bacon anymore, so music is now seen as a keyhole to unlock the kids, so that you can sell them stuff that actually has the kind of value you can see on a bottom line.

Daytime at South By also clearly reveals the post-Internet fracturing of the mass market. There is no longer one, two, three or even ten youth culture niches. Today, psych-rock hipsters with Civil War general-shaggy beards rub shoulders with androgynous denizens of the Beauty Bar who step on the toes of designer throwback-clad hip-hop heads who bump into old-school funksters.

It was long believed by the powers-that-be in the corporate suites of the tall buildings on Madison Avenue that today's kids could not be marketed to. That's not true, and South By Southwest is where the suits go to learn and adapt. They are getting really good at it.

Of course, marketing through music has been going on a long time. What bugs me about it now is the whole charade -- that on the one hand, the companies pretend they are not marketing, and on the other, that the fans believe that they are not being marketed to. I'll cop to succumbing myself -- after that Fader party, I have definitely noticed a psychic shift in my head. I might just buy a pair of Levi's and a quart of Southern Comfort and head out on a tear.

With that little sermon out of the way, I'll step off my soapbox and get on to the music. Here's a partial blow-by-blow (some adapted from my two blog dispatches) of my seventh consecutive South By Southwest.

Wednesday: Drove thru intermittent rain to Austin with my dad, who is here in his newish capacity as the manager of country chanteuse Sunny Sweeney. We caught up as we munched Antone's poor boys and listened to the magic iPod, which hit us with an incredible random shuffle, following the 13th Floor Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me" with Pink Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond." Syd Barrett has to be smiling somewhere.

As for Roky Erickson, he's right here in A-Town, along with tens of thousands of lesser mortals. I waited in line behind a few hundred of them at the credentials line in the convention center. I struck up a convo with a girl who drove down here from Alaska pretty much just to see Iggy Pop.

"I heard his new album's pretty weak," I said. "The reviews have been pretty lousy."

"Yeah, that's 'cause music critics suck," she said. And I guess we kinda do.

Got my badge and my swag bag and headed over to my digs at the downtown Omni. It's an atrium-style joint not unlike a Hyatt, only the difference is that one-half of this place is an office building. So while I'm sitting in here swilling wine and plotting whether to see Clem Snide at Emo's or Sondre Lerche at The Current, I can gaze at people 100 yards away toiling in cubes under signs that say things like "Sell Like A Champion Today!" So yeah, music critics may suck, but our jobs don't.

Anyway, I caught Charlie Louvin and the aforementioned Ms. Sweeney at The Parish to kick off the evening. Louvin's show was a disappointment. The man himself said his best days were behind him, and it was hard to disagree.

It was time for something completely different, so I headed a few blocks down Sixth to one of Matt Sonzala's many H-Town rap throw-downs. K-Rino, the conscience and one of the patriarchs of Houston rap, spit fucking fire like only he can. Devin the Dude and his Coughee Brothaz closed the show. I'm not sure if Devin ever got around to rapping himself, and the posse lacked the military precision I've seen them operate under elsewhere, so it was a bit of a shambles.

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