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South By Southwest 2007

Stax, Scratch and a host of locals highlight my festival

Thursday: This year marks the 50th anniversary for the Stax label, and they're relaunching this year. The MGs were Stax's heart and soul, their taut organ jams the hipster nocturnes of a generation. The rhythm section of Duck Dunn and Al Jackson was the epitome of economy -- the late Jackson was famous for rarely if ever playing a drum fill. Steve Cropper's chiming, chunky rhythm guitar and Jones's soaring organ were fairly well redolent of the smell of Memphis...Pork barbecue and beer.

And damn if the dudes still don't have it. Jackson's stool was occupied by a cousin, and the surviving three members were all obviously enjoying themselves immensely, as did the huge crowd. Cropper stretched a little more on the guitar than he does on the records -- I know the dude humbly claims to be nothing more than a rhythm guitarist, but man, come on. Cropper plays a mean lead and you have to recognize that he is one of the finest six-stringers this country has produced. Go back and review your copies of "Hip Hug Her," "Time Is Tight" and "Green Onions" for a refresher.

What better show to match with Booker T. than UGK? Memphis and Houston have always had a sort of symbiotic relationship going back to the days of Bobby Bland and Junior Parker continuing through 8Ball and MJG, so to me, UGK occupies part of the same cosmic wavelength as the MGs. Their show was a frickin' madhouse -- the energy was palpable as the throng waited for Bun B and Pimp C to take the stage. When they did, dudes were completely blazing. Bun's opening salvo kicked like a donkey on meth, and their renditions of classics like "Pocket Full of Stones," "Front, Back & Side to Side" and "Return" sizzled, as did new stuff like their new single and Pimp's solo joint "Knockin' Doorz Down."

Matt Sonzala's theory of hip-hop is that the East Coast variety rises out of jazz, and the West Coast stems from funk. Our version comes from the down-home blues, and rap don't get no bluesier than UGK. Somewhere, Al Jackson is smiling down on all of it.

Friday: Friday afternoon is a nightmare of scheduling. Everybody hosts their huge bashes, and you can only go to one or two. For me, that meant the Village Voice Media party at La Zona Rosa, 'cause it was hosted by the people who sign my checks. The Cinematics put on a pretty good show there, but I split before the Bravery played. Buzz band or no, they aren't my cup of tea.

Sundown found me at the Ponderosa Stomp at Opal Divine's, where one Gulf Coast music legend after another took the stage before a steadily morphing house band. (Buckwheat Zydeco manned the keyboards for much of the night.) Here was my pure music highlight of the whole festival -- Houston's own Herb Remington playing the steel guitar. The former Texas Playboy is truly world-class, a national treasure. He opened with his composition "The Boot Heel Rag," always one of my favorite Western swing instrumentals, and I practically cupped my ear to the stack of amps, the better to drink in every nuance of his amazing playing. And then he absolutely killed me with his delicate, magical rendition of Santo & Johnny's exquisite instrumental "Sleepwalk."

Saturday was all about the rock, with a hint of Jamaican smoke. For the first time ever, I skipped out on the South Congress/Continental Club hoedown entirely and stayed downtown all day and night. First, there was the Fatal Flying Guilloteens at Red 7, and then, after a break, it was Rickie Lee Jones and "Scratch" Perry on separate stages at the convention center. Next came the aforementioned Fader party, then it was back over to Red 7 to see Houston's bluesy hard rockers Amplified Heat and Austin stoner-sludgers Tia Carrera. To close the festival, I rounded up a posse of Sound Exchange regulars including co-owner Kurt Brennan and occasional Press contributor Sean McManus, local rock guitarist Eric Bogle, friends Annika and Mara, a couple of six-packs, and my iPod and speakers, and we all headed to one of Austin's downtown parks. There we howled at unimpressed passersby with karaoke versions of H-Town rap classics and Journey singles. Believe it or not, we hope to make that a lasting tradition, but Austin just isn't ready for us.

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