It's hard to bat an eyelash at SXSW sightings anymore. Kanye West hanging out with Hammer (yes, the Hammer) at the Belmont? Yawn. Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers singing "Lady" onstage together? Meh. Stumbling onto Snoop Dogg's private party on the Doritos Jacked stage? Ho-hum. Eminem as 50 Cent's almost-surprise guest at the Austin Music Hall? Big deal.
Actually, that last one was kind of a big deal. But with big-name rumors rampant and keynote speaker/SXSW 2012 avatar Bruce Springsteen all over the place, the smaller, quieter moments of SXSW – like the strong showings this year by several young Houston bands – turned out to be just as meaningful. CHRIS GRAY
BUXTON: Buxton's showcase Wednesday night was made all the sweeter knowing that there was a ring of Houston surrounding the narrow stage at the back of Skinny's Ballroom. A throng of well-wishers up front mixed with converts who may have caught wind of the accolades the band carried into this music-industry March Madness. It's hard to remember what Buxton was like even two years ago, because they keep on adding to their stew, and the flavors get all the more savory. Overheard was the somewhat astounding description of our Houston friends as "Paul Simon fronting Creedence Clearwater," or something to that effect. Pretty strong words, and judging by the accent, I don't think they had a Texas driver's license. CRAIG HLAVATY
GARY CLARK, JR.: People have talked about Austin native Gary Clark Jr.'s guitar skills since the 28-year-old had to wake up early from his weeknight Continental Club residency to go to high school. He's already regarded by the likes of Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton as the best blues guitarist of his generation, but it's his Gerald Levert-like crooning on ballads like "Things Are Changing" that are now making him a star. At dusk Thursday during the Grammys' schmooze-and-booze on the Four Seasons patio, Clark burned Hendrix's "Midnight Lamp," making a serene and psychedelic moment among the pecan trees and glowing white orbs, then kept the train right on a-rollin' with some John Lee Hooker-grade boogie. CHRIS GRAY
DONOVAN: My SXSW was one of memories I will treasure forever, like Donovan's last-minute addition to the Palm Door bill Saturday night. The '60s bard – precursor to Bowie and smoking guy in the car with Dylan in Don't Look Back, whose influence gets lost on this side of the pond – turned in a great solo set with complete candor and style. His voice is still impeccable, and sounds the same live as on those dusty albums at the record store. I was standing next to the bar only to notice Eric Burdon drinking wine ("spill the wine...") and listening to his iPod, learning "Season of the Witch" so Donovan could summon the Animal for a darkly magical duet. I was in a wondrous garage-rock trance I never wanted to leave, and might not for weeks. CRAIG HLAVATY
GLOSSARY: Glossary is a five-piece band from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, that goes well with Drive-By Truckers and Lucero (which makes sense – one of Glossary's guitarists is Lucero's steel guy). Saturday afternoon during St. Louis public-radio station KDHX's annual SXSW Twangfest party at South Austin creekside Tex-Mex music venue Jovita's, Glossary's patio set was well-suited to St. Patrick's Day: Very Thin Lizzy with a twin-guitar attack, choppy riffs and a bluesy heart. (It's always a twin-guitar "attack.") Singer Joey Kneiser introduced "Save Your Money for the Weekend" with "this is about trying to sleep with a Christian girl" and a gleam in his eye, but wife Kelly was not far away on sassy vocals and maracas. And they had a skeleton selling merch. CHRIS GRAY
HOUSTON INVASION PARTY: It almost feels like cheating to name a bunch of local bands the best thing I saw Friday, but it also happens to be the truth. Houston has always been a songwriter's town, and that fact has not been lost on the younger generation of bands, whether they are they are practicing dreamy pop (Wild Moccasins), alternative-leaning rock (The Handshake, The Tontons), paisley '60s Beatleisms (Chase Hamblin) or sharp alt-country (Folk Family Revival). The half-dozen or so bands I saw at Friday's "Houston Invasion" party at Gypsy Lounge (organized by sometime Houston Press photographer Mark C. Austin) were all relatively mainstream to a lot of the stuff at SXSW, which is not necessarily a bad thing at all. CHRIS GRAY
SKRILLEX: Thursday at The Main, the crowd was bathing in their own juices as Skrillex held court onstage with a good two dozen friends surrounding him. The audience was screaming for the drop like it was lifeblood. There was no moving, only slow sweating and tip-toeing around girls in sports bras and shirtless men writhing on top of each other. A lot of my peers in this business laugh off Skrillex, King of Dubstep and Bizarro World Cobain, as a dance-fad king, but there is something interesting going on that classical rock writing can't put a word to. For now, let's just wait....for....the.....drop, and enjoy the ride. CRAIG HLAVATY
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND: If you weren't at the Austin Convention Center at the crack of noon Thursday, then Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band's mythic three-hour set at ACL Live that night would not have affected you the way it did those of us who dragged ourselves out of bed to listen to the Boss speak. The keynote and the show went hand in hand: Touching on his influences and his craft, and only glancing at the state of the industry, Springsteen's hearty, hilariously profane speech was the promise; the show nine hours later was the fulfillment. Three hours and more than two dozen songs still wasn't enough, with the abundant special guests the proverbial icing on the cake: The Animals' Eric Burdon, Jimmy Cliff, Tom Morello, Joe Ely, openers Alejandro Escovedo and the Low Anthem, even some stray Arcade Fire members. I was all but expecting Woody Guthrie's own specter to appear onstage during closer "This Land Is Your Land," but maybe he was just being shy that night. Or he was at a showcase across town. CRAIG HLAVATY
See more coverage of this year's festival at blogs.houstonpress.com/sxsw.
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