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Arrival in Austin: Warmup for Music Day 1

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Thursday, Mar 18, 2010
Before taking the plunge, Jayson Harsin visits an Austin institution. Follow Jayson's SXSW adventures on Twitter: @JaysonHarsin.

At 2am Wednesday night/Thursday morning, I am utterly exhausted. Between the music industry panels, wonkish talk about the industry’s alleged health and sickness, official and unofficial showcases, label and press parties, there is so much music in Austin right now.  It’s at once dizzying, blissful, and nearly suffocating.
I actually arrived Monday night, and went straight to the Continental Club. This wasn’t a SXSW pre-party; just everyday Austin humdrum—hardly. As I crossed the threshold, I immediately spied the twang banger Dale Watson on stage, decked out in a vaguely S&M leather vest (no undershirt) and sporting a white cowboy hat. He was backed by an ensemble of likely suspects on bass, pedal steel, keyboards, and…trombone! Watson demonstrated his impressive brand of guitar style reminiscent of Dave Dudley truck driving and Carl Smith honkey tonk, depending on the song. It was clear why he was such an important figure in the alt. country circles of the 1990’s.  All in all, he’s a fine guitarist and singer.

Tuesday, after trying (to some avail) to plan my next four days at the festival/conference,  I was spirited away from downtown Austin by a friend who insisted I check out an authentic Austin honky tonk dive, Ginny’s Longhorn Saloon. Far north of the festival’s official activities, the bar is a cozy little dive full of sexy tattooed cowpunk girls, hipsters, cowboys, and Austinites who look like they could live in any other city in the U.S. They were there to appreciate and two-step to the Jim Stringer Band, an Austin staple that covers classic country greats, such as Jim Ed Brown’s “Pop-a-top”, Buck Owens’ “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail,” and Connie Smith’s “Once a Day” and mixes in a few originals. It was a memorable glimpse into one part of a vibrant music scene that has made Austin a contender for the title of best music city in the country.

But oh the serendipity of SXSW! Crawling into my room at 3am, a fresh cat fish salad from the late night Magnolia café rumbling in my beer-bathed stomach, who did I spy but the Exene Cervenka of roots punkers’ X fame residing in the room next door. In my state, I didn’t wake up for her wee-houred warbling on the other side of the wall.

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