Day Four (Music): Celebrities Gone Wild and Grand Finale

Terry Sawyer and Tobias Peterson

The annual independent music and film festival is back, and PopMatters gives you day-by-day coverage of the good, the bad, and the best-be-forgotten moments.

Celebrities Gone Wild and Grand Finales

By Terry Sawyer

Hotel bars are creepshows and it's no wonder so many people begin affairs in them. I considered starting one just so that the atmosphere would feel less like a morgue that served quesadillas. I was waiting to meet some friends there, when I had my first brush with fame behaving badly. I gather that it all started when some musicians told MTV V.J., Matt Pinfield, that someone they met called him "a joke." Then, he popped out of the room to pace the halls in artery-popping rage. He barked on his cell phone in the hallway trying to track down the full name and location of the person who dissed him, drawing up explicit scenarios of the seven million ways he was gonna put his food in this dude's ass. I developed a new level of love for Matt Pinfield this night, who I always thought acted too nice on MTV, as if he were apologizing for not being a pretty boy. Matt Pinfield is a bad mutha fuckah. Do not, I repeat, do not cross Matt Pinfield.

When I really think about it, my favorite aspect of SXSW was just getting to enjoy the city I love. I work tons to pay off the loans for the degree that I've never used and rarely do I get four days to just cruise the city drink in its beauty. I walked downtown every single night, catching a breeze, and doing so with little fear that I would be the victim of any crime. Architecturally, Austin is built with a homey, hippy feel to it -- a city filled with trees and buildings that seem humbled by the surrounding hill country (except this crappy new skyscraper that looks like a broken liquor bottle stabbing into the night sky). We have the best jukeboxes in the country, the best local music, and incredible food, including The Best Wurst on Sixth Street where you can stumble in a drunken haze to wolf down a brat smothered in curry ketchup. I put that in the forefront of my mind as I tried to spend the last night combining everything I learned thus far. I let my friends determine the bands we'd see save one, and I tried as much as I could to let everything that annoyed me evaporate into the upsides.

Thomas Dybdahl

Thomas Dybdahl played at my friend Laura's South by Soup Fest, an event she organizes to bring some of the visiting musicians to a local soup kitchen, so that Austin's homeless and working poor might have access to a festival that would otherwise be wholly out of reach. Everyone from The Decemberists to Michelle Shocked have lent their talents to the Soup Fest stage, or rather a cleared out corner by the swinging kitchen door. Basically, you have to let go of a lot your ego to play for a crowd that will appreciate what you do but not give a shit who you are. Dybdahl sings hugely and gorgeously, every single song belted out in this icy, canyoned range. It might have been the three days without boyfriend contact, but I couldn't help but think that everybody was starting to look mighty fine in their jeans. We also caught the Coachwhips, who marry the blues and punk rock in quick and sloppy Vegas ceremony. They absolutely brutalized the stage, literally climbing up on a video game and riffing inches from the ceiling fan. Take a band like this every night at SXSW and you don't need to keep buying all those Red Bull and Vodka drinks.

We had to wait in a marathon of a line to see The Old 97s. But damn, it was worth it. Rhett Miller is law breakin' sexy, especially the way he plays his guitar like he's got it bent over a chair doggie style. I forget what the band actually sounded like, but I can tell you that Miller looks great in a cable man uniform asking if he can take off his shirt while he works on my television. I'm kidding, of course, the Old 97's play kickass, twangy barstool rock and it was great feeling all the hometown love beaming from the audience, most of whom seemed to know the words to every song and had probably waited in line for an hour or more to hear it. Since we're sort of on the subject of people you want to eat with a shovel, it's hard not to notice how this festival drastically increases the hottie density in the city, particularly with all those bad boy and girl rockers wandering the streets in summer gear because it's been humid as hell's armpit for the past few days. If you need new cards for your masturbation rolodex, this is the place to be.

Rhett Miller

Okay, so I probably shouldn't have gone to see someone I already saw last year even it is was one of the best shows of my life. But I have all these justifications such as the fact that he's one of my all-time favorite musicians and he never tours here other than SXSW. Buck 65 performs like he's literally engineered for it, like he gets taken out of a box before every show and put back after. I managed to talk a bunch of people into going and I wasn't at all disappointed as he strutted on stage completely dappered out in suit coat this time out and proceeded to spin mad yarns over deep beats and steel pedal. Of course the best moment of the festival for me would also have to be tainted by the shameless profiteering at this festival's core. Scheduling geniuses that they were, the organizers saw fit to put two outdoor stages next one another so that Buck 65's entire set had to compete with guitar blasts from the band Comets on Fire. This ridiculousness was complete confirmation to me that the people who design the festival care far more about squeezing every last bloodletted nickel out of their venture than they do even the most base standards of performance aesthetics.

I hope I've done every reader a good turn in conveying this festival in its totality. I come to the point for the Carrie Bradshaw Sex in the City voiceover and I actually feel a twinge of guilt, like maybe I need more sugar in my piss. There are easily good times to be had in Austin and at SXSW, but there are just as many questions about what the festival professes to be rather than what it is, and all the attendant worries that come when art and commerce sleep in the same vibrating motel bed. When I searched the overcrowded garage sale of my brain for analogies, I kept coming back to a kid in a candy store. It seems like you could eat everything and enjoy each and every last bite, but in reality you tire quickly of the access and pleasure, enjoying each successive morsel less and less until you keel over in a puddle of your own puke. Everything in moderation, the Greeks or someone like that used to say, and nowhere does that adage seem more fitting than during SXSW.

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