One of the interesting things about Oxford, Mississippi is the extent of their live music scene for being such a small town. Of course the University of Mississippi is there, but there’s almost more live music in Oxford than in Memphis sometimes, and that can make for some interesting dilemmas, such as the one March 28, where Duwayne Burnside and the Rev. John Wilkins were at the Powerhous
e, and Eric Deaton, one of the late R.L. Burnside’s disciples, was at The Blind Pig
on Lamar. Although I chose to go to the Powerhouse initially, around 10 PM or so I decided to head over to the Blind Pig and catch the end of Eric Deaton’s set. As it turned out, Duwayne Burnside’s brother Garry was over there, and sat in with Eric Deaton’s trio on several songs. Not long after that, Duwayne Burnside and a lot of other people came over from the Powerhouse as that event had ended, and it ended up being a great ending to an amazing night of Hill Country blues in Oxford. And the rain had finally ended too.
While registering for the Southern Entertainment Awards at Resorts Casino in Tunica, I looked on my phone and saw where a concert of Hill Country blues was taking place at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center in Oxford. The weather had gotten really bad, with high winds, thunder and lightning, but I decided to drive over that way from Tunica, stopping for dinner at the Oyster Bar in Como. The concert had already started when I got to Oxford, and Sharde Thomas was on stage with the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. I learned that the event was being held for the attendees of the Southern Literary Festival, which was being held on the Ole Miss campus nearby. After the fife and drum band, Hill Country blues legend Duwayne Burnside came on stage with his band, including David Kimbrough Jr on drums, and played a selection of traditional and modern blues songs, getting the most applause for his reading of his father’s “See My Jumper Hanging Out On The Line.” (The strange title of that song had always mystified me, until I read recently that rural women who were cheating on their husbands used to hang a man’s jumpsuit on their clothesline as a signal to their boyfriends that the coast was clear and they could come over). Duwayne Burnside was followed by the Rev. John Wilkins, whose style of gospel is largely based on the music of Hill Country blues, despite the religious tone of the lyrics. Although I had seen all the performers elsewhere in the past, it was an exciting and enjoyable performance.
It’s a long way from Beirut to Memphis, and Lebanon is definitely not the first place you think of when it comes to blues, but that didn’t stop the Wanton Bishops
, a Beirut-based blues/rock band, some of whose members had met outside a well-known Beirut blues bar. After several years of growing popularity in Lebanon, Turkey and France, the Bishops started gaining attention from American audiences as well. Sponsored by Red Bull, the Wanton Bishops ended their triumphant appearance at South By Southwest in Austin with a journey up Highway 61 from New Orleans to Memphis by way of Clarksdale, documented by a film crew. Perhaps the apotheosis of that journey was a recording session in a most appropriate place, Boo Mitchell’s legendary Royal Studios
in South Memphis, the place where classic recordings were made by Al Green, Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, O. V. Wright and many others. For young, blues-loving men from the Middle East, it must have seemed like the dream of a lifetime. Although it took all day, it resulted in one perfect song, and some lasting memories.
Memphis is literally loaded with incredible soul and funk bands, and occasionally local restaurants and clubs feature some of them. Joshua McCain and the Soul Seven have recently started playing every Tuesday night at El Toro Loco
in Hickory Hill from 7-9 PM, with singer Jay Bailey as their featured vocalist. I like to come out and support live music, and it is especially enjoyable to have a live music event early in the week.
After I walked back to downtown Austin, I caught up with Travis McFetridge, and he and his friend wanted to check out the rapper Danny Brown
who was performing at the Red Bull Sound Select
stage at The Belmont
, so I agreed to go with them. I had heard of Danny Brown but never actually heard any of his music, and he wasn’t bad. I had fortunately gotten press credentials, so I was able to take some pictures of his performance, and the stage was outdoors in a courtyard, and was very cool indeed. We left about 2 AM and headed over to 24 Diner, which was a lot more crowded than I had expected. Getting our food took quite awhile, and I didn’t get back to the hotel room until 4 AM. But it was the best way to end my year at SXSW- a good breakfast with friends.
After the Memphis concert was over at Butler Park, I walked down to South Congress Avenue and ended up encountering a band called The City
from Houston who was performing on the outdoor stage at Mrs. P’s Electric Cock. They played an exciting blend of neo-soul and jazz, and were fun to listen to, but my phone was running out of charge and there was no place to charge it there, so I began walking back toward the convention center.
After the show was over, Al Kapone got me backstage where I was able to hang out with a lot of the performers, and I even briefly got to meet Snoop Dogg. Ultimately, all the people from the film headed off to dinner at some place on South Congress, so I headed out walking, trying to decide where I wanted to eat.
After an early morning breakfast at the Magnolia Cafe
, I parked my car downtown and set out walking across the bridge to Austin’s Butler Park, where there was an afternoon-long concert being held of Memphis music, scheduled to coincide with the film Take Me To The River
, which was screened several times at South By Southwest this year. Despite the threat of rain, there was a decent crowd at the outdoor stage, and although rain started several times during the afternoon, it never continued long enough to run people off, and the day ended with the sun coming out. After an hour of so of DJ mixing from a really cool DJ, the show opened with a performance from the Hi Rhythm Section, and then a number of musicians featured in the film appeared, including Bobby Rush, Frayser Boy, Al Kapone, William Bell, Booker T. Jones, Charlie Musselwhite, Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson, Otis Clay, Iffy, Miscelllaneous Bosslife and Syl Johnson. Perhaps the high point of the day was when Snoop Doggy Dogg appeared without warning to join William Bell in a version of the classic “I Forgot To Be Your Lover.” It was actually a great day for Memphis and for Austin as well.
With its late hours (open until 3 AM on weekends), Halcyon
is the quintessential coffee bar in downtown Austin, popular at any time, and stuffed to overflowing during South By Southwest. Its location near many of the music venues is part of the attraction, as is its menu, featuring everything from smores and other desserts to breakfast sandwiches and paninis. They play great music too, if you can hear it, but Halcyon is almost always crowded and always noisy, even at 2 AM. But that’s a lot of the fun, as you begin to realize that everybody had the same idea you did…to hit up Halcyon after the last showcases were over.
Halcyon Austin Coffee Bar and Lounge
218 W. 4th Street
Austin, TX 78701
People in Louisiana believe in something called “lagniappe”, a tradition of giving the customer a little something extra, or a bonus to thank you for your patronage. Those of us at the bounce showcase on the Average Rooftop at South By Southwest got a bit of lagniappe on Friday night in the form of an unexpected appearance by the Queen of Bounce herself, Katey Redd
. Katey Red began her career on the groundbreaking Take Fo Records
label, the same label which launched the career of bounce pioneer DJ Jubilee. She is best known for her debut album Melpomene Block Party
(the Melpomene is another former housing project in New Orleans that was demolished after Katrina), and has more recently been featured in several episodes of the television series Treme