The Mooonshine Patio Bar and Grill becomes insanely busy during South By Southwest, and a lot of it is due to its location, literally across Red River Street from the Austin Convention Center. It’s not surprising that wait times can reach an hour or more, but since I had never eaten there in all my years of going to Austin for SXSW, I decided to put my name in and wait for a table. My friend Travis was still at the Complex Magazine showcase a block away, and I was hoping he would join me when he left there, but the wait for a table was about an hour and a half. That being said, I didn’t mind it at all. I could sit outdoors on the porch, the weather was sunny and comfortable, watching the people coming and going down the street was fun, and there turned out to be an electric outlet in the flower bed, so I was able to charge my phone, which I badly needed to do. The wait proved to be shorter than I was told, and I was soon seated at a comfortable table. Moonshine Patio specializes in Southern food, but in an upscale sort of way, and a lot of items on the menu looked good. I ultimately opted for the southern fried chicken and waffles, and was very pleased with my choice. I was also pleased with the service, which could have gotten erratic given the crowd of diners the restaurant was dealing with, but everything was correct and prompt. The bill wasn’t bad either, considering how good the food was. I left happy and satisfied, walking across the street to the Convention Center for the Hackathon Awards concert.
When I walked down Red River Street across Cesar Chavez, I heard an incredible band playing on the porch of a house. There was some sort of art party going on there, and I really never found out whether it was supposed to be open to the public or not, but I found the music irresistible and wandered on in, and at any rate, nobody told me to leave. Sensing that these older musicians might be well-known, I asked the man standing next to me if he knew who they were. He said that it was a band consisting of former members of the Texas Tornados and Doug Sahm’s band, but that he thought they were calling themselves the Kramdens now, or something like that. I listened for awhile, and then headed on down to Rainey Street.
I had been looking forward to the Wanton Bishops performance at the Symphony House. Needless to say, I was curious about a Lebanese blues band anyway, and certainly eager to hear them, and besides, my friend Matt Sonzala was to be there as well, since Red Bull was a sponsor of the band’s trip to the United States, and the whole event was being filmed for inclusion in a documentary, and I would get to see him. Unfortunately, none of it was to be, because the Symphony House was one block north of the site of the previous night’s horrific carnage in the drunk driving incident. For whatever reason (for the event had had no impact on the Symphony House or anything else in that block of Red River Street), the Austin Symphony withdrew permission for the use of the house for the performance, citing the tragedy of the night before, and so I found I had walked up there for nothing at all. In the block to the south where the actual incident occurred, an industrial cleaning firm was already on the job cleaning up the site, something that I suppose was necessary although it seemed a little cold and cynical. News media outlets were set up all along Red River and surrounding streets.
Such tragedies happen in locations across America, and they usually don’t create the strong sense of shock and outrage that this did, and for awhile I couldn’t imagine why. Then it hit me. We love festivals, whether South By Southwest or Jazz Fest or Beale Street Music Festival or Mardi Gras, because they replace the real, everyday world with its crimes and problems, with an alternate world where everything is fun and music. For a few days, we can live in this alternate, better universe that the festival provides. So when something awful happens, like a tragic accident, or a violent crime, we feel outraged. The real world has invaded our party, forcing its way back into our face. It’s no wonder all of us were angered and shocked. Nobody likes to be reminded of death while they are having a good time.
My homeboy Travis McFetridge, owner of Great South Bay Music, had invited me to join him for a brunch at the Driskill Hotel which was being sponsored by SESAC on Thursday morning, so I agreed to meet him there, and until I did, I wasn’t even aware that there had been an incident on Red River Street the night before in which two South By Southwest attendees had been killed. Apparently a man who was driving drunk was being pulled over by Austin police at 10th and Red River, and deciding that he didn’t want to go to jail, the driver crashed through a barricade and careened down Red River Street running over pedestrians. Two were killed instantly, and 14 others severely injured, including some who lost limbs. It’s not the sort of thing that one expects at a music conference and festival, and there was something of an appalled silence among people on Thursday morning. There were even those who called for festival events or showcases to be called off, but fortunately, South By Southwest declined to cancel events that were not directly impacted by the incident and where it occurred. Even so, I was shocked. I had just been at Cheer Up Charlie’s earlier in the afternoon, and could have very easily been on Red River Street when the tragedy unfolded.
The band that lured me into Cheer Up Charlie’s was extremely ethereal and melodic, and proved to be called Painted Palms. I had not heard of them before, but they were just the kind of indie band that I like, with plenty of harmonies and recognizable melody, and little angst or anger. The majority of Cheer Up Charlie’s is an outdoor enclosure, with an outdoor stage backed by a white stone cliff. I stayed for the remainder of the band’s set and then walked back out to the street. As it turns out, Painted Palms has released a new album this year called Forever.
When I left the hip-hop showcase, I walked down to the Fader Fort, but things really weren’t happening there yet, and I had no way to get in anyway. The Memphis rapper Cartier Hugo was performing over at some place on Red River Street, so I began to head over that way, but his performance was over before I got there, so I walked on up the street to see what else was going on, and ended up going inside Cheer Up Charlie’s because I liked the sound of the band I heard playing there.