My kids have always enjoyed discovering what South By Southwest has to offer. Three years ago, my son Milo especially enjoyed the game at the Austin event. But now Milo, 16, and his brother Eddie, 19, are crazy about music.
It’s still a little tricky because much of the entertainment at SXSW is restricted to people ages 21 and older. However, there is still a good amount of music that can be consumed by minors.
Eddie and Milo were aware of Beck’s entertaining and informative keynote which was actually a question-and-answer session led by Amanda Petrusich of The New Yorker.
But the highlight of SXSW from March 11-20 in Austin, TX was Beck’s concert at Austin City Limits. The versatile singer-songwriter was scheduled to deliver a solo acoustic performance to cap off the event, but the day before his performance, Beck met pedal guitarist Jesse Ebaugh, formerly of the Heartless Bastards, in the Red River Cultural District .
Beck noted how magical the artery is while waxing the number of cool groups he saw the night before. Agreed. Coming up the Red River three years ago, a scruffy guy in the ministry’s “Filth Pig” shirt walked up to my youngest son.
“Hey, Milo, what are you doing in Austin? Car Seat Headrest guitarist Ethan Ives told Milo hours before his band played Stubbs. Milo had attended six CSH shows in nine months and thus became a familiar figure on the shows.
Beck invited Ebaugh to perform with him and why not join the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee? Beck is one of the most daring and innovative artists of the last generation. Beck is one of the most eclectic and prolific singer-songwriters of the Radiohead era.
Folk, country, soul, rock, Latin, electronic and hip-hop are some of the styles that form part of Beck’s repertoire. Milo and Eddie lined up early and raced inside the ACL to the front row. They leaned against the barricade as Beck took the stage and delivered “Golden Age.” They had no idea they knew about one of those specials that only happen during SXSW.
Beck played a variety of songs from his canon as well as choice covers. There were many highlights. I requested “Pay No Mind (Snoozer)”, which is my favorite Beck song, through Beck’s publicist a few nights before the show, and it was returned.
I love the song so much that while I was in Rome in the mid-1990s, my best friend told the beautiful Italian girls we were trying to impress that I was a singer. “What song can you sing? asked the lovely Valentina. I shouted “Pay No Mind”.
Some advice for my boys. Don’t run with a protest song when you’re trying to seduce a girl. I probably should have chosen a song like “Wonderwall” by Oasis, which groups of teenagers were singing in the squares at the time. My life may be very different now, but that’s another story.
“Guess I’m Doing Fine” and “Lost Cause” were perfect note for note. But the most memorable moments were when Beck got lost. Beck forgot the lyrics to “Hollow Leg” and composed new lyrics as he navigated through the melody. During “Debra,” a welcome deep track from 1999’s “Midnight Vultures” album, Beck improvised and tipped the cowboy hat at Willie Nelson.
A very relaxed Beck spoke out when Johnny Cash opened for him in Austin 28 years ago on his SXSW debut. The reality is that Cash agreed to play and requested an early slot.
“I’ve been in South By for two days, but it feels like two weeks to me,” Beck observed. It hit home for Milo. “That’s exactly how it feels,” Milo said. “There’s so much going on in a day here, between music, movies and one-day parties, it feels like four days in 24 hours!”
If it felt like Beck’s show was a marathon. Well, it was since the little artist was supposed to perform for an hour and 15 minutes, but all of a sudden he was on stage for two hours.
“I just looked at a clock,” Beck said. “I’ve been playing for a long time.
He played for so long that some people left – probably on his way to a late-night showcase. “I think this is the longest acoustic show I’ve played in years,” Beck said.
In Beck’s case, it was the opposite of less is more. “Rowboat”, “One Foot in the Grave” and his cover of Hank Williams’ “I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow” were sublime. Once the house lights were on, Beck surprised the exiting crowd to play one more track to cap off his 25-song set.
“It’s probably my favorite song written in Austin,” Beck said, reverently performing the late eccentric Daniel Johnston’s beautiful “True Love Will Find You in the End.”
It was the perfect way to end a memorable South By. Other highlights included a lively performance from Dolly Parton, a serious show from Suzanne Vega and a terrific set from Japanese Breakfast, aka Michelle Zauner.
Speaking of the latter, Zauner stole the Luck Reunion, a wonderful annual event on Willie Nelson’s ranch in nearby Spicewood. Milo, Eddie and I were blown away by the set leading up to Nelson’s performance. Nelson, who turns 89 next month, is a walking monument who remains a captivating figure.
Lily Meola, who performed at Luck, is a rising star. Keep an eye out for Meola, who is a smart and emotional singer-songwriter.
On the movie front, expect features such as Richard Linklater’s “Apollo 10 and a Half: A Space Age Childhood,” Patton Oswalt’s formidable vehicle “I Love My Dad,” the hovering “The Unbearable Weight.” of Massive Talent” with Nicolas Cage and “Facing Nolan”, a look at the life of legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan, which is the best baseball documentary I’ve ever seen.
Milo and Eddie were blown away by Lone Star icons like Nelson and Ryan. “When you look at what they’ve accomplished, well, I guess everything is bigger in Texas,” Milo said.
Absolutely, young man!