You could also wander all over town and run into entire alternatives to SXSW. At SXSA (South by South Austin), I caught Red Meat (San Francisco; redmeat.net) - no, not speed metal, but "raw, Bakersfield-style honky tonk." The sextet plays nearly all original material, it sounds original, and on the fine Alameda County Line (Ranchero), it's produced by the reliable Dave Alvin.
Finally, you could hear acts that, as far as I know, didn't even play. Instead, they dropped off their homemade CDs on tables in the Austin Convention Center, hoping to be heard. In all honesty, some deserved to stay on those tables, including The Artist Formally Known as Vince - keep practicing, buddy. But then there was a band that doesn't even exist: the Poppin' Wheelies (thepoppinwheelies.com), whose self-titled album (Uranus Laboratories) is actually the brainchild of Robin Wilson, formerly of the Gin Blossoms, currently with the Gas Giants (and based in Arizona). Wilson says the disc is "the soundtrack to a proposed animated series about a band in outer space," combining "rock & roll, sci-fi/ fantasy, comic books, animation - everything I love." And it's a gem, complete with three songs written by Tommy Keene, himself a hidden pop treasure.
Records like The Poppin' Wheelies may not save the universe, but they can help keep music in the music industry. This is especially crucial in a time when the following Dennis Miller rant can be read as the gospel truth: "The music industry has nothing to do with music. What you hear on the radio today is one-half marketing, one-half public relations, and two-thirds timing. And if that math makes sense to you, you probably work in the Royalties Department at one of the major labels."
In Austin, something was proven all night for each of five nights: SXSW is one-half music you know, one-half music you think you know, and two-thirds The Great Unknown that helps you fall in love with music all over again. Do the math, and keep the faith.
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