SXSW 2003 – The days before…

I arrived a few days early - the plan was to see some of my local favourites before the complete madness of SXSW started. I began my tour of Austin on Fat Tuesday at the Saxon Pub where Patrice Pike was playing. I’ve been a fan of Patrice since her days with Sister 7, and it was good to see her continued growth as a solo Artist. (Click here for pictures from this show)
Two “must-see” acts were on my list for Ash Wednesday: Beaver Nelson @ Momo’s and Jon Dee Graham @ Continental Club. 
(Click here for pictures from this show)
Another great show was the combination of the full-on weirdness of Bob Log III with the “maximum Rock & Soul” cult band The Bellrays at Emo’s. 
(Click here for pictures from this show)
On Saturday, the Saxon Pub had an impressive line-up: the evening kicked off with a remarkable set by Dayna Kurtz, who was followed by the always dependable Silos and the brilliant Trish Murphy, with Stephen Bruton playing guitar in her band. (Click here for pictures
from this show)

Tuesday, March 11, 2003
8th annual Swollen Circus hosted by Walter Salas-Humara and Michael Hall

Swollen Circus
After the Hole In The Wall shut down last year, the Swollen Circus had to find a new home for its eighth incarnation. Stubb’s turned out to be a very good choice, with an excellent PA and a sound guy who knew what he was doing. There was a long line of people outside, but luckily Stubb’s was big enough to let everyone get in and to give people plenty of space to mill around and talk without having to do it right in front of the stage. What had not changed was the 3 songs per band limit…
Walter Salas-Humara and Michael Hall

Plum @ Stubb’s
“The power pop trio Plum was formed in 1993 by singer/bassist Steve McAllister and guitarist Jon Bookout, both students at Boston's Berklee College of Music; soon adding drummer Trip Wiggins, the group briefly relocated to San Antonio, TX before settling across the state in Austin. There they cut their teeth on the city's thriving club circuit before signing with the Dallas-based indie Carpe Diem to release their 1995 debut Neptune's Daughters, followed a year later by The Luxury of Wings. Plum resurfaced in 1999 with Trespassing.” (Jason Ankeny,
Since 1999, Plum have released two more CD’s on their own Vari-Tone label. Based on the songs I heard, they still stick with slightly eccentric, multi-layered Pop sounds. Solid, yet nothing overly memorable.

Ruthie Foster @ Stubb’s
Ruthie Foster
“Currently based in College Station, Ruthie Foster possesses a voice that will stop you in your tracks. Her latest release,
Runaway Soul, showcases her talents as a vocalist, songwriter, and song interpreter extremely well, as she mixes gospel, blues, and folk in a way that's cleverly refreshing and positively uplifting.” (Jim Caligiuri, Austin Chronicle)
Ruthie Foster
Even before playing her first note, Ruthie Foster tried to connect with the audience, and halfway through the opening song everyone in the room was singing and clapping along. The Lloyd Maines produced “Runaway Soul” is already her 3rd full-length album, so you can’t call her a new artist, but it was the first time I had the chance to see her. She was joined by Cyd Cassone on percussion and started off with the title song (which she fittingly described as “mixing Gospel with Blues”) from her latest CD, continued her set with “Hole In My Pocket”, a song written by Terri Hendrix, and ended with “Death Came A-Knockin' (Travelin' Shoes)”, based on an old Plantation song from the Carolinas. Highly recommended!

Michael Hall & The Woodpeckers @ Stubb’s
Michael Hall & The Woodpeckers
Lucky Too is Michael Hall's second album with the Woodpeckers, coming on the heels of 2000's Dead by Dinner, and this time around the former Wild Seed shares the songwriting load with his band. The effort swings cleanly from small-hours, indie-boy sadness to roughed-up roots rock to gruff garage rock to guitar jangle. […] This is a strong, varied effort from Hall and the Woodpeckers.” (Erik Hage,
Michael Hall & The Woodpeckers
In their only performance of the week, with regular drummer Steve McCarthy playing guitar and Walter Salas-Humara manning the drum kit, The Woodpeckers performed two new songs (one of them a typical Michael Hall song entitled “The Song He Was Listening To When He Died”), and finished with the old loser anthem “Let’s Take Some Drugs And Drive Around”.

Kevin Russell @ Stubb’s
Kevin Russell
“Kevin Russell is primarily known as a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, mandolin, and banjo) for eclectic Austin, TX, roots-rockers the Gourds. On his own, Russell (using the moniker Kev Russell's Junker) stepped out with the album Buttermilk and Rifles on Sugar Hill Records in 2002. The effort featured appearances by a bevy of fellow Gourds and other Austin luminaries such as Jon Dee Graham.” (Erik Hage,
Kevin Russell
Kevin Russell appeared with a makeshift band including Walter Salas-Humara on drums, Dave DeCastro (Miracle 3) on bass and Randy Franklin (Woodpeckers) on electric guitar. Typical for what the Swollen Circus is all about: musicians from different bands jamming together. Both band and audience seemed to enjoy the set immensely.

Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3 @ Stubb’s
Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3
“Steve Wynn, as founder of the Dream Syndicate in the early '80s, almost single-handedly made college-age rock fans open their eyes to two decades' worth of the guitar-drenched rock that inspired him.” (Denise Sullivan,
Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3
Steve Wynn’s set at the Swollen Circus was voted best SXSW-related show by Austin Chronicle writer Jim Caligiuri. Although based in New York City, Steve and The Miracle 3 performed three songs about California: Southern California Line, California Style and Amphetamine. Clearly the highest adrenaline level of the night!
Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3

Pamela Miller @ Stubb’s
Pamela Miller
“Miller has an apparent gift for crafting sticky hooks and memorable melodies while keeping the lyrics remarkably literate. The final key element is her vocal delivery, which soars from a subtle whisper to a glass-shattering caterwaul.” (Larry Flick, Billboard Magazine)
Pamela Miller
The energy level of Steve Wynn’s set was obviously hard to follow, so the best idea was to have something completely different, and Pamela Miller was perfect for that role. Very quiet songs, and yes, it’s all about her voice, although she had good help from Konrad Meissner on drums and a guitar/lapsteel player. Pamela already has two CD’s under her belt, and her voice can be heard in commercials, films, and singing backup for people like Sara Hickman and Randy Newman. Her set was very well received - quite an achievement for a low-key performance in a party environment such as the Swollen Circus.

Crack Pipes @ Stubb’s
“Led by the Right Rev. Ray Pride on vocals and harp, Austin's Crack Pipes spew rusted-out garage-skronk with the refreshing ferocity of an exploding can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The Crack Pipes' following was widened exponentially with the release of 2001's Every Night Saturday Night.” (Greg Beets, Austin Chronicle)
Crack Pipes
What the heck was that? White trash metal riffs over hyper rhythms, and a singer wailing at the top of his lungs. A brilliant opportunity for a beer run!

The Silos @ Stubb’s
“Walter Salas-Humara has kept the Silos going in one form or another since the late Eighties, playing an infectious folk-rock hybrid that often defies categorization.“ (Jerry Renshaw, Austin Chronicle)
The audience at the Swollen Circus was in for a special treat. The Silos were joined by guitarist Rich Brotherton (currently playing in Robert Earl Keen’s band) for this performance. Two new numbers (“The Happiest Man In The World” and “Innocent”) were followed by an extended version of “Tennessee Fire” from the recently re-mastered and re-released 1987 masterpiece Cuba.

Neal Pollack Invasion @ Stubb’s
“Writer Neal Pollack has assembled a band of talented musicians, including acclaimed singer-songwriter Jim Roll, to perform songs from Never Mind The Pollacks, his forthcoming novel about the history of indie rock. Telegraph Records will release an accompanying soundtrack this fall. Expect fun parodies of various punk genres, and the destruction of a major work of world literature at show's end.” (SXSW Band Info)
Neal Pollock
Neal started off with a toast to mark the fact that Texas was about to execute the 300th person on death-row. He then introduced himself as “the greatest living American writer”, reading lyrics from sheets of paper, while his band proceeded to play melodies cleverly copied from Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen songs. The crowd reacted quickly and headed for the bar and the exits.

Kathy McCarty @ Stubb’s
“Singer/songwriter/guitarist Kathy McCarty helped make her former band Glass Eye one of the most interesting, if not commercially successful bands to come out of the Austin, Texas music scene. When they disbanded in 1993, McCarty decided to record an entire album dedicated to the songs of another local favorite, Daniel Johnston.” (Brett Hartenbach,
Kathy McCarty
The crowd thinned even more during Kathy McCarty’s set, except for a few hardcore fans in front of the stage.

South Austin Jug Band @ Stubb’s
“The South Austin Jug Band, dubbed "young traditionists" by Texas Monthly, owes equal debts to Bill Monroe and Bob Wills. When the five twenty-somethings (actually, the fiddle player's now only 18) got together in September of 2000, they aimed to capture all the energy of a rock and roll band in an all-acoustic format. Starting out as an impromptu jam at a festival, they gelled into an all-out barnburnin' blend of old-time, bluegrass, swing, folk, and country music. Their debut CD, Pickin' and Grinnin' @ Momo's, captures the excitement of their weekly Sunday night gigs at a popular Austin establishment where they've attracted a diverse and dedicated following of hipsters and rednecks, young and old.” (SXSW Info)
South Austin Jug Band
The South Austin Jug Band brought a much needed change of pace. Lots of youthful enthusiasm paired with very traditional Bluegrass songs. Rich Brotherton was on stage again, joining them on Mandolin. A very refreshing and entertaining set.

Ware River Club @ Stubb’s
"Ware River Club writes about small town working-class lives, painting pictures of real people trying to get by. A lot of this record is fun, but it's the heartaches that really hit the mark. No song does so more than “Wanna Be With You”, [...] it's one of the more poignant moments I've heard on record in a while." (No Depression about Bad Side Of Otis Ave.)
Ware River Club

It was almost 2am when Ware River Club got up on stage and steered things back onto solid Roots-Rock terrain. A perfect band to end this year’s Circus.

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All pictures (c) Steffen Paulus 2003