The South By Southwest music conference, which ended Sunday wasn’t just large. It was Texas big. SXSW was huger than ever. More than 2,200 acts had official showcases in over 90 venues. Each year, South By seems to grow but it felt like the event, which is Austin’s biggest moneymaker, was about to burst at the seams.
Sixth street, the epicenter of the live music capital of the world, was like Times Square on New Year’s Eve last Friday and Saturday night.
Music fans reigned with smiles on their faces with good reason. SXSW 2012 was arguably the finest year for the festival.
There was much music. Acts ranged from the unknown buskers, who were part of the unofficial SXSW, to Bruce Springsteen, who performed a concert that was as exclusive as it was tremendous.
The Boss scored considerable ink and he deserved it. How wise of Springsteen to make his SXSW debut to coincide with the launch of his latest album ‘Wrecking Ball.’ The coverage of his exceptional keynote and guest-laden concert was massive. His spoken and sung words were hopeful and inspiring.
But South By was about more than the Boss. Their were a number of terrific performances throughout the event but there was an intangible that was significant. There was a positive vibe that infected folks like Tom Morello, who was ubiquitous, like many other acts, such as Built to Spill and Blitzen Trappen. Those recording artists played a number of showcases and a plethora of parties.
Morello aka the Nightwatchman was bitten by the spirit of Woody Guthrie (‘This Land Is Your Land,’ was delivered a number of times by varied artists at SXSW, Guthrie would have turned 100 this year). Morello’s official performance spilled out into the street at 2 a.m. as he rendered an ‘occupy Austin’ concert that lasted until the wee hours before cops halted the performance.
Morello impressed by performing with Springsteen, during his own show and particularly at a Rolling Stone party. The fired up Morello doesn’t get enough credit for his folky side, which was nicely showcased. The lionized guitarist was a can’t miss performer.
Mumford and Sons showcased their documentary ‘Big Easy Express,’ which chronicles their unique 2011 tour, which was propelled by rail. They traveled from Oakland to New Orleans on a vintage train, while performing at station stops along the way.
The fiery band previewed new material and surprised the crowd of about 5,000 by capping their post-film performance with a version of ‘The Cave,’ with the Austin High School Marching Band.
It made perfect sense for Mumford and Sons to take their movie to Austin since SXSW is what helped launch the act in 2009.
Indie darlings The Magnetic Fields, Grimes and Sleigh Bells, each delivered impressive sets. Veteran rapper 50 Cent came out to prove that he still has the goods by rendering his ‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ album.
Santigold, who was raised in Philadelphia, picked up the pace at the Spin party by making it one of the most celebratory soirees at the fest.
Rachael Ray was back for another big bash, which featured an eclectic array of recording artists and tasty fare (great turkey sliders).
Even Lionel Richie came out to say hello again. What’s great about SXSW is that you never know what’s going to happen onstage or on the street.
Fiona Apple ended her six-year performance hiatus by playing two strong shows.
I spotted Bill Murray cruising the bustling downtown district.
Anything can happen at SXSW. Where else is the print media king? Print (I’ve been part of the team for the last 14 years) won its sixth SXSW softball tournament in the last 12 years. It was a great way to cap SXSW Sunday afternoon. There was nothing like walking miles around downtown all week and then running the base paths. I received a gold medal (just like the ones my sons score for winning ice hockey tournaments), which goes along nicely with the myriad of memories garnered from the well-spent week.