SXSW Notebook Dump, Day 4

Actually, not a notebook dump. My pen broke during a James McMurtry set – lousy Spring swag pen! – and besides, I saw little new & was more into a relaxing day. I did see Anaheim’s Dusty Rhodes and the River Band, who served as a reminder that enthusiasm alone is never enough, and they were followed by New Orleans rock band Rotary Downs, who were everything they weren’t – subtle, dynamic, textured, hooky but with an element of privacy. Neither the music nor the band ever gave everything away.

I spent much of the day thinking about a running theme through this SXSW, and the easiest way into the thought is something our food writer Todd A. Price has been talking about – regionalism. Evidently this is a thought that is going on in some food circles, but the idea as I get it from him is that shipping food around the country and around the world has lowered our expectations for the flavor of the food. You can get a tomato all year around for instance, but if you get a tomato fresh from a nearby farm while it’s in season, it’s a remarkably different taste experience. Time and place count, but if you can get one anytime, anywhere, it’s easy to not know what you’re missing.

Here, we’ve spent a long weekend seeing musicians who, for the most part, can’t travel easily and cost effectively anymore. Roots duo Jeff and Vida have figured out how to live by touring regularly, but Vida said yesterday that when gas hits four dollars a gallon, they’re going to have to reconsider. Add more members, more equipment, more or bigger vehicles, and suddenly traveling becomes prohibitive except to places with the biggest pockets of fans. Or, traveling in some sort of stripped down mode. Last year Alejandro Escovedo played the House of Blues’ Parish as an acoustic duo, and that was cool, but that version of the music isn’t necessarily the music in his head, the music he worked to get on disc.

Perhaps it’s time to accept that we’re in a musical period of regionalism. If you want to see Jon Dee Graham, you have to come to Austin. If you want to see Chuck Prophet, you have to go to San Francisco. If you want to see the Soul Rebels or the Happy Talk Band, you have to go to New Orleans. The musical world wasn’t always a mobile one, and it certainly wasn’t always one that traveled from coast to coast with any ease. Recordings can now be distributed internationally instantaneously, but that may be the musical experience we have to satisfy ourselves with until we can get to the place where the music we want to hear is.

Not a cheerful way to think about music, but Jon Dee Graham joked that this year’s SXSW is sloganed, “The Tournament of Tears.” All this music, and no one can figure out how to make money from it.