By Chris M. Junior
The Tuesday before South by Southwest’s music conference/festival used to be a day to slip into Austin, Texas, with relative ease. It was a chance to settle in before the town was overrun with hipsters, musicians and industry folks and sift through the attractive and often overwhelming schedule of panels and performances taking place starting the next day and continuing into the weekend.
Although the cover of the SXSW 2011 pocket guide had its music festivities beginning on Wednesday, inside it listed about 50 showcasing bands for March 15. And those performances were in addition to the attractive non-SXSW events often presented around Austin to capitalize on the influx of music fans and professionals.
One such event was BMI’s 11th annual Howdy Texas Happy Hour at Stubb’s. Among the performers was Gary Clark Jr., whose warm, acoustic blues brought to mind John Legend if he played guitar instead of piano.
Across town at GSD&M, Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson held his annual birthday bash, which doubles as a fundraiser for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. The Benson event is always loaded with top-shelf guests, and this year was no exception. Backed by AATW, Radney Foster (a guest in 2010) hit the outdoor stage with Bill Lloyd, his partner in the late 1980s/early 1990s, for a short set. It wasn’t just a trip down memory lane for the country/rock duo (which has an official SXSW showcase Wednesday at the Saxon Pub). Foster and Lloyd played two new songs (“Can’t Make Love” and “Hiding Out,” both good) from their first new album in about 20 years, plus a version of “Crazy Over You.”
Meanwhile, certain clubs in the heart of downtown were presenting official SXSW showcases. The line outside Emo’s on Red River Street was as long as any you’d typically see during the heart of the festival.
Getting into the nearby Elysium was relatively easy, however, and by the time Toronto-based Trust hit the stage, the floor area of the club was pretty full. The group’s moody, keyboard-driven trance music seemed to go over well and was perfectly suited for a venue that sports a Bauhaus poster and a Crystal Method photo on its walls.