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Looking back at South by Southwest 2016

Recapping choice panels and performances from the 30th edition of the music conference-festival in Austin, Texas.

By Chris M. Junior

When it comes to worldwide notability, Barack and Michelle Obama are about as big as they come, and both were on hand this month for the 30th edition of South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

The president appeared on March 11 to participate in a keynote conversation during the interactive portion of the multi-faceted conference-festival, followed by the first lady on March 16 to talk about the Let Girls Learn initiative, which she did as part of the music-related programming.

Of course, dignitaries more in line with previous editions of SXSW were there, too, such as The First Lady of Country Music, Dr. Funkenstein and The Master of Space and Time. Here’s a recap of their onstage activities, as well as other choice panels and performances.

The life and career of Pat and Neil

She calls him Spyder. He calls her Patricia. And after 37 years together, it’s accurate to call the professional and personal relationship between Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo one of the most durable in rock ’n’ roll.

With candor and humor, singer Benatar and guitarist Giraldo (married since 1982, with two daughters) looked back on their time together in a March 16 interview with USA Today’s Mike Snider, occasionally offering slightly different accounts of events.

Neil Giraldo and Pat Benatar (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Neil Giraldo and Pat Benatar (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Their stories about how they met matched up. Giraldo was playing in Rick Derringer’s band in the late 1970s when he got a call to meet with a singer who had a record deal, so he drove from Woodstock, N.Y., to New York City so he could meet Benatar.

“We’re at SIR Studios at New York,” Benatar recalled, adding that Giraldo arrived without a guitar and asked to borrow one for his audition. “I turn around and I see him. And you have to understand, he’s 22 years old … and that was it. And this is before he played a note, so I was pretty much onboard already. And then of course he played, and he was exactly what I was talking about.”

“It was an instant attraction, physically and musically,” Giraldo said. “Everybody needs their muse, and we were fortunate enough that when we met, we became each other’s muse.”

On the subject of “We Live for Love,” which appears on Benatar’s debut album, 1979’s “In the Heat of the Night,” Giraldo claimed he wrote the song about her — “but she’s going to say I didn’t.”

Giraldo was right.

“He was still with his freakin’ old girlfriend, and he wrote that song about her, but that’s all right because by the time we recorded the song, she was gone,” Benatar said with a smile.

That song serves as the name of the upcoming Benatar-Giraldo tour, which begins April 15 in Robinsonville, Miss.

‘Parking Lot’ revisited

Two hours — that’s how long Jeff Krulik says he and fellow filmmaker John Heyn spent outside a Maryland arena on May 31, 1986, interviewing Judas Priest fans.

In the 30 years since, Krulik and Heyn have spent a lot of time reliving their wide range of experiences related to their resulting 15-minute documentary, “Heavy Metal Parking Lot.”

Joined on March 16 by panel moderator Todd Rohal, Krulik and Heyn shared funny stories and visuals related to their cult classic. It wasn’t until 1994, when actress Sofia Coppola called Heyn after watching a copy she’d rented from Mondo Video in Los Angeles, that they realized “we have something we should get out of mothballs,” Krulick said.

In addition to screening “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” during their panel, Krulik and Heyn presented a slide show that included photos of the cumbersome video equipment they used in ’86 (“lots of cables” and “big, clunky batteries that only last about 10 minutes,” remembered Heyn), a postcard from John Waters with his review of the film and its subjects (“What monsters … it gave me the creeps”) and fan-generated art that accompanied traded VHS copies. (Krulik and Heyn didn’t start selling official versions until the late 1990s; a DVD edition released in 2006 includes more than two hours of bonus footage.)

The 30th anniversary celebration of “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” continues in a big way on May 27. That’s when the University of Maryland will hold a grand opening for the exhibit “Heavy Metal Parking Lot: The 30-Year Journey of a Cult Film Sensation,” which is scheduled to remain on display for a year.

Left to right: John Heyn, Jeff Krulik and Todd Rohal (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Left to right: John Heyn, Jeff Krulik and Todd Rohal (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Appreciating Ardent

What makes a particular recording studio special can’t always be explained.

On March 17, a select group made an honest attempt to break down exactly what’s made Ardent Studios in Memphis the place where the likes of Isaac Hayes, Led Zeppelin, Big Star, ZZ Top, The Replacements, R.E.M. and The White Stripes did some of their best work.

Jody Stephens (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Jody Stephens (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

In a nutshell, the panelists basically believed it was a combination of Ardent's in-house personnel — led by John Fry, who opened the facility in 1966 — and the available equipment.

“John would say, “Great things can happen here because great things have happened here,’ ” said Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, who’s currently Ardent’s director of business development. “And that’s the way you feel landing in Memphis, and that’s the way you feel walking into Ardent Studios.”

Jimmie Vaughan (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Jimmie Vaughan (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, who recorded albums there as a member of The Fabulous Thunderbirds and as a solo artist, agreed. “John Fry and everyone there always made you feel special: ‘Whatever you need, you let us know,’ ” said Vaughan, crediting producers Terry Manning and John Hampton for allowing him to experiment with microphones.

Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi All-Stars fame (and son of producer Jim Dickinson) also spoke about the equipment at Ardent, saying the studio “had the newest technology and the most classic technology,” and as a result, it was a go-to place to either record or mix an album.

Those Pretty Wrongs, a new duo featuring Stephens and guitarist Luther Russell, used Ardent to record the band’s debut album, which is due May 13.

Legends grace Austin’s stages

Their sounds and styles differ in so many ways. But Leon Russell, Loretta Lynn and George Clinton do have at least one thing in common: Each has a skilled, perceptive band capable of staying in the back seat and taking control of the wheel, depending on the circumstances.

On March 16 at the new Antone’s on E. 5th Street, with his piano front and center, Russell walked onstage with a cane, placed it at his feet and got down to business. Russell, known as The Master of Space and Time, wasn’t one for small talk or elaborate expressions or gestures (very much like Brian Wilson), and his band kept the show moving at a brisk pace.

Leon Russell (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Leon Russell (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

The feisty Lynn, on the other hand, did a lot of talking between songs at Stubb’s on March 17 — and that included giving her polished band (featuring son Ernest) some grief over song choices. The First Lady of Country Music’s early evening performance included material from her recently released “Full Circle” album and such classics as “Fist City” and the set-closing “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

Loretta Lynn (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

Loretta Lynn (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

A circus-like atmosphere filled the Antone’s stage on March 18, when George Clinton led his current edition of Parliament Funkadelic through a wild set. Sans his longtime rainbow locks and wearing a suit, Dr. Funkenstein looked downright reserved — until the music started, that is. After jumping around, cupping his ears in “I can’t hear you” fashion and thrusting his arms skyward for a few songs, Clinton rested on a seat near the middle of the stage, allowing his large cast of singers and musicians to carry on with his otherworldly brand of funk.

George Clinton (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

George Clinton (Photo by Chris M. Junior)