If there’s one thing that’s true about South By Southwest, it’s that much of it is based on access–the combinations of badges, wristbands, hand-stamps, and nods that get people into and behind the scenes of shows can be downright dizzying. To figure out what, exactly, it’s like to experience the festival with not so much as a wristband, we enlisted chief assumer (and former Austinite) Andy Beta to give us the outsider’s perspective. In this installment, he learns that the free brunches at SXSW have their own painful price.
Today starts with endless Bloody Marys, which are poured down our gullets by the Four Seasons and BMI. As an editor of mine informed me that there are no free lunches (and not even free liquor); sure enough, Billboard and BMI (co-sponsors) subject my hangover to the mewls and blubbering of aspiring singer-songwriters, all of whom are seeking to be the next James Blunt or Daniel Powter. It’s one thing to revile Nick Drake impersonators, but one fellow (whose name I can’t quite make out through my tomato juice-tinted goggles) seeks to emulate Drake contemporary John Martyn to even more insidious results.
I swear off of acoustic guitars for the rest of the festival, and before I know it, I’m walking up the luscious grounds of the French Legation Museum on the east side of town on the way to the Arthur party. While the bearded and beloved rag is on indefinite hiatus, they really have their tent stakes on some prime real estate, far from the maddening scene over on Red River. Of course, I’m well aware that there’ll be some more acoustic guitars in my monitor, but I can deal with the guitar of opening act Alela Diane.
Her delicate finger-picking is a positive alembic after the limp over-emoting of the BMI brouhaha. Resplendent in a floppy brown hat, knee-high boots, and a flowing black dress, she is buoyed by a backing band of stand-up bass and mandolin (plucked by her father). Together, they weave a decidedly different tapestry from that of Nevada City, California’s other female freak-folker, Joanna Newsom. The two may share a zip code, but little else stylistically.
The set’s only real difficulty is that someone’s Blackberry continually interferes with the sound, which strikes us as odd–we figured Arthur attendees would only use Morse code or something. One of Alela Diane’s last lines mentions “our lives buried in snow.” As the sun begins to peek out in Austin, and we hear news of a foot-and-a-half of snow in New York, we hope that it isn’t so.