Memphis music invades Austin, Texas, again this week for the South By Southwest Music Festival, albeit with a somewhat smaller contingent than last year. With $5 Cover launching last spring, there was enough action for the Memphis Music Foundation to rent a bus to ferry bands down.
This year, without that extra impetus and with, according to multiple Memphis music people involved in the application process, the festival seeming to scale down on accepted bands, there will be a more low-key but still significant Memphis presence at the festival, which runs Wednesday, March 17th, through Saturday, March 20th.
The Memphis Music Foundation will again host an eclectic showcase of contemporary Memphis music. Held Thursday night at the club Barbarella at a prime location on bustling Red River Street, the Memphis Music Foundation showcase will begin with Harlan T. Bobo, whose terrific third album, Sucker, will be released on Goner Records in April. Up next will be young Ardent Music band Star & Micey, who will be joined live by Big Star drummer and Ardent executive Jody Stephens. Lucero frontman Ben Nichols and songwriter Cory Branan will join up for an acoustic song swap. The second half of the showcase will have rap artists Lord T & Eloise and 8Ball & MJG bracketing a set from Cody Dickinson's Hill Country Revue.
Stephens and Nichols will be busy in Austin. Stephens will sit in with Star & Micey's Geoff Smith and Joshua Cosby for a couple of acoustic sets Thursday and Friday at the Memphis Music Foundation booth in the exhibit hall. And then Stephens will join Alex Chilton for a Big Star set headlining a showcase Saturday night at venerable Austin roots club Antone's. (Big Star will play a rare local show May 15th at the Levitt Shell.)
As for Nichols, barring changes, his band will be headlining its own Lucero Family Picnic showcase Friday night at the Red Eyed Fly on Red River Street and will be part of a big showcase Saturday at the outdoor Auditorium Shores Stage, sponsored by the band's booking agent, Ground Control Touring.
I say "barring changes," because Lucero was thrown for a loop a couple of weeks ago before a gig in Augusta, Georgia. Standing outside a music store, drummer Roy Berry was sucker-punched by a passing teenager. He hit the ground and finally got up with what he didn't know at the time was a broken jaw.
"Roy was looking in a shop window, and the next thing he knew he was down on the ground," says Lucero guitarist Brian Venable, who was walking back from a coffee shop at the time and ended up confronting the group of teens who'd attacked Berry. Despite one report that Berry and Venable had been mugged, Venable says there was no robbery, describing it as a random incident of a group of teens "going crazy."
Berry played through the pain that night and at gigs in Macon and Auburn, Alabama, on the following nights, but upon returning to Memphis and to the local Church Health Center, he was diagnosed with a broken jaw. Berry had, according to Venable, about 30 holes punched in his jaw, which is now wired shut for the next eight weeks. The band was forced to cancel shows the following weekend in Jackson, Mississippi, and Huntsville, Alabama, and its touring schedule for the next few weeks was in doubt as of press time. Venable says the band is currently planning to make all of its SXSW commitments, however.
The other Memphis-specific showcase at SXSW will be a day party Saturday at the club Beerland, hosted by Goner Records. Bobo and locals Magic Kids will headline the showcase, with performances also from Sector Zero, Ty Segall, Golden Boys guitarist John Wesley Coleman, and CoCoComa. The Magic Kids also will have an official showcase Friday night at Club 1808.
Other Memphis-connected bands with showcases are the River City Tanlines, part of a Blackout Booking show at Jaime's on Red River Thursday night and hill-country blues duo Cedric Burnside & Lightnin' Malcolm at the Continental Club that same night.