AUSTIN, TEX. The fashionable, the musical and the fanatical are flocking to the 12th annual band fest.
While the South by Southwest music festival officially opens this morning with a talk by ex-punker and producer of early Elvis Costello albums, Nick Lowe, this central Texas town is much too impatient and much too music-laden to wait for some festival organizer to wave the go-ahead flag before it has a good time.
The place to be Tuesday night was the Waterloo Ice House, a beer-and-burger joint where Austin-area musicians rotated sets to pay tribute to Jubal Clark, a music mainstay and all-around nice guy who died a few years back from prostate cancer.
The tribute is held each March 17 (Clark's birthday) and has become known as the St. Jubal's Day celebration. The crowd was a mix of cowboy hats and boots, ponytails and berets and T-shirts and tennis shoes.
I found myself sitting with a tourist from London; a man who ``works in the Austin music industry'' (read tends the bins at a music store); and Klaus, a music fanatic from Austria who for the past six years has made a pilgrimage to Austin to soak in its swirlpool of country swing and contemporary pop rock.
Ponty Bone and the Squeezetones heated up the Ice House with a stir-fried set of cajun, blues and country. Bone -- who used to play with Texas guitarist-singer Joe Ely and can be picked out of a crowd by his long white braid and silver-rimmed sunglasses -- wears an accordion like a second skin and can bellow out a bayou-dripping swamp song.
The Squeezetones, for this night, were Wash Hamilton on bass, Justin Hess on drums and Spencer Jarmon on guitar. The songs ranged from the crowd singalong ``I Want to be a Billionaire'' to Bone's latest ``Baby You Know.''
The highlight of the night was a solo performance by Ray Benson, leader of Asleep at the Wheel, Austin's foremost country swing band. The guitarist-baritone, however, shied away from his roots and offered a sit-down acoustic set of jazz and blues: Randy Newman's ``Louisiana,'' a Satchmo-Leon Redbone-laced ``Ain't Misbehavin''' and a soulful ``Battle Hymn of Republic.''
Perhaps Benson took the low-energy route because of his hectic schedule the past few weeks. He's made appearances at both the Grammy Awards and Country Music Assn. Awards ceremonies and spearheaded this week's annual South by Southwest golf tourney. Tuesday night he left country legend Merle Haggard in his recording studio while he sneaked out for the Clark tribute.
From the street
Celebrity sightings and star gossip are the pastimes of SXSW. This year the frenzy is heightened by the blossoming South by Southwest film festival that precedes the music fest. Here are a few tidbits:
- ``The Newton Boys,'' Richard Linklater's newest film, made its debut here over the weekend, bringing its stars -- Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke and Julianne Margulies and McConaughey's girlfriend, Sandra Bullock -- to town. Linklater lives in Austin; Bullock recently moved here. Rumor is the other celebs stayed around to get a taste of the hoedown.
- Grammy Award-winner Babyface and his family are vacationing in a condo on Lake Travis. It's doubtful the recording industry mogul-singer will show up at any of the venues. That's not true, however, for actor Bruce Willis, who is also relaxing at the lake with his wife, actress Demi Moore. Willis has been known to show up with his harmonica to jam with whatever SXSW band he wants.
- New Jersey rocker Jon Bon Jovi showed up at an Abra Moore gig the other night supposedly wearing a black leather coat and ``sprayed-on jeans.'' And Lisa Loeb and her trademark frames were spotted eating lunch with Dweezil Zappa at the Four Seasons, the high-dollar hangout of celebs.
Scroat Belly, a Wichita-based band, has made it on the pick list of SXSW's favorite music critic, Michael Corcoran. Although he's not so fond of the band's name, Corcoran said, ``... this runaway truck of a band comes to us all the way from Kansas with a guy that can play the guitar like Raef LaFrentz can post up.'' It is a small world.
Friday: More from the Austin Music Awards Show and a dialogue with Nick Lowe.
-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. She can be e-mailed at biles