Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and the Old Crow Medicine show last came to Austin together about 11 months ago, on their barnstorming Big Easy Express train tour. On Saturday they arrived by more conventional means, but for the purpose of celebrating that five-show eight-day rail trip that covered some 2,300 miles.
The occasion was the premiere of Emmett Malloy's "Big Easy Express" documentary, as well as a couple of special performances by the film's "cast." As one of the five stops on the tour, Austin and the combination of South By Southwest music and film festivals was a logical place to roll it out, and Malloy is hoping for more opportunities to keep "Big Easy Express" rolling.
Highlights From MySpace's 'Big Easy Express' Encore Concert -- (Hear a new Mumford song, "Lover's Eyes," at 01:55):
"This is the first time we showed it," he told the crowd at Austin's Paramount Theatre after several rousing ovations during the screening. "I hope it doesn't end here." Whatever its fate, however, Saturday's debut was a memorable party for all concerned. "Watching it all together, we just felt like Emmett really captured the vibe," Marcus Mumford said. "Watching it feels like going back in time. We were all wandering around backstage…going, 'Wow, that was a good time.' Some of us remembered it being emotional - a little too emotional, I thought. But we really thought Emmett captured the vibe real well, and his whole team never got in the way of the good times, and it never felt like we had to be too self-conscious."
And, Edward Sharpe frontman Alex Ebert seconded, "All the sentiments that were sentimented when we did this (tour and film) were legitimate. Now, looking back, I feel like a sappy fool. But the thing is that that kind of thing can't be transcribed or communicated other than being there."
Austin was able to catch a bit of that spirit, however, not only via the film but also through the music the artists made now that they were back together for a bit. The Paramount screening was followed by a short but jaw-droppingly excellent acoustic session that opened with Mumford & Sons debuting one of the new songs, "Where Are You Now," that it's been working on since the Big Easy Express tour -- and was influenced by the outing. "We've written songs as a result of the musical experience we had on the tour…with these (other) bands' vibes in mind," Mumford told Billboard.com. "The idea of playing a song that other people can sing along to… it doesn't have to be complicated. It doesn't have to be intricate in the kind of messed-up, heady way. So, yeah, it's definitely affected even our songwriting, I think."
The Edward Sharpe crew and Gill Landry - the lone Old Crow Medicine Show member able to make the trip to Austin - then joined Mumford for "Roll Away Your Stone," followed Sharpe playing its own "I Don't Want to Pray." Mumford and Landry rejoined for a new Sharpe song, "All Wash Out" before the ensemble closed with "Train in the Sky," a new song created during the tour.
On Saturday evening, the festivities moved to the lawn of the LBJ Museum on the University of Texas campus for a more public screening of the film and a concert streamed live on MySpace and residing on the site through Sunday. The film's scenes from the tour's visit to Austin, including the Austin High School marching band's guest spot with Mumford on "The Cave," were not surprisingly highlights for the thousands attending the show, while the groups offered powerful performances that lived up to their trademarks - Mumford's as tight and dynamically intricate, Sharpe's as loose, soulful and impromptu.
• PHOTOS: The Scene From Austin
Sharpe reprised "All Wash Out" with Marcus Mumford and - though Ebert claimed "we don't know it very well yet" - played another fresh song, the lively "That's What's Up." The rest of the seven-song set was filled with favorites from its "Up From Below" album, including "40 Day Dream," "Janglin', " "Carries On" and the show-closing "Home" with Mumford & Sons' horn section.
Mumford & Sons had even more new material to debut during its spirited nine-song set, playing three tracks - "Lover's Eyes," "Lover of Delight" and "Ghost That We Knew" - slated for the British group's sophomore album and all hewing to its trademark ebb and flow dynamics. The band also dedicated "Roll Away Your Stone" "to all the people in Austin who put up with all the people coming to South By Southwest" and reprised the marching band's appearance on "The Cave." Returning for an encore -- of Old Crow's "Wagon Wheel" with Landry and Sharpe -- Mumford revealed that the high schoolers had presented the group with a clock stolen from the halls of its arch rival.
"I don't know who they are, but f** 'em," Mumford declared before the closing number.