South By Southwest Diary: Day Four

South By Southwest Diary: Day Four

Austin, Texas' annual South by Southwest (SXSW) is a music and media conference offering industry-related panels and presentations, as well as more than 900 acts performing in more than 50 venues over the course of four days (March 12-16). Billboard.com senior editor Barry A. Jeckell is in the state's capitol for the event, and will file a daily diary detailing the sites and sounds. For more information on SXSW, visit its official Web site.

In the last day of SXSW, exhaustion becomes a serious concern for many, as late hours and a relentless schedule of bands and events takes its toll. Nonetheless, the opportunity to indulge in this music fan's paradise won't come around for another 12 months, so taking in as much as possible remains a high priority.

Several notable acts did double duty yesterday (March 15), with the Joe Jackson Band, the Polyphonic Spree, Apples In Stereo, and Keller Williams all playing daytime sets as well as nighttime showcases. Jackson's free show on the Town Lake Stage at Auditorium Shores (a bill that also listed local favorite Alejandro Escovedo and Concrete Blonde) was highly anticipated by conventioneers and locals alike and made many SXSW participants eager to indulge a second time when the artist played a longer night closing set at the Austin Music Hall.

That venue hosted an eclectic Saturday night bill that opened with Texas' the Polyphonic Spree, a sprawling 24-piece act led by former Tripping Daisy lead singer/songwriter Tim Delaughter. Dressed in white choir robes, the group's maniacally smiling, theatrical performance fell somewhere between a "Jesus Christ Superstar" revival and a cult induction ceremony. Just two hours after finishing its highly energetic set, the group put on another across town at outdoor BBQ pit Stubb's.

Just a few hours after turning out a set at the hot ticket High Times magazine party at Vibe, one man jam band Keller Williams entertained a Music Hall crowd content at camping out at the venue for the night. Orchestrating a quirky acoustic performance with notes and tones he sampled as he played, Williams entertained with an offbeat set, a highlight of which was his anthemic ditty "Freaker by the Speaker."

Earlier in the day, Apples In Stereo and Camper Van Beethoven shared the stage at Antones at a bash thrown by alternative weekly newspaper publisher New Times. The former's upstart indie rock was refreshing and exciting, while the reformed Camper's often dreamy side transcended the nostalgic element while still earning its due as a forerunner of modern rock.

Canadian newcomer Kathleen Edwards showed many why she is a current critical darling with set at Club DeVille that had attendees of her label Rounder's party there buzzing. Fellow countryman Ron Sexsmith similarly enchanted the audience at the Austin Music Hall. Earlier in the week, producer and fellow Canadian Daniel Lanois admitted to being jealous of Sexton "because he gets up every morning and writes a song."

A Saturday night on the streets of downtown Austin is said to be a crowded experience even when SXSW is not underway, so the addition of hundreds of out of towners to the local throng made for packed venues, and sidewalks and streets that were harder to negotiate than previous nights of the music festival. Anyone hoping to catch Vic Chesnutt at the outdoor Cedar St. Courtyard was out of luck if they arrived around showtime, as even the sidewalk outside the venue was choked with those struggling to hear but not see his set. The clubs along legendary 6th St. and fast developing music strip Red River faced similar situations, with long lines of antsy revelers trying to remain patient as the acts they came to see got their sets underway inside.

As the book is closed on SXSW 2003, it's recalled fondly through a bleary set of eyes and still-ringing ears. Aside from some drizzle that dampened the first afternoon, warm and mostly sunny weather held out, and Austin's hospitality came shining through. Many thanks are due to the convention organizers, staff, and volunteers, the clubs, panelists, fellow attendees, and most of all, the artists who made the whole experience worthwhile.