American Music Awards

South By Southwest Diary: Day One

South By Southwest Diary, Day One

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.

Austin is a city that simply throbs with live music. And during SXSW, the amount of performances available for sampling is simply staggering. With umpteen clubs populating the city's downtown, there seem to be beats and riffs emanating from every other doorway along 6th St., Austin's live entertainment center.

During SXSW, the music isn't only for industry-connected conventioneers, as wristbands allowing entrance into any of the concert venues are available for sale to the general public. The two groups fill 6th St. and the surrounding blocks, deciding which acts -- some familiar, far more previously unheard -- to take in each night.

While there are many choices, some shows have substantial drawing power, and the biggest clubs end up with long lines for the more popular acts. Last night (March 12), it was the buzz of Austin's own ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead and hip-hop veterans the Jungle Brothers that caused a queue of several hundred outside of Emo's. A few blocks away in either direction, jam band Particle drew an enormous crowd to Stubb's, a large and long-established outdoor venue, while Tony Joe White had dozens waiting to witness his show at the considerably smaller Antone's.

Among the highlights of the festival's first night was a set by Detroit-based power trio the Fags. The group played to several hundred people at the generically named Venue, many hailing from its hometown. Recalling Cheap Trick, but with a heavier bottom end and a thrashier sound, the act scored with well-written songs, including "Truly Truly." That track appears on the Fags' only release, a self-titled EP issued last year on Dallas-based independent label Idol Records.

Later, in a makeshift outdoor venue, singer/songwriter Richie Havens unleashed a powerful set that thrilled several hundred people gathered for his late-night performance at the Cedar St. Courtyard. Dozens more jammed the sidewalk to hear material from his latest Evangeline album, "Wishing Well," as well as such classics as Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" and his own "Freedom."

A stirring a cappella encore of Pink Floyd's "On the Turning Away" -- a song included on "Wishing Well" -- accompanied Havens' thoughts on an impending U.S.-led war with Iraq. "These are strange times; reminds me of other times," the Woodstock veteran said, before predicting that peace would prevail before weapons are fired.

The well-received set is not the final SXSW appearance for Havens, who told Billboard.com that he will stick around to perform a song with keynote speaker Daniel Lanois during his scheduled performance tonight at the Austin Music Hall.

The live music ante will be upped today through Saturday, when performances are not confined to the nighttime hours. The Austin Convention Center, home to the conference, will host bands during the day, while various labels, magazines, and other companies will present showcase performances by a wide array of artists.