Inside the Lou Reed Tribute at SXSW: 20-Plus Acts, All-Star House Band to Create 'Austin Meets New York Street Vibe'

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Lou Reed

Spandau Ballet, Lucinda Williams, Suzanne Vega, Sean Lennon, Black Lips are all slated to perform at the first full-scale tribute of Reed, who died in October

When Richard Barone was recruited to be part of this year's South By Southwest Music Conference & Festival, he wanted to do just one thing -- pay tribute to his good friend, the late Lou Reed.

So the onetime Bongos frontman has teamed with good pal Alejandro Escovedo to curate the SXSW Tribute to Lou Reed, a four-hour show taking place March 14 at Austin's Paramount Theatre, with 22 acts -- including Spandau Ballet, Lucinda Williams, Suzanne Vega, Sean Lennon, the Fleshtones and more -- and an all-star house band filling the night with Reed's songs from the Velvet Underground, his solo career and collaborations. 

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"This just seemed to be the right thing for me to do this time," Barone, who recently recorded Reed's "All Tomorrow's Parties" as his latest single, tells Billboard. "I've known Lou since 1977, '78, and since he passed it's somebody who I really miss. He was somebody I was always in touch with. I always ran my stuff by him. He always heard it first. He was always supportive to artists and fellow musicians -- there were so many artists you could ask and they'd tell you about that. So this is going to be a very special event, I think."

It will be, in fact, the first full-scale, high-profile tribute to Reed since his death last Oct. 23 at the age of 71. Also confirmed for the show are the Black Lips, Garland Jeffreys, Bobby Bare Jr., the Baseball Project, Louise Goffin, Rosie Flores, MC5 alumnus Wayne Kramer, Jesse Malin, Chuck Prophet, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Cheetah Chrome, Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3, drag queen Sharon Needles, Joe Dallesandro, the Fauntleroys and the Bizarros. 

Barone says other acts will be announced leading up to the event, including some who are coming in especially for the tribute and rather than for other SXSW commitments. The house band, meanwhile, will include Blondie drummer Clem Burke, Patti Smith Group members Lenny Kaye and Tony Shanahan, Voidods guitarist Ivan Julian and Escovedo string players Brian Stadefer and Susan Voelz.

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"We're really proud of the lineup," Barone says. "Alejandro and I kind of cast it like a movie or a play, a 'What about this (song) for that person?' kind of thing. About half the artists, like Suzanne Vega and Garland Jeffreys, already had songs of Lou's they've been doing. Lucinda Williams recorded one of Lou's songs for her next album, so she'll be doing that, and I've got 'All Tomorrow's Parties." He adds that Flores proved particularly tricky in the musical matchmaking. "Alejandro and I both wanted to find a song that had the kind of rockabilly she could swing with and lets her personality shine through but was also a needed song for the show." "I Love You, Suzanne," Barone says, "was one Alejandro and I independently thought would be a good song for it."

Barone says the tribute is taking place with the "full blessing" of Reed's widow, Laurie Anderson, though she won't be attending. She did, however, provide images, many from Reed's personal archives, for the show, while longtime Reed friend and collaborator Hal Wilner served as "a great consultant" for Barone and Escovedo. 

"We want this to be the experience of being in a room with people who like Lou Reed and his music," Barone says. "Alejandro and I are trying to create a kind of Austin meets New York street vibe with a lot of South By Southwest mixed in. We'll cover all aspects of Lou's music." Barone says the show will be recorded and filmed, though there are no plans for a release yet. Updates will be posted at the tribute's Facebook event page. 

Reed was SXSW's keynote speaker in 2008, where he played one song with Moby during an afternoon tribute concert held at the Fader Fort. He'll also be the subject of a SXSW panel discussion, "Lou Reed: A Rock and Roll Heart" on March 13 moderated by Vanguard Records exec Bill Bentley and featuring Jeffreys, Kaye and former Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison, among others.