Highlights of SXSW itself were many. A total of 1,334 bands and artists performed at official SXSW events, plus there were numerous parties during the day that featured performances, as well.
Of Elvis and Robert
Elvis Costello and the Imposters played on Wednesday, March 16 at La Zona Rosa in a show that went on for over two hours, and included songs from his recent CD, The Delivery Man, as well as material from his early days such as "Radio Radio" and "Pump it Up." Earlier that day, Costello addressed the convention and, according to an account in The Hollywood Reporter, had this prediction to make about the impact of the Internet on the record industry's future: "As soon as broadband is big enough, the record (retailing) business is over," he said. "They will have to change or die."
On Thursday it was the turn of former Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant to speak, as he gave the keynote address, which was more of an interview session than a speech. Just before he began, he was presented with a Lifetime Grammy award by Neil Portnow, the president of the Recording Academy. Plant had been unable to attend the recent Grammy ceremonies and hadn't yet picked up his award.
Robert Plant at SXSW
photo: Mike Levine
Plant later spoke of how much he enjoys his current situation, and playing with his band, The Strange Sensation. "We're all on this adventure together," he said, "of which there is no boundaries. We don't have to worry about maintaining success, we don't even have to worry about filling a ballroom."
When asked what advice he had for up-and-coming bands, Plant joked: "Wait until the microphone's on." He then added, more seriously, "Stay away from the major labels. Really, you've got to be able to deal with people who are telling the truth. You can't be in a position where if things aren't happening with you within four weeks, you're history, and you're left dangling forever."
In the Hall
At Plant's performance that night at the Austin Music Hall, a cavernous venue that hosts many of the biggest names that play at the show, the singer showed that although he may not hit as many high notes as in his Zeppelin days, he can still hit them when he needs to. He thrilled the audience with a long set, and his band was impressive throughout. Material included a number of Zeppelin songs, including "Heartbreaker," "Whole Lotta Love," "When the Levee Breaks," and "Black Dog," all rearranged to fit Plant's band's unique style, which blends rock and blues with North African influences. Plant also performed material from his upcoming CD, The Mighty Rearranger.
Onstage with the Blind Boys of Alabama at their SXSW show. photo: Mike Levine
The Austin Music Hall was also the site of a stellar Friday Night lineup that included Mavis Staples, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and Robert Randolph and the Family Band. I managed to get over there to catch the set by the gospel-crooning Blind Boys (performing just nine days after the death of founding member George Scott), who, clad in matching blue suits, put on a spirited show that thrilled the large crowd. At one point, vocalist Jimmy Carter was lifted off the stage and into the audience by his road crew, from where he circled through the delighted throng, exhorting them to sing along with him as he went.