The small crowd at the outdoor stage bonded with the singer, which only made me wonder how the relatively unknown Minneapolis band Romantica
would fare. Fronted by Irish-born singer Ben Kyle, the group plays sly singer-songwriter country folk, sly because no one expected Austin-born violinist and singer Carrie Rodriguez
to sit in, and I definitely didn't expect the band to hit the noise, Americana-style, as hard as they did for their final number.
Chicago's Steve Dawson
of Dolly Varden
followed with a gorgeous new song "Obsidian," a pitch-precise George Jones cover and then duetted with friend Edward Burch
formerly of Champaign, Illinois, but now based in Austin. Both are
strong enough singers and songwriters to hold a sun-soaked crowd with
just voices and acoustic guitars.
Two of three St. Louis bands on the bill, Magnolia Summer
and John Henry and the Engine
, followed by turning up the volume, the former with a relaxed, electric set of numbers from Lines from the Frame
and the latter with organ, lap steel, and great harmonica from Henry.
The cover of the Beatles "One after 909" featured three-part harmonies,
and I suspect the band found the 14-hour drive nearly worth its one and
only showcase in Austin. (Like a hundreds of bands before them, they
had their van broken into in Tulsa, but fortunately only electronic
devices were stolen.)
were the third St. Louis band of the afternoon, and they had the
tightest rhythm section, playing a short, country rock set of originals
and a Townes Van Zandt cover, "White Freightliner," to close out.
The final band, Nashville's The Deep Vibration
overcame the silliness of their name, with the best version of Dylan's
"Shot of Love" I've ever heard (including the author's), and elliptical
and intense blues and country structures, that singer and songwriter
Matt Campbell sliced and bled with a cool razor of intelligence and
wit. They played loud, loose, and beautifully, wrecking the small stage
at the end: it was easily the set of the afternoon.
Saturday afternoon at SXSW 2009 started early this year, with the second of the 10th annual Twangfest and KDHX parties at Jovita's (disclosure: I'm a KDHX programmer and Twangfest volunteer), and Nashville-based songwriter Otis Gibbs, whose protest sing-a-longs, earthy folk and best beard at SXSW have more of a following in Austin that I would have guessed.