SXSW Day 1: The Head and the Heart, Ray Wylie Hubbard, The Trishas, Gayngs, John Vanderslice, The Antlers and Vetiver, Wednesday, March 16

(RFT freelancer Roy Kasten is at SXSW through Saturday. He'll be checking in with A to Z about what he sees. Here's the first installment.)

click to enlarge The Head and the Heart - Dana Plonka
Dana Plonka
The Head and the Heart

11:45 I've returned to my hotel after stopping at Maria's Taco Xpress for a bag full of migas breakfast tacos, each weighing in at approximately a pound and a half. This is breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. I must be in Austin.

12:20Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop, owned and operated by Lance Armstrong -- if you had any doubt, check the Chairman Mao-like photos that dominate the space -- played host to a KEXP (the rough Seattle equivalent of KDHX) remote broadcast. Recent Sub Pop signees The Head and the Heart jumped into a stunning half hour set. The band, like Blind Pilot and Mumford and Sons before it, captures everything that's wonderful about another younger generation's discovery of Americana. With three clearly distinct vocalists, a bouncing and confident stage presence and songs that magnetize gospel, folk and pop forms, the band gave me my first goose bumps of the week. The girls in the front, in sandals and smelling of Juicy Fruit gum, sang along to every word.

13:30 With a jelly jar full of a local sweet tea vodka, ice, water and lemon, I took in the Guitartown/Conqueroo party at the Dogwood (formerly known as Mother Egan's) on the west side of Sixth Street. I missed Willie Nile's opening set, but saw the dude out front, chatting with Alejandro Escovedo, the two friends dressed like dual satans at a BBQ. Inside, Caitlin Cary's latest band, Small Ponds, turned in a charming, ruminative set, with the ex-Whiskeytown fiddler in excellent voice, though the songwriting sounded somewhat fragile. Fleeting echoes of the Walkabouts here and there kept me focused.

14:00 On the indoor stage at the Dogwood, three old friends - Susan Cowsill, Freedy Johnston and Jon Dee Graham - fought against the poor sound and non-existent sight lines. Such are make-shift venues at SXSW. The friends are billing themselves as The Hobart Brothers, featuring Lil' Sis Hobart, and apparently have recorded together. The songs sounded sturdy enough but the sound at the back of the bar was a sludgefest; it was time to move on.

14:30 A few doors down Sixth Street, I took in lunch with St. Louis friends at Hut's, favorite hamburger joint of Kinky Friedman, and made plans for the rest of the day. Don't miss the onion rings.

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