SXSW 2017: Fest reps say international artist visa problems did not increase significantly this year

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Despite several high profile incidents in which international artists headed to the South by Southwest Music Festival reported being detained, handcuffed and deported, a festival spokesperson said Saturday that the number of international artists denied entry to the country “was not significantly higher than in years past that we are aware of.”

International music has always had a huge presence at South by Southwest and this year, fest reps told the Statesman that 572 of the 2011 bands booked onto the festival were coming from outside the country.

Emmanuel Jal performs at the Contrabanned/MusicUnites showcase.

In the week before the festival kicked off, Matthew Covey, an immigration lawyer who runs Tamizdat, a nonprofit that helps international artists navigate U.S. visa law, said the kind of border interrogations we’ve been hearing about recently are not new. “People being forced to open their cell phones, open their computers, well that happens all the time,” he said. “That’s been going on as long as people have had smart phones. The fact that it’s getting attention now is great, because it was never very cool and they shouldn’t be doing it except under extreme situations.”

Covey was an organizer of the Contrabanned/MusicUnites showcase at the Palm Door on Friday night, that featured artists representing countries targeted by President Trump’s travel ban. Hip-hop/reggae artist Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier from Sudan who currently lives in Canada, put in a very moving set at the show. Part of his mission as an artist, he said, is to combat the irrational fear that separates humans from each other.

“The greatest fight is with yourself to fight your fear… to fight with love” Jal said.

“Fear is real in the mind,” he said. “Think about peace and kindness in your mind we can bring that here.”

 

Once in a lifetime: Garth Brooks super fans camp out for tonight’s SXSW show

At Auditorium Shores Saturday afternoon there was a calm before the coming storm as crowds for the night’s Garth Brooks show were still sparse and entry was easy. With many likely waiting until closer to the 8 p.m. showtime, fans were nearly outnumbered by security, staff and vendors even a couple of hours after the gates opened.

Photo by Eric Pulsifer/American-Statesman

Entry was still moving at brisk pace with almost no lines through the Palmer Events Center as of 3 p.m., but the 20,000-person capacity space will surely fill fast as the day goes on and the country megastar’s set time approaches. Those attending should enter off Barton Springs Road.

Outside at Auditorium Shores, branded as the SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake for the fest, it’s a sunny springtime day with super fans camping out early, sprawled on blankets and listening to simmering, foot-stomping old-time country and plucky folk tunes from gruff, bearded balladeer Colter Wall. Deep-fried fair foods, frozen margaritas and other food and drink vendors surround the perimeter.

Marty Starrett is a SXSW Music vet and wristband-holder who jumped at the chance to see a legend like Brooks. “I think he’s going to be big someday,” he laughed. “I couldn’t pass on the chance to see someone of his magnitude here.”

“It’s like getting to see Michael Jordan play with the Bulls,” added Buddy Castillo. Castillo and his wife Merry had just met Marty moments before as they rested under a rare spot of shade from a lighting rig back from the stage.

Closer to the stage, Andy and Jenny Viteo were camped out for a chance to see Brooks up close. The couple were in constant communication as they refreshed and scrambled to snag tickets online Friday. “He screamed,” Jenny said, when asked how they reacted to finding out they got tickets. Jenny and Andy have been in Austin for 12 years but said this was their first SXSW or Austin music festival ever. “This sets a high bar,” Jenny said.

“To see him like this is a once in a lifetime thing,” Andy said.

Passes for the free show sold out in minutes after the show was announced Friday. SXSW badge and music wristband holders can get access without a ticket. Re-entry is not allowed.

SXSW Spotlight: Luz Elena Mendoza of Y La Bamba on music, identity

Luz Elena Mendoza at SXSW 2017. Photo by Reshma Kirpalani/American-Statesman

Catch Y La Bamba at 11 p.m. March 18 at the Palm Door on Sixth Patio

For Y La Bamba frontwoman Luz Elena Mendoza, music has been therapeutic. And when she takes the stage, you feel the raw emotion of her journey.

Mendoza, a South by Southwest showcasing artist, has been performing sans her Portland-based band at the festival. It’s something that she says is “really scary and hard, but also inspiring.” A stripped down version of her music means she’s relying on her individual strength while she’s on stage, which results in honest performances that are a refreshing step away from the usual SXSW madness that can sweep up the festival.

Mendoza, 35, has been writing and singing since she was a young girl and remembers penning her first song in elementary school. She didn’t grow up on Bob Dylan or the Beatles. Instead, as a daughter of immigrant parents, her childhood soundtrack included artists like Vicente Fernandez and Ramon Ayala.

Her bilingual folk music has also been an exploration of her Mexican identity. “I’ve never felt Mexican enough for Mexicans or American enough for Americans,” she says. “But also I’ve never felt Mexican American enough for Mexican Americans because of the way I look,” she says.

Mendoza, who is tall with short hair and fair-skin, says she knows what it feels like to be “an outcast among outcasts.” Lately, even at SXSW, she’s been asked about her identity a lot and peppered with questions from why she speaks Spanish so well to why she’s singing in Spanish.

“How do you talk about this with someone in a way that’s productive?” she says. When Mendoza writes, she doesn’t think about what language works best for what song. She writes what she feels and that comes from all the layers that make up her identity.

“People sometimes want to put you in a box,” she says. “But I’ve realized that I just need to take care of my spirit. My body is just a capsule and it doesn’t define everything.”

Lil Yachty at SXSW is what happens when fame meets a lack of skill

If you went to an at all socially diverse college or university in the ‘90s then there’s a decent chance you attended or were aware of an open-mic hip hop cypher, where hopeful MCs would gather and trade verses.

And almost as a rule, there’d be at least one participant with close to zero charisma or presence, an almost nonexistent grasp of how to stay on the beat, and no sense that there were miles behind their peers in all phases of being an entertainer. Every time the microphone would circle back around to that participant, the group energy would vanish.

Lil Yachty is joined by others on stage during a performance at the Quality Control Showcase at the Youtube Coppertank venue during the 2017 SXSW Convention March 17. ( Tom McCarthy Jr./For American-Statesman)

Lil Yachty is what happens when those runt-of-the-litter MCs manage to find large-scale fame but take no interest in developing the skills to justify it.

PHOTOS: Migos performs at YouTube Copper Tank show on Friday, March 17

As one of the featured performers for the YouTube-sponsored takeover of the Coppper Tank event facility, the Georgia rapper found himself in front of several hundred fans, who lined up in the late afternoon to see the Migos/Lil Yachty pairing live.

It’s hard to describe the almost anti-charisma Yachty displayed from the moment he stepped on stage with his sizable entourage and gang of hype men. Standing stock still while awkwardly holding his microphone in the manner of someone who isn’t terribly familiar with an MC’s most necessary tool, the young rapper lost his cadence repeatedly beginning with his opening track.

Takeoff and Quavo from the group Migos performs at the Quality Control Showcase at the Youtube Coppertank venue during the 2017 SXSW Convention March 17. ( Tom McCarthy Jr./For American-Statesman)

It didn’t get any better for the bulk of Yachty’s 40 minutes, showing energy and confidence only when counting off a “1-2-3-4!” preceding a dramatic shift in volume or tempo. The sole exception came when he ventured into the crowd for set-closer “Minnesota,” showing a rare enthusiasm and engagement if not lyrical sophistication on the rap-by-numbers hit that hand the crowd bobbing with him en mass.

10 things we saw at the 2017 MTV Woodies at SXSW

Things got markedly better by comparison when the Atlanta trio Migos followed, showing at least a respect for word craft and crowd engagement during their 45 minutes on stage. Given the geographic specificity of the trap music movement Migos has come to embody – thanks in large part to their musical contribution to the FX series “Atlanta – it doesn’t feel like a stretch to look at the hyphy movement out of Oakland as analog.

That scene and sound were propelled more by the stylistic trappings of the genre than by the musical and creative accomplishments of its artists – the exception being Lil B emerging from skate crew The Pack, whose song “Vans” was one of the genre’s biggest hits.

It’s hard to tell if Migos will evolve creatively, or if the undeniable hooks of “Bad And Boujee” – the send-‘em-home-happy set closer on Friday – will be the high-water mark of this cohort of trap artists.

Half Waif on the secret of surviving SXSW: Cheese and Jeopardy

“This has been a real rollercoaster of emotions. We just got done playing a show and I was nervous about that, then I was excited after we played, and now I’m nervous again,” singer Nandi Rose Plunkett said as her band Half Waif took the indoor stage at Cheer Up Charlie’s Friday night. Plunkett performs under the name Half Waif, doing double duty on vocals and a pair of synthesizers and joined by a bassist and drummer on live and electronic drums.

Eric Pulsifier/American-Statesman

Plunkett’s nervous chatter was utterly endearing, but hearing her sing live I feel her nerves may be unjustified. Plunkett’s voice is stunning, with that lovely, vaguely witchy St. Vincent sound and a tinge of Celtic delivery that reminds of Tori Amos. It’s both fragile and powerful and delivers intimate, personal lyrics with a full-throated passion in perfect pitch paired with music that isn’t too sleepy to get a mild dance/sway going.

This is the first SXSW for the Brooklyn trio, who have been riding a wave of good press, including a cred-boosting “Best New Music” nod from Pitchfork. SXSW has meant a gauntlet of shows for the group, striking while the iron’s hot, including another set at Cheer Up Charlie’s today at 3:30 p.m.

Though it’s her first SX rodeo, Plunkett may have already cracked the code to SXSW success. “Go out one night, eat a big dinner, eat a bunch of cheese, watch an episode of Jeopardy, and go to bed before midnight,” she said. “That’s what I did last night and I feel great.”

SXSW 2017: Big Star’s Third mesmerizes with strings at downtown church

“We either did something really right, or really wrong,” Ken Stringfellow deadpanned as the giant stained-glass panels on both sides of the Central Presbyterian Church stage suddenly beamed with glowing light near the end of Friday’s performance by Big Star’s Third. We’re going to go with the former.

More than a dozen musicians played nearly two dozen songs associated with the legendary 1970s Memphis rock/pop band Big Star, focusing on their cult-favorite “Third” album but stretching out to include other favorites as well. Timed to coincide with the premiere of the concert film “Thank You Friends: Big Star’s Third Live … and More” at South By Southwest, the show was less of a special-guest affair than the movie (which included Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Semisonic’s Dan Wilson and others), but was no less musically inspiring.

That was thanks largely to Austin’s own Tosca Strings. Their classical-tinged introductions to several songs, along with gorgeous supporting passages throughout the show, perfectly fit Central Presbyterian’s stately environs. A small handful of electric rockers didn’t fare as well, echoing around the church’s towering ceilings. But when everything clicked, the music was as beautiful as anything heard at SXSW this year.

R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, who’s been involved in this collective since the beginning, gave the night some star power, singing a couple of numbers at the start and end of the show while frequently playing bass on other material. But it was the show’s hushed middle section that was most moving. Core members Skylar Gudasz and Brett Harris (who also played flute and guitar/mandolin, respectively) stood out on “Thirteen” and “Kangaroo.” Band leader Chris Stamey took a lead vocal on the mesmerizing “Holocaust,” with a midsection that brilliantly fused the beauty of the Tosca Strings with distorted guitar swirls from Stamey and fellow North Carolinian Mitch Easter.

Big Star co-founder Jody Stephens and Big Star’s Third tribute band leader Chris Stamey at Central Presbyterian Church for SXSW on Friday, March 17, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Drummer Jody Stephens, the sole surviving member of the original Big Star band, stepped out for lead vocals on several tunes and offered up sincere thanks to all involved at the end of the night. And Stringfellow, who seemed all over the stage throughout the night helping to keep the circus-like ensemble organized, offered a poignant reminder in the encore: “Seven years ago tonight, the world lost a fantastic musician, Mr. Alex Chilton.”

Big Star leader Chilton’s death on the eve of a 2010 SXSW performance sparked a spontaneous musical tribute show at the old Antone’s that partly created the template for this now-permanent (if ever-shifting) tribute ensemble. So, yes, without a doubt, the answer to Stringfellow’s question is that they did something really right.

Neko Case: ‘I know it’s SXSW, but don’t be cool. Just nerd.’

03/17/2017 Neko Case performs at The Showtime House (Clive Bar) during an event at SXSW.

Neko Case loves “Twin Peaks.” Neko Case loves “Twin Peaks” so much that she came to the stage in an owl costume Friday night in celebration of the rebooted David Lynch show. Her feathery splendor, held together by a binder clip, heralded a gloriously kooky and spooky South by Southwest set unlike any other.

“I just want to be clear who the nerdiest person in this room is,” Case said upon entry, behind a bird-like hood. The avian finery did nothing to detract from the beauty of her music — and honestly, when you’re performing in a facsimile of the Black Lodge at SXSW, might have enhanced it.

MORE: Kyle MacLachlan, pastries and ‘damn fine’ coffee at the ‘Twin Peaks’ SXSW party

“A Widow’s Toast,” haunting, reminded the room of the speed of gravity, and introduced Case’s 5-person band, including longtime collaborator Kelly Hogan on backup vocals. Case’s voice, full of clarity and knowledge, spun a rendition of “Bracing For Sunday” before doffing the feathers, though Hogan jokingly attempted a James Brown-esque cape re-drape.

Case assured the party that she brought all of her creepiest songs to the show. “Creepy” might be too strong of a word, but an eeriness did pervade songs like “The Pharaohs,” where Case’s jaw quivered from side to side as sang of being someone’s blue, blue baby. “Look For Me (I’ll Be Around)” best matched the Lynchian mist in the air, full of the kind of gorgeous foreboding you’d only find in a Route 66 diner at 3 a.m. Case’s peal-of-thunder power notes only added to the goosebumps.

After confessing that she stole some spotlight from a band member after being distracted by a “Twin Peaks” commercial playing on a distant screen, Case continued to profess her geeky enthusiasm for being at the party.

RELATED: The New Pornographers’ Carl Newman has no idea why people went to a 9 a.m. concert

“I know it’s SXSW, but don’t be cool,” she said. “Just nerd. Nerd as hard as you can.” She then dedicated “Maybe Sparrow” to recently deceased “Twin Peaks” actor Miguel Ferrer.

The sound bleed at Clive Bar, surrounded by far more obnoxious Friday night festivities, was atrocious. Case and her band, though, transfixed a packed house as if the joint was sealed off entirely. “I think we found our gang,” Hogan said.

PHOTOS: M. Ward and Neko Case play SXSW at The Showtime House, March 17

Best damn set on Rainey Street, that’s for sure.

M. Ward at Twin Peaks party was quite the SXSW chill pill

03/17/2017 M. Ward performs at The Showtime House (Clive Bar) during an event at SXSW.

The music of Portland, Ore., singer-songwriter (and Zooey Deschanel collaborator) M. Ward is as tranquil as a small, Pacific Northwest town. What better place to slip into a musical fugue than the “Twin Peaks” party at Clive Bar during South by Southwest?

On Friday, Ward played a quiet, understated set full of meticulous guitar work, with some looping pedal and harmonica thrown in. Here’s what people had to say about the show.

 

 

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Prince tribute includes plenty of hits, but no rhymes from Wyclef

On Friday, Andre Cymone and Dez Dickerson, original members of Prince’s band took the stage at Auditorium Shores to pay tribute to their lifelong friend. They were joined by an extensive ensemble that included rapper Wyclef Jean on congas and guitar, but oddly, not vocals. Guitarist Micki Free, best known for his work with the disco funk band Shalamar, was also a featured player.   

The Revolution, accompanied by Wyclef Jean, at the “Tribute to a Friend – Celebrating Prince” at Auditorium Shores Stage at Lady Bird Lake during SXSW on Friday, March 17, 2017. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

The band opened with “Let’s Go Crazy,” altering the “Dearly beloved” intro to note we were gathered to pay tribute to Prince. Then, they blazed through a solid hour long set that included many of his most iconic hits like “Controversy,” “When You Were Mine” and “Little Red Corvette.”

For the most part the mood was celebratory and the crowd was enthusiastic, but at one point, Cymone, who became best friends with Prince in seventh grade, choked up a bit. “It’s hard for me to talk about Prince,” he said. “I bought this guy his first guitar.” As a teenager Prince left home and ended up living in Cymone’s basement. The two came of age as musicians together, and Prince was still camped out in the basement when he signed his first record deal.

PHOTOS: Prince tribute show with Wyclef Jean, Revolution members on Friday, March 17

The band closed their set the only way they could, with an emotional rendition of “Purple Rain.” Cell phone lights swayed in the air and Dickerson, Free and Jean all took turns on Prince’s epic guitar solo.

As they left the stage the crowd cheered wildly. Many audience members, confused by Jean’s absence on the mic, chanted the rapper’s name. The group returned to the stage and finally Wyclef did spit, a good 20 bars or so. He called out the president, freestyling impressively, in English, Spanish and French. Then the band played “1999.”

Obviously, Cymone and Dickerson have a deep understanding of Prince’s music and the covers they played were faithfully rendered, but Jean’s lack of mic time was hard to understand. Sure, he’s also a skilled instrumentalist who was an excellent support player, but any audience members who came reasonably expecting to hear his spin on at least one Prince song left disappointed.

UPDATE: Wyclef says he didn’t come to spit, he came to play.

SXSW: An intimate evening with Weezer is a sing-along trip down memory lane

Like so many who grew up in the ’90s, I remember my experience with The Blue Album. It was impossibly cool — a foundational pillar for my budding teenage musical persona and probably the first not completely embarrassing thing I owned on CD. (Sorry, Spin Doctors’ “Pocket Full of Kryptonite.”)

Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, right, and Brian Bell perform at Brazos Hall during the South by Southwest Music Festival on Friday, March 17, 2017, in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP)

But like all things cool, the album and the band eventually started seeming a little less cool. As I grew and it aged, the charming Blue Album began to feel simple and silly compared to the darker Pinkerton, and by the time of the disappointment that came with The Green Album the Blue Album made its way from my CD player to a bookshelf and eventually to a box in the closet. Memories were stirred with every “oh-we-oh-we-oh-we-oh” of “Undone – The Sweater Song” at karaoke or the plastic guitar clicking and off-key screaming of “Say It Ain’t So” in Rock Band sessions, but that box and memory were left to gather dust as Weezer and I went our separate ways.

In my super-scientific survey of others in my generation, many who were weaned on the big W have followed a similar relationship trajectory with the band. But Weezer has continued to produce new music (they’re approaching 11 albums now) and go on tours, and we’ve gone on to sell stuff or edit Excel spreadsheets or do whatever it is we do.

Then one day I hear Weezer is coming to SXSW so — what they heck, why not — there I am in Brazos Hall at midnight on a Friday with 899 other people, one of whom is Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo. As revisiting and reevaultaing emo still seems to be all the rage (see: warm receptions for At the Drive-In and Trail of Dead earlier this week), why not revisit the gateway drug to that genre for so many?

PHOTOS: Weezer at SXSW on March 17

Outside, in a bit of a SXSW miracle for credential-less music-lovers, general admission entry for the show was allowed earlier in the night (for $40). But lines outside for the relatively small capacity venue began to slow to a halt two hours before the band went on, with even “don’t you know who I am?” types being turned back to the queued masses.

Inside, Brazos Hall felt relatively open, as fans forced to the front to be near the stage, a stage that is a little lower than ideal in a packed house situation. But seeing the small size of the venue and realizing the size of the act about to take that stage did make for one of those rare “only at SXSW” moments.

And like that Cuomo walked out in a green varsity jacket with a seafoam electric guitar. The crowd erupted. Cuomo puts off a Rick Moranis meets Marty McFly vibe in the flesh and looked largely unaged as he ripped into set opener “Hash Pipe.”

“It’s really awesome to be here,” Cuomo said. “This is our first time at SXSW. We should have come back in ’95.” That would have been something, but better late than never.

Weezer’s power pop (like the un-powered variety) can seem simple but depends upon a difficult to pin down alchemy to produce pop gold. But injecting plenty of oohs and nah nahs into your songs can help your odds at ensuring the recipe is a success. Weezer’s reliance on this approach made their set ripe for audience singing, and Cuomo expertly cued the crowd as needed (and the sea of outstretched hands replied in one voice).

This came in handy when, after a few songs, audience attention seemed to be fading and chatting increased. As the set turned the corner into its second half Blue Album heavy-hitters compelled the crowd to shut up and pipe up. With the opening notes of “Undone – The Sweater Song” phones and eyes lit up for a full-song sing-along from fans, one of many similar moments throughout the night.

With the final guitar feedback from “Buddy Holly” still blaring, Cuomo dove into the crowd with arms outstretched then returned to stage and joined the band for a bow.

Encore on the mind, unified chants of “Weezer” bellowed out the second the band left the stage — chants that were quickly drowned out by house music and bright “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here” overhead lights.

Setlist

  • “Hash Pipe”
  • “Pork and Beans”
  • “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To”
  • “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly”
  • “Perfect Situation”
  • “Beverly Hills”
  • “Feels Like Summer”
  • “Undone – The Sweater Song”
  • “Island in the Sun” (with intro)
  • “King of the World”
  • “Say It Ain’t So”
  • “Buddy Holly”