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The latest from our team at South by Southwest in Austin

SXSW: Japan Nite Turns Into Cross-Cultural Love-In

Despite the natural and nuclear disasters in Japan, dozens of Japanese attended South by Southwest last week. KERA’s Stephen Becker reports that they found an outpouring of support from those who went to the music, film and interactive conference:

  • KERA Radio Story:
  • Expanded online version:

Friday night is traditionally Japan Nite at the SXSW music conference. The event is usually just a package tour of Japanese bands that stops through Austin before heading off to the coasts and back to Japan. The audience stops by to check out a cultural curiosity and to see how the Japanese are putting their spin on American rock music. But this year, the night served as a cross-cultural love-in.

An hour before the 8 o’clock start time, a line had already formed at Elysium, the club hosting the concert. When the doors opened at 7:45, the black and red split-level club was almost instantly full. The night’s opening band was called Zukunasisters. And when they hit the stage, it was clear that despite the tragedy in Japan, this wasn’t going to be a pity party.

EMI: “Many people is hanging there, and helping each other. We don’t give up. We don’t give up! So, please give me your power. Please give me your power! [crowd cheers]”

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SXSW: Yoko Ono's Long Fight for Respect

AUSTIN – Depending on your perspective, Yoko Ono is either a) a boundary-pushing artist, b) a respected peace activist c) the person you blame for the Beatles breakup or d) some combination of the above.

While many people know about her artistry and activism, it’s her relationship with John Lennon that she will always be most famous for. And because of that, she’s always had to prove to her detractors that her art can stand on its own. But during a conversation Friday morning with KGSR’s Jody Denberg, the 78-year-old revealed that she was fighting for artistic respect long before she ever met Lennon.

As a child, she says she wrote her first song at the age of 4. Soon she was interested in becoming a pianist like her father, who played when he wasn’t busy working as a banker. While she was struggling to learn the instrument, she heard her father talking in another room.

“Yoko’s not going to make it as a pianist. She should probably forget it. No more practice,” he said.

Amazingly, the young Yoko thought, “This is great!”

But that was just the beginning of the discouragement she received from her father, who she says she feels was only looking out for her. When she got a little older, she told him of her dreams to write songs. She says that he told her women “didn’t really have an aptitude” for composing and maybe she should focus on singing songs written by other people.

That thought stuck in her head when years later, Fort Worth’s Ornette Coleman asked Ono if she would like to perform with him during a concert he was giving at Royal Albert Hall in London. Ono told him she would only if she could play her own material, too. He said sure, and they played the show together.

And now she’s just released her sixth straight single to top the Billboard dance chart. Wonder what her ol’ dad would think about that?

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SXSW: Black Joe Lewis and His Dallas Friends

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Categorized Under: Music, South by Southwest

AUSTIN – An afternoon show by Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears on Friday turned into a gospel revival when a special guest showed up on stage. For the first 20 minutes or so, the band plowed through cuts from its new album, Scandalous. Then four guys in suits walked out and things really got interesting. The special guests were The Relatives, a Dallas-based gospel quartet that knows how to put the spirit in ya. For the next 15 minutes, the normally laid back lunchtime crowd was on its feet as the main attraction essentially played backup band for The Relatives.

Before this afternoon, I have to admit that I had never heard of these guys. But I’m going to be keeping an eye out for them when I get back home. Kudos to BJL&HB for devoting some of its well-earned time to another group also worthy of the spotlight.

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VIDEO: On the Road with Cas Haley: Singing in a Pedicab

Cas Haley cruising the Austin streets in a pedicab, singing “Will I Find.”   Dane and April have outdone themselves in this latest installment of On the Road. Our thanks to Cas, who also answered a few questions for us below.

What bands are you looking forward to seeing?

I’m looking forward to seeing some bands I haven’t heard of. I’m not looking forward to any one band, but I’m looking forward to all of them.

What’s your favorite venue to play in Austin and why?

I like Stubb’s. I’ve only had one show there and it was our last show in Austin. It was really cool. I like the space and the BBQ.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Oh yeah. But I can’t reveal that.

Is there a most annoying audience habit for you?

I don’t like when someone tries to come up and talk to me in the middle of a song, expecting an answer right then. I’m like, “What’s going on with you?”

What’s been your most embarrassing moment on stage?

I was in Frome United Kingdom and my pants were unzipped. There were probably 1,000 people. It was a big show. I walked off the stage and was like “Oh my goodness.” These two old ladies came up laughing and said “We were pointing at your zipper there!” That was definitely the biggest disaster. Now I make sure my pants are zipped up before I go out on stage,

Career highlight?

I feel like it’s yet to come. So far, my biggest career highlight has been probably getting to tour the UK.  Getting the opportunity to keep playing is a highlight every day.

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SXSW: Old 97s Worth Staying Up Late For

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Categorized Under: Music, South by Southwest

No real cameras allowed at Antones, so this was the best I could do with the iPhone.

AUSTIN – For SXSW bands, the good news about being scheduled to play at 12:30 a.m. is that you’re clearly the headliner of the night. The bad news is, you’re banking on everyone else playing in front of you to end on time.

That didn’t quite work out for the Old 97′s last night. I showed up at Antones at about 12:15 and Emmylou Harris still had about three songs to go in her set (not that I’m complaining). A 25 minute change over meant the band didn’t hit the stage until 1 a.m.

But when they did, they acted like kids who had been told by their parents they had to wait 30 extra minutes to see what Santa brought them. Rhett Miller was a pogo stick of energy, bouncing up and down to his own beat as the set was about to begin. And once the first note hit, it was pedal to the metal for the next hour as the band ripped through old favorites like “Niteclub” as well as selections from its newest album, The Grand Theatre, Volume 1, including “Champaign, Illinois.”

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SXSW Video/Radio: Flatstock Shows Postermaking is Alive and Well

Rock ‘n’ roll’s always had posters advertising its concerts. And like the music, the posters have evolved over the years. KERA’s Stephen Becker talked with some north Texans who are among more than 100 of the world’s top poster makers attending the Flatstock poster show at the South by Southwest music conference:

KERA radio story:

Expanded online version:

South by Southwest alums the Black Keys are a favorite of critics and music fans. They’d probably say the band sounds like stripped down rock and blues.

But what would the Black Keys music look like? At the Flatstock poster show in Austin, one artist depicted two bulls hurdling into flames. Another worked the band’s name into a rooster’s feathers. And Robert Lee of Atlanta drew two six-shooters with their barrels woven together.

“The two guns, of course, there’s two members in the band,” he said. “And also, it kind of forms a heart, and the album is called Brothers, so it’s kinda like these two guns are brothers.”

But the artists all have their own way of marrying image and sound.

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SXSW: Austin Steps Up for Japan

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Categorized Under: South by Southwest

AUSTIN – While people here this week are checking out movies and music from around the world, they’re also taking time to help out the place that the rest of the world is focused on.

As the week wears on, the plight of Japan is becoming more and more visible thanks to a few of its citizens in town for South by Southwest. On Tuesday a booth popped up at the convention center seeking donations for the American Red Cross to be earmarked for Japan. The booth was the idea of a couple of Japanese trade show exhibitors who got together on Sunday to come up with an idea for a fundraiser.

By Thursday, the booth featured white T-shirts with a red Japanese sun in the middle and “Help Save Japan” written in English and Japanese. The shirts can be had for a $15 donation, and from the many people I’ve seen wearing them around town, it sounds like a lot of people are donating.

Hidemi Tsuji, and exhibitor in town from Tokyo, said dozens of people have stopped by to make donations, and many more have done so online. A large bowl at the booth was full of 1’s, 5’s 10’s and 20’s on Wednesday. And as of Thursday afternoon, the group had raised more than $67,000.

The reality is, $67,000 or $670,000 probably won’t make much of a dent in the massive cleanup project Japan has ahead of it. But Hidemi says the donations are a representation of people’s compassion.

“I can’t say enough thanks you’s to them,” she said. “Maybe their help will encourage people in Japan.”

I’ll be checking out Japan night on Friday, when six bands from the country will be playing at Elysium. More on that later. In the meantime, if you’d like to join the SXSW donors or find out more information about relief efforts, visit sxswcares.org.

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SXSW VIDEO: Fitz and the Tantrums Interview

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Categorized Under: KXT, Music, South by Southwest

After playing a late show at Stubb’s BBQ the night before, Fitz and the Tantrums were still game for a soul-shaking performance at the Four Seasons early Wednesday morning. It was a great way to kick off the first official day of the music portion of South by Southwest and the band didn’t fail to get the audience moving and clapping to their ’70s soul and R&B tunes with a modern twist. (Some of which you may have heard on KXT 91.7)

Lead vocalists Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs took time after their performance to chat with us about the band’s rise to success over the past year and a certain bandmate’s penchant for cheesy ’80s songs.

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SXSW: Foo Fighters on Stage and Screen

AUSTIN – Most years at South by Southwest, there are “secret” shows you’ve got to sniff out. Some are more secret than others – everyone knew two years ago Metallica was launching its version of Guitar Hero by playing a gig. But others, like an afternoon performance by the Beastie Boys a few years back, are kept more tightly under wraps.

This year, it wasn’t so much an issue of who, but where and when. Tuesday night was the world premiere of Foo Fighters: Back and Forth, and when a band comes to town to attend a screening, you can be pretty sure they’re playing. As badge holders lined up at the Paramount Theater for the movie, SXSW staff members walked through distributing yellow wristbands with “FF” printed on them, telling everyone to head over to Stubbs after the screening but being cutely hush hush as to why.

It seemed the secret show had found us.

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SXSW: Our Ongoing Coverage

Stephen Becker continues reporting from the Austin music, film and interactive conference:

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