From The Beatles To Nirvana: SXSW Celebrates Music's Timelessness
By Lynne Margolis
(Check back for GRAMMY.com's daily blog coverage from South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, including reports on Recording Academy-related events. Meanwhile, visit The Recording Academy on Facebook and Twitter for more SXSW updates.)
On March 14 South by Southwest was all about past, present and future legends and leading lights, from the Beatles and keynote speaker and GRAMMY winner Dave Grohl to his Sound City Players, featuring Stevie Nicks and John Fogerty.
The day began with a moving video tribute to the late SXSW Creative Director Brent Grulke, who passed away Aug. 13, 2012, at age 52, and festival co-founder Roland Swenson's announcement that the organization would award the first annual Grulke Prize to three of the festival's most promising acts on March 18.
Grohl delivered a humorous overview of his life and career, thanking Edgar Winter for allowing K-tel International to include his monstrous guitar instrumental, "Frankenstein," on a compilation album, which inspired a young Grohl to play guitar. Like so many before and after him, the Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer credited that guitar and a Beatles songbook with setting his life's direction. And now, he says, he's "brainwashing" his young daughters with the Beatles — on vinyl.
Following Grohl's speech, GRAMMY Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli moderated a panel titled "Musical Milestones: Celebrating 50 Years Of The Beatles" featuring singer/songwriters Rodney Crowell, Robyn Hitchcock and Ron Sexsmith, and MTV Networks Executive Vice President/Editorial Director Bill Flanagan. The panel, which is scheduled to become an annual event, was held ahead of the June 12 opening of the new Museum exhibit Ringo: Peace & Love. The panelists offered a mix of conventional wisdom and personal anecdotes about how the Beatles affected their lives and why the Fab Four had such world-changing impact.
"When you saw A Hard Day's Night it just looked like [the Beatles] were right, and everybody else wearing Bermuda shorts was wrong," said Flanagan.
Their rapt audience ranged from those who remembered the Beatles' earthshaking appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on Feb. 9, 1964, to young aspirants such as 19-year-old Jonathan Levy, whose parents schooled him in the band's now-timeless classics.
Crowell did the same with one of his daughters, now 36, when she was a young teen.
"She disappeared upstairs for about six months," he said. When his daughter emerged from her room, she announced, "Dad, I know what integrity means."
Even artists such as Americana favorites Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale showed Beatles influences during their lively afternoon set at the popular New West Records party at Threadgill's.
Another popular party was the annual GRAMMY Block Party held by The Recording Academy's Texas Chapter on the lawn at the Four Seasons Hotel. The exclusive event featured Texas-based artists the Wheeler Brothers, Quiet Company and Ray Wylie Hubbard.
"This party is unique," said Christine Albert, Recording Academy Vice Chair. "Members from all over the country get to be in one place. That doesn't happen very often."
"It's become the premiere industry event of South by [Southwest]," added Texas Chapter Senior Executive Director Theresa Jenkins. "You never know who's going to show up here."
Unquestionably one of the hottest live music shows of the night was performed by Grohl's Sound City Players, the outgrowth of his Sound City documentary about the legendary Los Angeles studio where Nirvana recorded Nevermind. Several artists who appeared in the film, screened that afternoon, ignited a packed outdoor audience at Stubb's BBQ, including Nirvana members Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear, Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, Rick Springfield, Foo Fighters, Fear's Lee Ving, Slipknot's Corey Taylor and, in an incredibly energizing finale, Fogerty.
"You gotta have a lot of little boy in you to play rock and roll," Fogerty noted. And with the glee of teenagers, the players proved that great rock and roll is, indeed, timeless.
(Austin-based journalist Lynne Margolis currently contributes to American Songwriter, NPR-affiliate KUTX-FM's "Texas Music Matters," regional and local magazines including Lone Star Music and Austin Monthly, and newspapers nationwide. She has previously contributed to the Christian Science Monitor (for which she was the "go-to" writer for Beatles stories), Rollingstone.com and Paste magazine. A contributing editor to the encyclopedia, The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen From A To E To Z, she also writes bios for new and established artists.)