SXSW Celebrates Beatles Milestone While Offering Food For Thought For Music's Future
By Lynne Margolis
For someone who believes that music history neatly divides into everything before the Beatles and everything after, the GRAMMY Museum's tribute showcase to John, Paul, George, and Ringo at South by Southwest on March 15 reaffirmed why the Beatles maintain Earth-tilting importance five decades after they shifted our cultural axis.
The showcase, titled Musical Milestones: Celebrating 50 Years Of The Beatles, was held in Austin's St. David's Episcopal Church and served as a companion to the March 14 panel discussion examining the band's enduring influence. But this night wasn't about discussion, it was about celebrating the music, and a wealth of new and established acts did just that. Artists from around the world, ranging from Nina Diaz of San Antonio's Girl In A Coma to Italian superstar Jovanotti, delivered mesmerizing solo performances and energetic group efforts to an audience ranging from toddlers to grandparents.
Rising Americana act the Dunwells, hailing from Leeds, England, began appropriately with "Come Together." Veterans including Ron Sexsmith, Tom Freund and Steve Forbert teamed with young guns such as Cameroon native Andy Allo, who delivered a version of "Yesterday" to a hushed crowd. Sexsmith performed solo and joined Austin's David Garza for "Here Comes The Sun."
Sitting at a piano, Garza referred to the Beatles as "the perfect band."
"They got together at the perfect time, [and] they broke up at the perfect time," he said, drawing laughter from the audience. "You can play their songs in any key, on any instrument, and they're just as good."
Sharing a sentiment that people will likely still share generations from now was former Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band sideman Gary Burr, who shouted, "Long live the Beatles!"
Burr appeared with Kenny Loggins and Georgia Middleman as the harmony-rich Blue Sky Riders, who could have carried the night on their own. Folk/rock band Delta Rae disappointed only by stopping after one song, a soulful "Oh! Darling."
Los Angeles-based Latin collective La Santa Cecilia offered a beautiful, bilingual "Strawberry Fields Forever." Pyyramids, a collaboration between OK Go's Tim Nordwind and He Say, She Say's Drea Smith, were a dynamic surprise; Alexandra & The Starlite Band brought '70s-style glam and Lady Gaga influence along with amped-up showmanship. New York native Willie Nile and his band gave a rocking finale with "A Hard Day's Night," "Anytime At All" and "Revolution."
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Earlier in the day, attendees gathered for a panel titled "Who's Ripping Me Off Now?" Moderated by Daryl Friedman, The Recording Academy's Chief Advocacy & Industry Relations Officer, the panel featured singer/songwriter David Lowery (Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven), East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys and Nakia, a finalist on the 2011 season of "The Voice."
Inspired by a recent blog post by an NPR intern about downloading tracks without paying for them, and Lowery's viral response, the panel discussed how artists might change the mindset of those who believe they shouldn't pay for music.
The consensus was that education and awareness must be raised so consumers understand that art has value, and corporations need to provide fair compensation when they earn income from artists' work. How that will happen isn't clear, but what is clear is that downloadable music is here to stay, and those who make it want to share it, but also want to make a fair living.
"The whole point is whether the artist gives consent or not," said East Bay Ray. "What kind of people think it's cool to get a free ride from a starving pony while the ringmaster is getting rich?"
It’s one thing if you choose to give your work away; it's another if someone takes or distributes it without your permission, they agreed. While there may not have been any answers, the panel certainly delivered food for thought.
(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.)