Friday is the third day of the music portion of SXSW, the annual festival and conference in Austin, Texas. It feels like the 43rd. So far hundreds and hundreds of bands have played in everything from the big outdoor venue Stubb's and Waterloo Records to the Austin airport and the middle of 6th Street. The festivals official band count is at 1,981 bands, over 500 of which hail from other outside the U.S. (some from as far away as Singapore) playing in over 85 venues.
The festival's frantic pace hasn't slowed, even after both musicians and attendees were deeply saddened by the sudden death of Alex Chilton on Wednesday night. Carrie Brownstein checked Facebook after reading the news of his death and saw her whole feed "filled with variations on the same despair." Though he was best known for his work in Big Star, he also produced punk band The Cramps and recorded solo. On Thursday, Ray Davies, Cheap Trick and Drive-By Truckers all told stories about Chilton from the stage and dedicated songs in his honor. The show Chilton was scheduled to play on Saturday night will instead be a tribute to him, featuring R.E.M., and members of Big Star and The Posies.
Wednesday night Mexican rock pioneers Maldita Vencidad debuted their first album in 12 years to an energetic full house at Antone's on the same bill as Bomba Estereo, a newer band from Colombia who owe much of their successful 2009 to their appearance here a year ago.
On Thursday night, Smokey Robinson delivered the keynote address for the conference. He reminisced about Motown, swore never to retire and said he really wants to write music that people still listen to 300 years later. Like Beethoven.
NPR Music has been in the thick of it, presenting five bands at the Stubb's on opening night and turning around to do it all over again the next afternoon — this time with six bands. We live broadcast and webcast the whole thing. It's been exhilarating. Exhilarating and exhausting.