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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Down in Austin, Texas the South By Southwest Festival is underway, drawing 2,000 bands and 200,000 music fans. Our NPR music colleagues are, hosting band showcases, live webcasts and, of course, reporting on events as well. NPR's music critic Ann Powers joins us now. And the last show she watched was last night's Bruce Springsteen concert, I guess you could say. He performed there.

Welcome.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Hi, Renee. How are you?

MONTAGNE: Pretty good. How was the Springsteen show?

POWERS: Well, it was a full-on concert. I mean he performed for over two and a half hours. And it was just on fire. It was in a beautiful theater here in Austin. Springsteen and the E Street Band were really just going full bore. He even crowd surfed.

MONTAGNE: And he gave a keynote speech, which NPR live streamed. Tell us about that.

POWERS: The keynote speech was really the highlight for me, Renee. I mean the concert was fantastic. I've seen Springsteen play many fantastic concerts. I'd never seen, honestly, a rock star give as eloquent and powerful a speech as Springsteen gave yesterday.

He talked about his songwriting process, how he became the artist he is. But he put it in context of all of pop history, and also just giving young musicians encouragement to follow their muse, whether they're hip-hop artists, DJs, or rockers like himself.

MONTAGNE: We have a little moment of it that we can play, as a matter of fact.

(SOUNDBITE OF SXSW KEYNOTE SPEECH)

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: ...indie pop, indie rock, heartland rock, roots rock, samba rock, screamo-emo, shoe-gazing stoner rock, swamp pop, synth pop, rock against communism...

...garage rock, blues rock, death and roll, low-fi, jangle pop, folk music.

MONTAGNE: Rick Springsteen sounded a little like poetry slam moment there.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

POWERS: At that moment, he was detailing all of the different styles of pop music, as he called it, pop music, not just rock, that people can pursue and that he was celebrating. He even ended the speech by saying he might go try to check out some death metal. I don't know if he really did.

MONTAGNE: You know, and, South By Southwest originated as a place where bands that weren't heard much could be heard. So, talk to us, now, about some of the newer performers that you're seeing there.

POWERS: Well, I bet I've been following in a while is called the Alabama Shakes. And they've played our NPR Music Showcase Wednesday night at Stubbs.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRITTANY HOWARD SINGER, ALABAMA SHAKES: (Unintelligible)

POWERS: This band, less than a year ago, had never been outside the Southeast. I talked to Brittany Howard, the singer, about the rapid rise of the Alabama Shakes, and she said she'd never really been to a big festival like this before. Now, the Alabama Shakes were wowing a crowd of thousands of people and that is exciting.

MONTAGNE: So looking forward to the weekend, what do you expect to be seeing and doing?

POWERS: Well, Renee, I really try and to see a wide variety of music when I come to South by Southwest. So I'm going to be looking for some hip-hop. There is a British rapper named Lady Leshurr I'm really excited about. Another British band that I'm interested in is called Dry the River. They have kind of a big epic sound.

And I'm always looking for new singer/songwriters, too. And I don't even have a name to give you yet, but ask me next week and I'll have someone brand-new and wonderful to share with you.

MONTAGNE: OK, deal. Ann, thanks very much.

POWERS: Thank you so much, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's music critic, Ann Powers covering the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin. And you can find lots more South by Southwest coverage at NPRMusic.org. Later this afternoon, watch a video of NPR's official showcase. That starts at 1 PM, Eastern Time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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