Missives From SXSW: Exene Cervenka (of X) Sings With Old 97s, Thinks of Japan

Most famous as a punk rock icon and artist, Exene Cervenka (front woman for X, Knitters
and Original Sinners) is documenting her adventures for Heard
Mentality on the way to Austin's South By Southwest, the country's
biggest music festival.
Check out her complete tour diary archive here.

On Wednesday, March 16, I picked up my wristband at 9 a.m. at the Convention Center and went to my first show. It was an awareness-raiser for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Sea Now.

Ironically, they have stopped the whaling in Japan. They do great work trying to save a part of the world that they care about. Before me, a band from LA played, Blueblood. Snare, bass drum, acoustic and steel/electric. They were very compelling, electric folk. Their new record, Reverse the Curse, is being mixed now. Look for them in OC at some point.


Then it was on to Yard Dog, which is on Congress. It's a folk
art gallery. On exhibit: John Langford, the Reverend Howard Finster and Mike Miller. It is a great, great gallery. In the back parking lot, it has
a stage set up and hosts shows.

Yesterday was a showcase for Florida
bands and WMNF, a Tampa Bay station that does a great job of getting the
music out. The bands were all good. My fave was Sleepy Vikings: five
women, one guy, all really young.

The beer was free, as was the Alligator chili and the cigars. It was a good time. The Alley, as usual,
was crowded. Yard Dog parties are always a good bet at SXSW. The shows
are free, free beer, free food and a lot of locals come to those. So
you get to meet the eccentric, pure-of-heart, friendly people of Austin.

Ran into my friend Suzanne from St. Louis who met Thomas from Stockholm,
so we all palled around. Went to the Continental Club to see Dave Gonzalez play some mean baritone guitar. He is a SoCal musician
(Paladins, Chris Gaffney) who relocated to Austin.

Now it's later, like 2:18 a.m. Friday morning. Where have I been? Played
the Paste Magazine party at the stage on Sixth. It was a beautiful crowd
and a great time. Oh, and before that, I met up with Brady Blade and
other cool folks who came in from Shreveport. They brought a tour bus,
so we made that our downtown base. 

Last night was St. Paddy's, so all
the drunken frat boys were out wearing Mardi Gras beads and green
shirts. Lots of young women staggering around on high heels–which is
never a good idea, considering the sidewalks here can suddenly turn to
rubble-strewn paths.

After an excellent dinner, about nine of us tried to get in to see Emmy Lou Harris and the Old 97s. It was so packed! The show was at Antone's,
which is one of the most famous clubs in Austin.

It was really hard to get in. I told them I was singing with the Old 97s, so they let me in, but said no to everyone else! We got most
of us in by appealing to the powers that be. The doormen at SXSW are
tough as nails–just doing their jobs, so I understand. Emmy Lou Harris was beautiful as always–ethereal from her voice to her hands.

Old 97s are super-exciting, and their new songs were superb. Ken, the guitar
player, was really sick with the flu or something, just came down with
it. But, oh, what a show he played! He was wearing an awesome dark cowboy
shirt with long white fringe on the shoulders. I sang “Four Leaf Clover”
with them, which I do every time we are all in the same city.

The stamina of the audiences here is astounding. People wait in line for
hours, get crammed together, etc., but it doesn't matter. I love music
warriors; I respect that passion so much! And you just talk to strangers

There was a young man walking toward me today. Cindy Wasserman (who is singing with me) and I had a really long walk to get
to the Paste party. It was gettin' sunny for the first time since we got
here. And it was 3 p.m., and it got humid and hot. 

Carrying guitar, backpack,
dodging thousands of people coming toward us, I saw him. His shirt said
in big letters, “Save the World.” I said to him, “I like your shirt.” And
he looked me in the eyes and said thank you. 

Why is that important? Because we are all trying to hold it together. People ask one another,
“Did you see CNN today?” And then you talk about what's happening in Japan, as if it's only happening in Japan. Then we say, well, we're all
here now, and I've been looking forward to this for a year, so let's just
celebrate music and life and go on.

Last night, after I played my gigs, I came back to our room and turned on CNN. Four minutes later, once again devastated, I started crying, and I couldn't go out to see anyone play.

It's hard to have fun here. But there is so much more in every hug from
an old friend, new band, club owners, bartenders, waitresses, fans,
strangers–we are all hugging, and we are all grateful to one another for
being here now. We will never forget where we were when . . .

Tomorrow is my show at Yard Dog. Then?

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