Thursday night at SXSW I went for country music and Americana. Loretta Lynn played at Stubb’s, so I started there. Then I went over to The Gatsby and saw Sam Outlaw, Wynonna Judd, Hayes Carll, Asleep At The Wheel and Jack Ingram. That was not the worst way to spend a night in Austin.
To see the most awarded female country music artist of all times, was a treat. Loretta Lynn may be 84 years old next month, but she just released her 70 something album, Full Circle, this month, and her voice is still as good as it was. On the album she duets with fellow octogenarian Willie Nelson on Lay Me Down. During her sixty year career she has been one of the most important female artists, touting the right to birth control and fighting for blue collar rights.
The concert was well attended and the photo pit was full, so full we were split in two groups. But the conditions at Stubb’s are excellent, so no complaints from me. Loretta Lynn’s singing is good, but her legs aren’t that good, so she was helped out on stage and had her own chair, from which she did some of her songs. All in all, to see and hear Loretta Lynn was one of my SXSW highlights this year.
From Stubb’s I went down to The Gatsby, a part indoor and part outdoor venue close to I35 on 6th Street. The concerts there were broadcast live, so the light was good. I didn’t know much about Sam Outlaw, but he had a good act with his mix of country and California pop music. I recommend his album, Angeleno.
Next out was Wynonna with her band The Big Noise. She is also one of country music’s big stars, with a heap of awards, both with the mother daughter duo The Judd’s, and as a solo act from the 90’s and until today. The Judd’s were country music’s most successful duo until Brooks & Dunn, and Wynonna has sold millions of albums a solo artist, too.
Wynonna’s style is more countrypop, or the sort of country that is popular on country radio. She has a powerful voice that carries her songs well, and except for the preaching between the songs, I really liked her performance.
The contrast from Wynonna to the next act, Hayes Carll was big. Where she is expressive in her singing and her stage persona, Hayes Carll is more introvert in his stage appearance. His music and songwriting has been compared with Townes Van Zandt and Jerry Jeff Walker, being much more roots-oriented than the preceding artists. In spite of his relatively young age, Hayes Carll has won awards for his songwriting, and he gets more and more recognition for his music.
Asleep At The Wheel need no special introduction, being the masters of western swing, with so far 10 Grammies, the latest from this year. Their Bob Wills album has featured big guest artists, and their leader, Ray Benson, is one of the best known and respected musicians here in Austin. The band has had some almost a hundred different members during the45 years they have existed, and Ray Benson has been there always. The recent version is as good as you can expect, and they had a new pianist, Jay Reynolds, instead of Emily Gimble.
If you don’t know anything about western swing, check out Asleep At The Wheel, specially their Bob Wills records, which honor the father of western swing. The way they combine country with swing jazz, and the way guitar, steel guitar, saxophone and fiddle emulate the way the jazz music of the swing period was arranged, always fascinates me. The band did a good job, as usual, with songs like Route 66, Take Me Back and Tulsa and many more.
The last act of the evening, was Jack Ingram. He is a real Texas honky tonk country artist, with good elements from rock in the mix. His first album was released in 1995, but he didn’t get his first #1 single until 2006 with Wherever You Are. In 2008 he won the Academy of Country Music award for Best New Male Vocalist.
On stage Thursday Jack Ingram had the classic four piece set up – two guitars, bass and drums. His band is swinging hard, and he gives his fellow musicians the space they need not to be just accompanying him. The set was perfect as a closing act for a night with country, Americana and western swing performed by the best artists.
All photos are © Per Ole Hagen and must not be used without written permission.