AUSTIN, Texas — They say that everything old gets new again, and never was that statement more true than at the South by Southwest music and media conference, which concluded Sunday after a five-day run.
Amid the usual gauntlet of new and developing acts showcasing before more than 4,000 delegates, a sixtysomething man in black stole the show. Johnny Cash became the biggest buzz of the conference, charming a collection of press and record executives in a warmup to the April 26 release of his first American Recordings album — confusingly titled “American Recordings”– an effort that will position Cash as the man who was alternative before alternative was cool.
Cash performed five solo acoustic numbers at the punk club Emo’s March 17 before approximately 100 fans. The tunes — in the style largely featured on Cash’s new album — included songwriting contributions from such unlikely sources as hardcore labelmate Glen Danzig, Nick Lowe, Tom Waits, Loudon Wainwright and Leonard Cohen. Cash concluded his set with a long selection of his standards, backed by his regular trio.
As usual, the entertainment lineup at the conference stood out primarily for its diversity. Attendees could sample such acts as San Francisco’s Those Damn Accordions, a 10-piece band that features eight accordions and highlights its show with a slight reworking of a Grand Funk hit dubbed “We’re an Accordion Band”; Junior Brown, an Austin artist who performs on his own invention, a hybrid of electric and pedal steel guitars known as a guit-steel; and Roky Erickson, the legendary casualty of psychedelic music’s 13th Floor Elevators, who made his second annual severely distracted appearance at the Austin Music Awards.
Also making waves at the convention was a reunion performance of Austin’s True Believers, who reunited after a 1987 split to celebrate the reissue of two of the group’s albums via a Rykodisc collection titled “Hard Road.”
Los Angeles was well represented at SXSW. Performers included highly touted Geffen newcomer Beck, the Bluebonnets, spoken word artist Nicole Panter, hard rockers Sacred Hearts, Rob Laufer, DGC recording artists That Dog, Restless artist Duane Jarvis and up-and-comers Baby Lemonade and Daisychain.