Eleven Picks For Country Fans At SXSW 2012

The annual South By Southwest (SXSW) music conference and festival kicked off Wednesday (March 14) in Austin, Texas, as it has every year since 1987. It’s an exciting event for sure. But with over a thousand band scheduled to perform over five days at dozens of venues all over town, for fans, picking what to see can be a maddening experience. A little guidance is always useful–even for those not attending, who may still be very curious about this year’s hidden gems or most anticipated showcases.

The music at SXSW is all over the map–rock to country, blues to electronic, Latin to hip-hop, and all places in-between. In country, the biggest star appearance this year was Kenny Rogers, who had a brief guest spot during Lionel Richie’s showcase Wednesday night. But there are plenty more, from veterans like [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Billy Joe Shaver[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Shooter Jennings[/lastfm], to newcomers like [mp3com-artist]Jonny Corndawg[/mp3com-artist] and [mp3com-artist]Lydia Loveless[/mp3com-artist].

Below are 11 singers, songwriters, and bands who were among the most intriguing country-flavored artists playing SXSW showcase gigs this week. (And as always, if you have other favorites to add, let us know in the comments!)

Note that all venues listed below are in Austin, Texas. See the SXSW site for addresses and start times.

1. Lydia Loveless
Date: Saturday, March 17
Venue: Red Eyed Fly

She may only be 21, but this small-town gal (she hails from Ohio farm town Coshocton) has some powerful pipes, and she knows here way around a country song. Wrote Michael Verity on MP3.com: “Breaking out of a town 1/10 the size of a Penn State football crowd,Loveless packed her kit with the influence of her musically inclined family — along with full knowledge of the Hank Sr. catalog- and struck out to make a record. The result is a set of music that makes us wonder: is Lydia Loveless the secret love child of Richard Hell and Loretta Lynn?”

(Bonus: MP3.com has a free download of Lydia Loveless’s song “Can’t Change Me.”)

Lydia Loveless (photo by The Ely Brothers, courtesy Bloodshot)

Lydia Loveless (photo by The Ely Brothers, courtesy Bloodshot)


2. Billy Joe Shaver
Date: Wednesday, March 14
Venue: The White Horse
Also: Friday, March 16
Venue: Saxon Pub

A true country legend from the Outlaw era, Texas-born Billy Joe Shaver got his start in the 1970s, writing songs for the likes of Bobby Bare and Waylon Jennings (he penned most of the songs on Waylon’s classic Honky Tonk Heroes). He’s been through hell and lived to tell, and he’s gone on to earn new generations of fans with more recent songs like “Live Forever” and “Freedom’s Child.”


3. Chuck Mead
Date: Thursday, March 15
Antone’s

The cofounder of the GRAMMY-nominated, CMA Award-winning country group [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]BR-549[/lastfm] has been recording and performing under his own name the past few years. His latest album is Back At The Quonset Hut, and as the name implies it was recorded at Nashville’s legendary Quonset Hut Studio, where Patsy Cline, Roger Miller, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash and many more legends have recorded. The album features members of the Nashville “A” Team plus guest appearances from Bobby Bare, Jamey Johnson, and more.


4. Jonny Corndawg
Date: Thursday, March 15
Venue: Antone’s
Also: Saturday, March 17
Venue: Lustre Pearl

Don’t be put off by the silly name, Mr. Corndawg plays some serious–and seriously fun–honk-tonk. (Hey, even CMT gave him the profile treatment this week.) He was born in Montana and raised in rural Virginia, and his music stands tall. (Check out a free download of “Shaved” on MP3.com.)


5. Punch Brothers
Date: Thursday, March 15
Venue: Antone’s
Also: Friday, March 16
Venue: Radio Day Stage Austin Convention Center

This group’s music sounds more like Radiohead meets the Kronos Quartet, rather than the bluegrass that mandolinist Chris Thile made his name playing some years back. All that’s beside the point, though, as the playing here is masterful, and the music lively and mesmerizing. The band also features guitarist Chris Eldridge, bassist Paul Kowert, banjoist Noam Pikelny, and violinist Gabe Witcher. Side note: Punch Brothers are currently featured on the soundtrack to The Hunger Games (which hits stores March 20).

6. The Little Willies

Date: Thursday, March 15
Venue: Antone’s

What’s not to love about a band fronted by Norah Jones and also includes such masterful players as Jim Campilongo (guitar), Lee Alexander (bass), Richard Julian (guitar, vocals) and Dan Rieser (drums)? This isn’t beer-and-backseat music; instead it’s moody, lovely, and more the sort of country Patsy Cline might have played if she was coming of age in 2012.


7. Folk Family Revival
Date: Saturday, March 17
Venue: Saxon Pub

Folk Family Revival includes brothers Mason, Barrett and Lincoln Lankford and their childhood friend Caleb Pace. They released a debut album last year, Unfolding, recorded in their current home of Magnolia, Texas. Steeped in country, rock, and touches of Southern gospel, these guys work together like they were family–which, wait a second, they actually are. Never mind if you’ve never heard of them, give their music a spin and see if it don’t catch right on.


8. Shooter Jennings
Date: Friday, March 16
Venue: Saxon Pub

The son of country legend Waylon Jennings, Shooter may not possess his dad’s smooth, deep baritone, but he does have papa’s honky-tonk sensibilities. His brand-new album Family Man (released March 13) is a return to his country roots, and songs like “The Deed and the Dollar” have thick roots and some pumping, Waylon-style bass lines. Dig in and dine hearty.


9. Roger Wallace
Date: Friday, March 16
Venue: The White Horse

Hardly a newcomer, Roger Wallace has been playing around Austin since the 1990s–only problem is, not that many folks outside Texas know much about him. If you dig the deep-rooted honky tonk of Dale Watson or the harder stuff from the likes of Alan Jackson or even George Strait, check this guy out.


10. Ray Wylie Hubbard

Date: Thursday, March 15
Venue: St David’s Bethell Hall
Also: Friday, March 16
Venue: Saxon Pub

This Oklahoma-born artist made his name back in the 1970s off of the song “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mothers.” He wrote it, Jerry Jeff Walker sang it, and it became a solid favorite around Austin, which at the time was a hotbed of left-of-center country creativity (think Willie Nelson after he grew his hair long). Hubbard’s written and recorded many more since then, though, on albums like Loco Gringo’s Lament and Dangerous Spirits, which mix introspective material with low-key humor. Some things just get better with age.

 


11. Justin Townes Earle
Date: Saturday, March 17
Venue: Stubb’s

Whether or not you know he’s the son of country singer Steve Earle matters none — Justin Townes Earle has made a name for himself all on his own. He’s the best of the best of alternative country singer-songwriters these days (last year he won the 2011 Americana Music Award for Song of the Year), his music easygoing, fresh, and full of country soul. His new album Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now comes out later this month.


 

Read more about South By Southwest!

– Kurt Wolff, CBS Local

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