It was raining when John Moreland took the stage at the Billy Reid Austin Shindig at noon on Thursday. It’s safe to say the word has gotten out about the Tulsa songwriter, as some fans showed up more than hour early to stand in line amidst the elements before the gates had officially opened.
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Moreland’s tunes are best suited for the late-night hours, and this is probably the only time we could imagine catching him before the morning coffee had kicked in. The showcases at South-by Southwest stretch into the pre-dawn hours, so anyone who can draw a crowd at high noon midway through an exhausting week commands respect.
For his 30-minute set, the Oklahoma songwriter drew mostly from songs off his latest album, the sterling High On Tulsa Heat. Moreland set the tone for a bill that featured some of the nation’s pre-eminent songwriters, including Hayes Carll, Kacey Musgraves and Robert Ellis. This year’s event was co-presented by the Newport Folk Fest and thus heavy on singer-songwriter fare.
For the past four years, the Shindig has taken place at Weather Up, a swanky cocktail bar with a large courtyard on Cesar Chavez boulevard in an increasingly gentrified section of East Austin. The location has proven to be a nice sanctuary away from the overcrowded madness of downtown Sixth Street, a not-so-secret garden where you can camp out for a bit and enjoy some good food and actually hold a conversation away from the din if you so choose.
By the time Hayes Carll took the stage on Thursday, the rain had begun to slacken and the sun began to peek out. Carll, who played the inaugural Shindig back in 2011, performed a solo acoustic set, opening with “Bad Liver And Broken Heart,” a song that begins with the lyric “Arkansas, my heard hurts,” an appropriate sentiment for many in the crowd. The Houston native, whose career has been on hiatus for the last several years, played several cuts from his forthcoming album Lovers and Leavers, including “Sake Of The Song”, a Tom-Waitsian ramble that documents the high price an artist often pays in search of the muse.
Next up was T. Hardy Morris, one of our favorite rock and roll songsmiths. The former Dead Confederate frontman, who was joined by his grunge-folk band the Hard Knocks, delivered one of the day’s best performances, which featured the nugget “Audition Tapes,” a lazy, spaced-out number that seemed to mix perfectly with the humidity.
Dylan LeBlanc, a native of the Muscle Shoals region, confessed to being nervous during his mid-afternoon set, though it didn’t necessarily show. LeBlanc’s most recent effort, Cautionary Tale, was co-produced by John Paul White, who watched approvingly from side stage as LeBlanc and his band took his brooding Southern Gothic folk tunes into more Neil Young and Crazy Horse territory.
Nashville’s Margo Price and the Price-Tags, surely one of the most buzzed about bands of the entire week, sounded fresh and inspired despite having already played a slew of shows by the day of the Shindig. Jonny Fritz, who emceed the event and raffled off a Martin Guitar 00-L17, serenaded the crowd in front of the Third Man Records Rolling Record Store.
Kacey Musgraves, a late addition to the Shindig bill, took the stage for an intimate acoustic set, accompanied only by her guitarist Misa Arriaga. It was a bit hard to hear from the wings but she held the audience rapt with her well-constructed tunes. Finally, soul-funk maestro Charles Bradley capped the day with a supercharged set of party jams, providing a needed blast of adrenaline after a marathon day of music.