South By Southwest got crazy, but we made it through

The hang was far more chill at actor Adrian Grenier’s Wreckroom Slumber Party at Arlyn Studios, an independent three-day event showcasing up-and-coming or radar-worthy talents. Saturday night’s lineup included Fort Worth’s Green River Ordinance and Austin’s Whiskey Shivers and Paul Cauthen. Previous nights featured the Band of Heathens, Jonathan Tyler, Emily Wolfe, Hunter Sharpe, the Skins and several other acts.

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Both Green River Ordinance and Whiskey Shivers ended their sets by stepping away from the mics and forming circles to play acoustic with audience members clustered around. In the already intimate, livingroom-like environment, the effect was even more dynamic.

When Grenier, best known for his role as Vinnie Chase in the HBO series Entourage, built the Wreckroom in his Brooklyn basement in 2012, it was mainly intended as a musicians’ hangout. Now known as Wreckroom Records, it’s since become an artist incubator.

While tucked into Arlyn’s piano room Saturday, Grenier and Jeremy Fischetti of Relentless Artist Management, the event’s Austin-based music curator, discussed Wreckroom’s admirable mission.

“Our first and foremost focus is to support emerging artists and give them an opportunity to communicate to the world through our network,” Grenier said. “Artists have a chance to be part of the team, part of the family, and unlock opportunities to not only be seen through our audience, but also to connect with one another and collaborate.”

Grenier and Fischetti met when the latter managed the Wheeler Brothers. Grenier told him to come check out the Wreckroom. He did, and was impressed.

“It’s just a great outlet for small- to mid-level bands who don’t have the money or the opportunity to cut something great in a cool studio, with a cool video and a cool vibe, and Wreckroom puts it out on YouTube and it’ll get a few thousand hits or a million hits. It’s great for young bands to have that material because it’s really tough.”

Added Grenier: “The reality is, the modern music industry is such that emerging artists need to do the brunt of the work. That’s the bottom line. And they’re lucky to have that opportunity. In the times of yore, back in the day, you waited for the labels to give you that opportunity. Now you don’t need to wait, you can do it yourself, and we want to help support that effort in the early stages, before a label — or in spite of a label. That’s the idea: label or nay, you have an opportunity to further yourself if you put in the effort. And this is about community collaborations and effort.”

Asked if he had any musical skills, Grenier pulled out a harmonica and wailed impressively.

“I used to play harmonica on the streets of New York City. … Music has always been a part of my life, and [as] I’ve transitioned out of my dreams to be a big rock star, I’ve started to put my effort and resources and studio into supporting emerging artists who might have a shot.”

Echoing many studio owners, he added, “I always feel like we’re on the brink of destruction, but always at the beginning of something amazing. We live in that creative moment where there’s insecurity, risk and a willingness to be vulnerable. And that’s where we are. We have only just begun.”

Even after 30 years, the same might be said of South By Southwest.

Other highlights
A Friday-night set by Luther Dickinson, Amy LaVere, Will Sexton and Sharde Thomas, with Jimmy Vivino sitting in, at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room, followed by Robert Ellis covering Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris.”

The Saturday afternoon Conqueroo/Jenni Finlay Promotions party at Threadgill’s, where Kinky Friedman regaled outdoor-stage listeners with stories as only he can tell them and songs as only he can sing them — including Warren Zevon’s “My Shit’s Fucked Up,” which he covered on his latest album, The Loneliest Man I Ever Met. Inside, Sam Baker, Carrie Elkin and Chip Dolan played moving tributes to Louis Jay Meyers, the South By Southwest co-founder who passed away on March 11, the day Southby started its 30-anniversary year. Meyers managed Baker and mentored Finlay since she was a child; he played pedal steel in her father Kent Finlay’s band before she was born, and the day — and South By Southwest itself — was dedicated to him. When Baker and Elkin did “one more song for Louis” and sang “Go In Peace,” there were more than a few Kleenexes dabbing at tears in the audience.

Austin’s newest Australian expat, 8Ball Aitken, playing a homemade three-string diddley bow and many hot guitar licks while cracking up the Saxon Pub crowd with songs such as “Outback Booty Call” and “Seven Bucks an Hour in a Chicken Suit.” Earlier, Aitken was spotted at Kinky’s only SXSW appearance. An avowed fan of Texas’ one-time presidential candidate, Aitken as a bit in common, humor-wise, with the Kinkster. And it’s always good to laugh, especially after tears.

Eric Bachmann: Eric Bachmann