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Live Music Thrives at 2007 South By Southwest Music Conference


It's "in with the new, and out with the old" in the music business these days. Sales of traditional compact discs continue to plummet. Music business executives are changing jobs at record pace. Old fashioned record stores all across the U.S. are shutting their doors forever as online digital music sales rise. But it was business as usual recently (March 13-18) at the 21st annual South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas. VOA's Katherine Cole reports the amount of live music was greater than ever as more than 1,400 acts from 38 countries played on 65 stages around town.

It seemed like The Fratellis were everywhere during South by Southwest. The rock band from Glasgow, Scotland, performed at a couple of invitation-only parties per day along with an official Thursday night showcase set. That, along with the fact that Pete Townshend, co-founder of The Who, took to the stage and jammed with the young band during an afternoon appearance, helped to make The Fratellis one of the "buzz bands" (performers generating word-of-mouth discussion) of South By Southwest 2007.

"South By" began as a way to bring attention to Texas bands, a talent expo where labels came to sign what they hoped would be the next big thing. Over the years, it has also been a place for record companies to show off their new artists before the thousands of media and music business attendees during the almost week-long event. In addition to The Fratellis, the "buzzed about" new artists included three others from Britain: Amy Winehouse; Lily Allen and The Good; The Bad and The Queen. 2007 also saw showcases from Welsh and Japanese bands, with groups from South Africa and Beijing, China, also getting notice.

With the focus on new acts, it is easy to forget that South By Southwest also showcases its share of legends. And this year, one of the toughest shows to get into was by an old-timer, Iggy Pop with The Stooges. The reunited group just released The Weirdness, its first album in 33 years. It seemed like everyone in Austin wanted to see The Stooges in action.

Another talked-about set was the Stax Records 50th Anniversary Party, featuring Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, and Booker T. and the MGs, along with other special guests.

In the 1960s, Stax Records released some of America's greatest soul music, charting 167 hit songs on Billboard's Hot 100 and close to 250 on the magazines R&B hit lists. Songs like "Green Onions," (Sitting on the) Dock of the Bay", and "Knock on Wood," are just a few of the Stax hits.

The Memphis, Tennessee label went bankrupt in 1976, but the Concord Music Group recently announced the reactivation of the label. Their first release, timed to coincide with South By Southwest, was Stax 50: A 50th Anniversary Celebration, a two-CD box set containing 50 of the best tracks from Stax Records' entire history.

Attending her first South by Southwest this year was Pam Tillis. The Grammy-winning country singer and songwriter was trying to make a touch choice. Should she go out to hear some of the showcase acts? Or rest up for her own performances?

"As much as I want to [go out and] play down here, sometimes I think I'd like to come down [to South by Southwest] just as a spectator," she said. "Because when you've got your own thing to take care of, it's kind of inhibiting. I don't want to talk all-day and all-night, and stay out and smoke and drink, and do all that, and then sound like crap on my own showcase! But this is fantastic. There is every kind of music represented here, and from countries all over the world. And the energy is incredible!"

In the end, Pam Tillis seemed to find the happy medium. She managed to go out and discover some new music, and still sound spectacular during her official showcase performance. During that set, she offered up several songs from her forthcoming album Rhinestoned, along with several of her Top 10 country hits. The new album, due out April 20, includes several new Pam Tillis originals, along with songs by Walt Wilkins, Jon Randall, and Verlon Thompson's "Bettin' Money on Love".