So, we went to SXSW once before. It was in the old Jam Van, it was one of the worst trips of my now semi-young life. I will not rehash any of it, as I care not to remember it. Let’s just say that this last experience was not it. Not even close to it.
For starters, Spud drove The Van there with our intern Jack and my dog The RZA. I along with our highly skilled crew flew into Austin. Thus we avoided being part of any Jam Van breakdowns on the side of the road in Texas, of which there were none. That alone made it better than our first SXSW.
Second, this go around we rented an entire house to ourselves. While I still had to share a bed with the Perfect Hippie, this was far and away better than sleeping ten people in my friend’s basement and sharing a tent with my dog. Although the house didn’t have the most phenomenal plumbing our crew is not huge on showers to begin with so that was not that big of a deal. It was in a prime location nearby to Torchy’s Tacos and Lucy’s Fried Chicken, and that’s more of the stuff that matters to us.
Since we filmed thirty one bands in five days, I’ll break this down to you by day. We’ll start with Day 1. It was a Wednesday and we were scheduled to be at the Lagunitas Showcase at the Cedar St. Courtyard. Spud set off in the Van early in the AM to secure our spot in front of Cedar St. and was minding his own business when along came one of our least favorite parts of Texas, a Police Officer. This was one of those Parking Officers, even lower than a regular Texas cop, but just as fat and crackerish (note, even the black cops are crackerish in Texas, it’s just their thing). Anyways, Spud and this parking cop didn’t really see eye to eye as to where the Jam Van should be parked and long story short, Spud was forced to drive away from our space and we subsequently lost it.
However, those of you who intently follow Jam in the Van lore should know that we don’t give up very easily. Rather than retreat to our abode and watch basic cable for the rest of the day, we decided to pull around to the lot behind the venue and set up shop there. It was a private lot and we were alerted that once the lot manager showed up he might take offense to our presence as it was a no-rv zone.
So with that being said, we started filming. First up was Those Darlin’s. As you might expect, they were just lil’ darlin’s. Their set went off without issue and we sent them on their way inside of the venue to perform on the main stage to a packed house.
They were followed shortly after by one of our all time favorites, Allen Stone. I believe multiple members of our team made mention of the fact that Allen Stone is the nicest guy in the world. My dog was one of them, as he received an excellent back-rub from Allen which he captured in its entirety on a GoPro camera that we strapped to his back. One day I shall exploit my children in much the same way, if ever I have children. Big if.
Allen has performed in The Van before, but the first time he did it solo. This time he brought his band. Both times were excellent. He was also a big fan of our sponsor Ploom and their Pax product. We’re big fans of that sponsor as well. Corporate plug managed.
Allen split to go perform inside the venue and J. Roddy Walston and the Business hopped inside of the beast. This was where things started getting hairy. J. Roddy was still sound checking when up strolled a couple of good ole boys who laid claim to the lot that we were perched upon. Now, I am very open about my disdain for the state of Texas. There’s no beating around that bush. So when I saw these two gents saunter up all high-and-mighty-like my eyes definitely rolled and my instinct was to damn that fechachta state (Jewish word, spelling may be wrong, but you get my gist).
So within about two minutes of these guys walking up and assessing the scenario they said “you gotta go,” and at first they weren’t too friendly about it. We’re not the type to leave without putting up a fight, so we closed the van door and told the crew to get the session rolling. While that was going down we proceeded to try and bargain with the Texas gentlemen. By all indications they were not budging. They drawled out some mumbo jumbo about permits and liabilities. These are all things we care not for. So we slowly feigned like we were packing up. I think I walked the same cooler to our rental car three times. This was about when the Perfect Hippie, or PH as we like to call him, took charge.
The PH is a true Southern boy, as opposed to me (I’m a relocated from the North Jewish Southern boy, way different) so his accent is much stronger and dare I say more authentic. Years of research have taught me that Southerners react favorably when approached by a man with a strong twang. Years of research have also taught me that Texans react favorably when approached with beer. So the PH got a twinkle in his eye and sashayed over to these fellas with a couple of beers, Lagunitas of course, and I’m not sure if it was his strong jaw line or the high quality suds, but all of a sudden what seemed like a hopeless situation turned into two middle aged gentlemen hugging the PH with huge grins on their faces telling him that they’re gonna let us stay. Stay we did. Never give up boys and girls, never give up.
So crisis averted, we were able to move along to our next set, Cerebral Ballzy. This one was unique in the fact that we tried to get these cats in the van three years ago, even had tons of people post on their Facebook wall to Jam in the Van, and we didn’t even get so much as a social media reply. This go-around, big difference. The big difference being that they said yes and hence forth thrashed that van. Their tour manager told us they’d had a pretty hectic drive the day before and were pretty worn out, their lead singer seemed none too thrilled about being awake at the time, but once again, beer to the rescue and we coaxed some smiles out of him.
Last on the docket that day was Eric Hutchinson. His session went off without any hitches and we were counting the day as a success, albeit a salvaged one. Then things went from good to “damn, did that just happen” when none other than P-Diddy strolled into our general vicinity.
The Diddy was filming for his Revolt TV channel and I guess the segment was about eating at SXSW, because he was having lunch and sampling every food truck that was parked in our lot. He was surrounded by about three body guards and who knows how many other entourage members, but our sound engineer/magician Jacob, managed to get close enough to hand The Diddy a bottle of Aquahydrate, a product that he invested in and that also happened to sponsor Jam in the Van’s trip to SXSW. While Diddy was quenching his thirst the PH alerted his team to the portrait of Biggie that adorns The Van’s frame, and I guess that plus the Aquahydrate was too much for Diddy and his cameras to resist. Next thing we know The Diddy was in The Van. Now mind you, this all moved at Diddy speed, which is super fast, but it definitely happened. We have his signature on the wall and photo/video evidence to prove it. I believe he referred to The Van as “pimp as shit.” We were pretty pleased with how that day ended.
We took it fairly easy that evening, checked out The Mowglis at some venue, avoided being hit by that jackass that drove his car through town, and caught some shut eye. The following day was a big one, we were going to Willie Nelson’s ranch to film sessions at The Heartbreaker Banquet.
We split our house at early O’clock, and arrived at Willie’s place in Luck, TX at around 9AM. To set the scene, Willie lives in a house set back from the part of the property where the event took place. We never saw his actual pad, but we did see the old west movie set that the Hearbreaker Banquet played out upon. We parked behind a one room church that was being used as a venue for the day, set up our easy ups, broke out the coolers filled with Lagunitas and Aquahydrate and sat back and did everything but relax.
I believe our prior shoot day record was seven bands. We blew that out of the water at Heartbreaker, achieving double digits for the first time, with ten bands. Below is a list and brief description of the bands and their appearance in the van.
Insects vs Robots – Willie’s son Micah fronts this psychedelic rock orchestra that bends sounds in much the same vein as Radiohead. They played a track for us called Mosquito during which the violin player coaxed his instrument into making a noise near identical to a buzzing mosquito. Our crew picked this band as the most surprising of all bands filmed at SXSW. In short, we dug it.
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real – For his second appearance in The Van, Willie’s other son, Lukas, continued where he left off by being a bad-ass mofo on the guitar and playing some in your face rock and roll. He thanked us for coming out to his house and all the while his mother Annie watched on with great pride. She seemed like a pretty hip mama, as she hung out by the van for both of her kids’ sets. I guess that could be expected of Willie’s wife, cause he’s a pretty hip dude.
Lily Meola – Annie Nelson introduced us to her niece Lily, who was not only sweet as can be but had the voice to match. It was truly a pleasure getting acquainted with the entire Nelson clan, and we’re honored that they opened their home to us and shared their music.
The Wild Feathers – It was wild, there were no feathers.
Clear Plastic Masks – No masks were worn, but the rock was solid.
Willie Watson – Banjo picker extraordinaire.
Jonny Burke – Mr. Burke sat solo with a guitar and crooned a couple tunes for us.
Nikki Lane – Unfortunately The Felice Brothers had van trouble and couldn’t make it to the ranch for their second go around in the van. Fortunately Nikkie Lane was their to fill the slot left vacant. Wooh boy, she is a fun girl who likes her beer amongst other libations and favors…
Elle King – Speaking of ladies who like their beer, this raspy lil’ devil surprised us all with her unique performance and voice. On top of that she threatened to break my knee when I took my last gluten free beer back from her drummer who had retrieved it from a cooler full of Lagunitas. I explained to her that the plethora of gluten-full beer was totally available to him, but that I would gladly fight her to preserve my last drinkable bottle. We hugged it out, she’s a sweetheart.
John Fullbright – This guys plays slow songs real good, real, real, good.
That folks, is a full day of Jam in the Van. All that was left was to catch Willie on the main stage joined by his family members, all of whom had Jammed in the Van earlier in the day. Burning one down with Spud while Willie played “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” was some bucket list type shit.
After the set we rounded up the crew and piled back into the van. Our intern Jack was in charge of navigating Spud back to Austin, but it turned out Jack had taken one too many swigs from the moonshine jars that were making their rounds at Willie’s place. Jack had also been on a kick to stop folks from wasting water by drinking all of the half drank bottles that he came across on the ground. Long story short, on the ride home Jack learned a valuable lesson as to why you don’t drink half full water bottles, especially when it’s dark, and especially when you’re drunk. We’ll leave it at that.
Tune in tomorrow to hear how the last three days of SXSW headiness played out.