My feet hurt. My legs are tired. I haven't slept much. My ears are ringing. Time is getting short and we're still trying to pack it all in.
But the coffee tastes great and life is good.
It's all part of the SXSW experience.
Wednesday became the unofficial day of rowdy rock n' roll here at SX. My friend, Chuck Dorgan, and I set out with only a loose idea of how the day would unfold. He wanted to see Lukas Nelson and I wanted to see my friend from high school, Steve Stout, play with his current band, Blondfire. The rest...well, we'd just make it up.
It happened by total serendipitous luck, that both of our choice venues were within a two minute walk of each other, literally wrapping around 6th street, the main drag of the event.
We started at the Green Stage on 6th where we found three acts were planning to play, including Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real and one of the stand-out acts of SXSW 2013: the hippie with soul, Allen Stone. The first of the three acts was a forgettable band (literally, I don't remember the name because I was trying to forget that I was there), but the next two would make up for it. Allen Stone's sparkling vocals of perfect precision and unassuming charm lit up the room. The rapt crowd sang an enthusiastic "Happy Birthday" to Stone who turned 26 that day.
The next act to grace the stage would bring a distinctly different vibe. Lukas Nelson and his raucous Promise of the Real swung their heads around, played guitars with their teeth, had guitar straps ripping off, congas falling over and none of it slowed the pace of their intense, energetic set that ended with a ripping version of "Sympathy for the Devil" and a Hendrix-inspired "Star Spangled Banner".
Next, I caught Stout with Blondfire, a poppy rock band led by the blonde-haired, neon orange chuck-wearing Erica Driscoll. They got the crowd riled up for the next rowdy rock addition to the day, The Eagles of Death Metal, a band I've been dying to see for more than 10 years. They burst into a set that had my ribs rattling and lead singer Jesse Hughes coaxing the crowd, saying "I will tickle you in all the right places. Can you dig it!? This is rock n' roll!"
The rock rolled on from there with a blistering set from the young and ambitious Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown, a group of young, Nashville guys who can slay the blues with the best of them.
But that wasn't enough.
The rowdy and raucous continued with The Stone Foxes, a group that will stun any audience with their unruly live performance. It's like watching a group of high schoolers practice in a garage - nothing gets held back. It's all raw, loud and sweaty. The only difference is the songs aren't high school level; they channel something in the vein of the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, with all the irreverent insanity that makes rock and roll what it is.
We wrapped up the night with an astonishing set from the always-brilliant Carolyn Wonderland and braced ourselves for an early morning.
Sleepless SXSW was in full swing.
Thursday started at 6 a.m. Tim Robinson and I set out for the early-morning radio stage at The W Hotel, only to find a line slithering around the steps. Crowds were prepared for Josh Ritter, Fitz & The Tantrums, Michael Kiwanuka and ZZ Ward and we were too late. But again, the beauty of SXSW is in the happy accidents.
I had gone to the KUTX 98.9FM morning broadcast to catch The Punch Brothers at SXSW 2012, so I knew the nature of the early showcase. For $10, audience members got breakfast, coffee (which was essential) and a solid dose of several bands, playing live on the radio with a spattering of interview questions between songs. As we approached the chandelier-filled room, we heard distinct harmonies wafting out of the room. Robinson immediately recognized the sound. It was the band he had already called his favorite of SXSW, though he had forgotten the name. And here they were - a happy accident.
The Lone Bellow is a five-piece from Brooklyn with some of the most startling and hauntingly beautiful vocals in music today. The crowd listened in awe as chills doubtlessly went up and down the collective room's spine. The Brooklyn bluegrass group quickly won my vote quickly as the best band so far of the festival.
The next group, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down was hardly qualified to follow The Lone Bellow (though they did have a large following present at for the set), though we stuck it out through the monotonous set.
Then, the moment I'd be waiting for since it was announced back months earlier: Dave Grohl's keynote address.
The address was opened by a group of SXSW senior staff who recognized and paid homage to Brent Grulke, who began the festival more than 20 years ago and passed away August 12, 2012 of a heart attack.
That was followed by a completely unexpectedly fascinating performance from the hip-hop/classical group, Black Violin. It might have been early for a music crowd (11 a.m. IS early), but the house, which was filled to standing room only, was on their feet for the show.
If you want the full run-down, check @JessRock87 on Twitter for by-the-minute tweets of the keynote. But the bottom line is simple - Grohl made me, and I think everyone around me, cry. His sincerity and passion was obvious in every word he spoke. His address was the most empowering, encouraging and inspiring I'd ever heard. The message was clear: we all have a voice, but it's up to us to use it. And there's no reason, no boundary, no rule, no right or wrong when it comes to that. If you love it, you want it, you feel it - do it.
The rest of the day was spent preparing for the monster of a show we'd head to later that night. At 7 p.m., the doors would open for the Sound City Players, a project put together by Grohl that combines artists who recorded at Sound City Studios in L.A. The list is long and heavy with artists and bands including Metallica, Neil Young, Nirvana, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and more. Grohl's film on the studio (inspired in an effort to save the legendary space) and resulting tour would combine artists from a combination of those bands to create the star-studded Sound City Players.
Still, among that list, it was impossible to know who would show up, what the hell they'd all play together and how long the musicians and crowd could go. It took stamina on both sides of the stage barrier.
In a nutshell - everyone's face got melted off in that crowd. No matter who close or far, the shear magnitude of what was happening on stage was enough to blow any music-lover's mind. Genre-bends and time periods collided and egos were set aside. Every musician that mounted that stage came with a smile on their face and each expressed their gratitude to Grohl for making the project happened. Among the collaborating artists, Stevie Nicks, Chris Goss (Masters of Reality), Rick Nielson (Cheap Trick), Rick Springfield, Corey Taylor (Slipknot), Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), John Fogerty (CCR) and more made up the parade of legends that slayed the stage.
To pick highlights is unfair. Nicks was profound, Goss was unstoppably heavy, Springfield drove the ladies wild (STILL!), Taylor Hawkins and Corey Taylor's duet of "I Want You to Want Me" was classic and Fogerty brought the house down. It was an unbelievable combination of artists that resulted in nothing less than nearly 4 hours of pure magic.
The night went on following that show, but reality for anyone who had been there had essentially stopped. We all left, stunned at what we had just witnessed. For those who were older in the crowd, it was a dream show, combining some of their favorite artists that they had watched and loved for years. For younger members, it was the most inspiring show many had ever and will ever see, especially given what Grohl had professed earlier. "Practice your craft until it hurts." And then you can "start a riot, a revolution, cause an emotion, save a life, be a hero."
So, I'll join the star-power bandwagon: Thank you, Dave Grohl. I knew you'd blow my mind, but didn't expect it quite like this.
Keep up with Novak!...