Every once in awhile, a corporation does something worthwhile, and certainly Red Bull’s Sound Select tour with Run The Jewels fits the bill. Run the Jewels is a collaboration between Killer Mike and El-P, and when my homeboy Matt Sonzala told me to come out to Minglewood Hall in Memphis to check them out, I invited my homeboy Tune C and we headed down there. To my amazement, the place was absolutely packed, and many of the people there were like a who’s who of the Memphis recording industry, including rappers Ify, Tori WhoDat and Jason Da Hater, singer Tonya Dyson, and legendary engineer and producer Boo Mitchell. The opening act was a thoroughly gangsta crew from Dallas known as the Outfit, and for a gangsta-style group, they were decent. But it was the Run The Jewels performance that everyone came for, and it was very impressive indeed. Tune and I had hung out with Mike in Atlanta last year, and we got a brief chance to catch back up with him after the show. It was truly a momentous night for Memphis hip-hop.
It’s a long way from Beirut to Memphis, and Lebanon is definitely not the first place you think of when it comes to blues, but that didn’t stop the Wanton Bishops, a Beirut-based blues/rock band, some of whose members had met outside a well-known Beirut blues bar. After several years of growing popularity in Lebanon, Turkey and France, the Bishops started gaining attention from American audiences as well. Sponsored by Red Bull, the Wanton Bishops ended their triumphant appearance at South By Southwest in Austin with a journey up Highway 61 from New Orleans to Memphis by way of Clarksdale, documented by a film crew. Perhaps the apotheosis of that journey was a recording session in a most appropriate place, Boo Mitchell’s legendary Royal Studios in South Memphis, the place where classic recordings were made by Al Green, Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, O. V. Wright and many others. For young, blues-loving men from the Middle East, it must have seemed like the dream of a lifetime. Although it took all day, it resulted in one perfect song, and some lasting memories.
After I walked back to downtown Austin, I caught up with Travis McFetridge, and he and his friend wanted to check out the rapper Danny Brown who was performing at the Red Bull Sound Select stage at The Belmont, so I agreed to go with them. I had heard of Danny Brown but never actually heard any of his music, and he wasn’t bad. I had fortunately gotten press credentials, so I was able to take some pictures of his performance, and the stage was outdoors in a courtyard, and was very cool indeed. We left about 2 AM and headed over to 24 Diner, which was a lot more crowded than I had expected. Getting our food took quite awhile, and I didn’t get back to the hotel room until 4 AM. But it was the best way to end my year at SXSW- a good breakfast with friends.
On Sixth Street, I decided to pop into the Red Bull Sound Select Stage and see what was going on. I was supposed to have RSVP-ed, but they were cool about it and let me in with a warning that the next night’s event would be much stricter, and that I should RSVP if I wanted to go. Since it involved the Geto Boys, I definitely wanted to go. But the artist that was on stage this night was a renegade country artist named Jonny Fritz from Nashville, who I wasn’t at all familiar with. His sound was pretty much traditional country, except that the lyrics were rather irreverent and explicit. I hung around for awhile, but country is not my favorite style of music, and ultimately I left.