The day after SXSW ends is always oddly quiet, like Rome must have been in the early Middle Ages after the aqueducts had broken down. There are still people, but less of them, and they have less to do and less places to do it.
So we headed out to the boonies to check out Gay Bi Gay Gay, a festival in the middle of nowhere east of Austin that celebrates all things queer. After a few false rides down farm roads that led to nowhere (there were warning signs, but I seriously thought they were homophobic scarecrows and not true guidelines) we found a parking lot and a field and a whole lot of enthusiastic gays and lesbians and wholesome freedom-loving gender fuckers who gallivanted about in whatever they pleased, most of them female (and a few of them in provocative outfits that were far more naked than sheer nudity could ever be).
As a somewhat hetero, cisgendered male-identifying dude with proven bisexual tendencies, I was hoping to see a larger smorgasbord of folks whose gender identities and inclinations didn’t fall into the rigid guidelines of gay/lesbian, but it did feel inviting and very friendly. I loved the festival, though I fear for its future. Host Rebecca Havemeyer (a gorgeous bewigged drag character portrayed by Paul Soileau) spoke of passing some kind of bucket around to collect donations in, which for a fest this sized is a sign of desperation. I hope they can keep things going, because I want to come back next year! Even the port-o-potties were pink, decorated, and amazing.
We were there long enough to meet the publishers of the amazing zine Sir/Ma’am, plus see John Cameron Mitchell hanging out. But we didn’t see too many musical acts. The band that impressed me most was the Dead Ships, an L.A. duo with drums and guitar that somehow had a song a year or so ago on Jersey Shore without ever catching my eye (shows where my priorities lie!). They sounded a bit like Girls, or like the “Life Is a Highway” guy had been through so much pain that he was composing his songs as warning letters to his friends in trouble. Somewhere deep in this band’s mix lurked a hyper-frantic Tom Petty. But that’s not to say their music was commercialized or tame: singer Devlin McCluskey exerted himself in the second half of the set, bringing out such pain and madness in his voice that I almost handed him a Wellbutrin.
But we couldn’t leave Austin without leaving the core of Austin—the much-maligned area near the corner of Red River and 6th, where Emo’s just recently fizzled out and where the heart of SXSW has always dwelt, for good or for ill. So we took off for the Side Bar on 7th, just in time to catch the Love tribute band, Forever Changes. If anything can prepare a homesick boy for Los Angeles, it’s a little Arthur Lee on a grey afternoon.
But Austin wasn’t prepared to let loose our collars yet. Apparently it was 60’s garage day, what with the Crack Pipes showering us with “Gloria”-esque garage ditties in a Shadows of Knight vein, and the Ugly Beats coming in with a far more raucous set than they’d done Thursday.
But it was the solo set by Dan Kroha of the Gories/Demolition Doll Rods that was drawing the crowd, and he did not disappoint. It was a blues set, and set largely pre-war, with amazing guitar picking and just a touch of post-war growl and howl.
Kroha was so captivating, we didn’t have time to gussy ourselves up in drag for the SIIICKXSW/Burger Records party at the Iron Bear just a couple blocks away, which was to have a dress-in-drag theme. The club, the Iron “Bear,” is supposed to be for bears—you know, the big burly gays who are basically the opposite of drag queens. It hardly mattered: few male audience members other than Sean Burger actually bothered to lay on the rouge and lipstick.
We got there in time to see King Tuff, who was himself dragged out, a good look for someone like him with the youth to pull it off.
It was a typically feverish King Tuff show, with audience members bumping into and around each other, perhaps just a tad slower than at their previous SXSW shows. It was the umpteenth day for most of the shows patrons, after all, who all seemed recognizable from L.A. or from towns we’d traveled through to get to Austin.
And it was our last rock experience in Austin. We’d head out the next day, through the deserts of west Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, past the dangerous Juarez border, sleeping only in Tucson (where the Hotel Congress’s new savage corporate douchery made us decide never to visit the Hotel Congress again) before finally collapsing into Los Angeles. It’s good to be back.
-D. M. Collins