photos and story: Arthur VanRooy
Each year at South By Southwest (SXSW) there is one party that surpasses all others in coolness and quality of music. For me this event is the Heartbreaker Banquet. Really, what could be better than seeing a slew of the finest talent at SXSW perform in the bosom of the Texas Hill Country at Willie Nelson’s ranch.
This year it felt especially good to leave the madness of downtown Austin given the tragedy that occurred the night before the Banquet, and upon entering the old Western ghost town known as “Luck, Texas” you could feel the positivity.
Between the moonshine flowing all day long, delicious barbecue, and top notch performances from the one and only Willie Nelson, who was joined by his son Lukas, husband and wife Americana duo Shovels & Rope, Lucius and plenty more acts, the Heartbreaker Banquet proved yet again why it may just be the best damn party happening during SXSW.
Anytime you get the opportunity to see Willie Nelson perform is a treat, but seeing him on his own property surrounded by family and friends was extra special. However, throughout the day and night there were three sets that particularly stood out for me. If there was one thread connecting these acts it was the display of real talent coming from younger people with no in-your-face pretentiousness. These acts were the ones that made not just my day, but my whole SXSW experience.
The Felice Brothers In this day and age when music lovers are perpetually overwhelmed by no-talent pop acts claiming to make folk and bluegrass music (Ho Hey, anyone?) the Felice Brothers are that rare act that has always been straight up and has never watered down their sound for the masses. The use of fiddle and accordion may strike some as odd and may seem more fitting for a Cajun band, but with the Felice Brothers those instruments are the foundation of their country-folk sound. It’s been a good while since the Brothers have all toured together consistently, but their performance at the Heartbreaker Banquet proved that they are ready to show the world that authentic bands still do exist.
J. Roddy Walston and the Business These guys released one of the best albums of 2013, Essential Tremors (ATO), and since then they have been tearing up the country on a rock ‘n roll rampage. As frontman, singer and piano player, J. Roddy Walston is like a young long haired Jerry Lee Lewis. Onstage at Willie’s ranch Walston and his band injected great balls of fire into their performance, never giving the audience more than a second to catch their breath between each song. The beauty of the Business and their onstage persona is in their ability to crank out the jams while tapping into a similar vein of raw, Southern rock reminiscent of early Kings of Leon albums, except even better because the centerpiece is a piano-playing madman!
Nikki Lane Nikki Lane is both sexy and talented. Onstage at the Heartbreaker Banquet Lane commanded the spotlight with confident country swagger. Reminsicent of great Nashville female country singers of a bygone era, Lane sings of love and heartbreak with an attitude that lets you know she’s strong, independent and owns her persona. If her Thursday afternoon set was any indication, we should be expecting exciting things from Nikki Lane in the coming year.
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