By Richard Skanse
It’s that time of year again when thousands upon thousands of songwriters, bands, record label executives, bloggers and all manner of other industry types (and at least a couple of fans) from all over the world swarm into Austin for arguably the biggest music event of the year. No, not that one — the other biggest music event of the year: the Lone Star Music and KOKE FM “Dillo Mixer” at Threadgill’s (301 West Riverside Drive).
What, you mean you haven’t ever heard of our Dillo Mixer? Then we can only assume you missed out on it last year, when our performers included the Quaker City Nighthawks, Uncle Lucius, Javier Escovedo and a reunited Loose Diamonds. Needless to say, we had so much fun throwing that shindig, we of course decided to do it again this year. The lineup’s different, of course (albeit every bit as good in our humble opinion), but once again, the whole deal — seven hours of quality live music — won’t cost you a penny. Granted, you’ll have to bust out the wallet if you want a cold one or a bite to eat, but rest assured the beer (and other adult libations) will be ice cold and the eats will be dang good, as is always the case with anything off of the Threadgill’s menu. Hell, they even made “dang” their slogan.
So if that sounds like a pretty good way to while away a beautiful Friday afternoon deep in the heart of Texas, and you just happen to already be in Austin (along with what seems like everybody else this week), y’all come join us! Here’s a run down of who we’ve got providing the tunes this year:
The Jibs (11 – 11:30 a.m.)
Kicking the party off bright and early will be the Jibs, an Austin-based blues-rock band formed by four talented young men who met as freshman at the University of Texas at, of all places, the school’s sailing club. They bonded over a shared love of guitar heroes Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan as well as such latter day booty shakers the Black Keys and Alabama Shakes, ditched the sail club and dived right into writing and recording original songs. The band is currently working toward the release of their debut EP, preceded by two promising singles: “I’ve Been Low” and “Twisted Game.”
Chris Fullerton (11:40 a.m. — 12:10 p.m.)
Before he eventually found his way down to Austin, Chris Fullerton grew up loving both Hank Williams and hardcore hip-hop, played punk rock as a New Jersey teenager, and briefly cornered the market in bar-band Western swing in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Out of all of that, it’s the Hank Sr. influence that resonates loudest on his fantastic full-length debut, Epilepsy Blues, but Fullerton is no stodgy traditionalist. His album, self-produced and recorded at home last year while he was undergoing radiation treatment for a life-threatening neurological condition, is full of experimental tape effects that imbue his songs with an otherworldly sense of, for lack of a better word, weirdness. What’s really intriguing, though, is the way so much of that comes across even when he just sings and plays his songs solo acoustic. Maybe it all comes down to his subject matter. One song might find him singing about mosquitoes getting plump full of blood sucked out of his party guests, while in another he relates the grim realities of living with chronic grand mal seizures. And there’s just no telling what the hell “El Paso Spacedance” is about (that’s the one in which he wishes Buzz Aldrin happy birthday while everybody in the dancehall peels their skin off), but damn is it ever catchy.
Robyn Ludwick (12:20 – 12:50 p.m.)
Calling Robyn Ludwick an “Americana singer-songwriter” is like calling a dire wolf wearing a wool scarf a precious little lamb. Sure, she can hold her own in a listening room environment or acoustic song circle, and having grown up in Bandera surrounded by cowboys (and two songwriting older brothers of the honky-tonk persuasion), she can do the country thing as good as any, too. But there’s no hiding the fact that the woman’s a rocker to the core, exuding steely, sexy conviction on the level of prime Chrissie Hynde and armed with songs as full of brutally honesty and emotionally jagged observations and character studies as anything this side of Lou Reed or Lucinda Williams at their most fearsome. Ludwick’s forthcoming fifth album, This Tall to Ride (due later this spring), is stacked with lost souls, defiant survivors, streetwise swagger and passion to spare.
The Railhouse Band (1:00 – 1:30 p.m.)
The state of Texas has produced a fair number (conservatively speaking!) of top-notch classic country and Western swing bands over the last 80-odd years, but we challenge you to find a better unit working today than the Railhouse Band out of San Marcos. Railhousers Chandler Wilkinson IV (vocals, guitar), Curtis Clogston (pedal steel), Elijah Stone (fiddle), Nick Lochman (stand-up bass) and Dave Sims Jr. (drums) may all technically be millennials, but their sound is as old-school legit as it gets without the slightest hint of musty nostalgia. Both live and on record (meaning their just-released five-song debut EP, Coming Out Swingin’), they prove that in the right hands, swinging cowboy gypsy jazz can sound and feel as irresistibly vibrant and innovative today as it did in the golden age of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.
Shinyribs (1:40 – 2:10 p.m.)
After spending just shy of 20 years (1994-2013) co-fronting one of the most beloved bands in the Live Music Capital of the World, there was really only thing for Kevin Russell to do next: Build an even better one. Or at the very least, an even funner one. Russell actually began playing under the solo moniker Shinyribs a decade ago while the mighty Gourds were still in full swing, but with his old band now on hiatus, his little side gig has happily bloomed into a full-fledged band in its own right — and it’s never sounded better than it does on Shinyribs’ just released fourth, album, I Got Your Medicine. Or bigger, for that matter; in addition to showman extraordinaire Russell on lead vocals, guitar, and ukulele, fellow Gourds alum Keith Langford on drums, Winfield Cheek on keyboards and Jeff Brown on bass, the latest lineup now features the Tijuana Trainwreck Horns (Mark Wilson and Daniel Anaya) and the potent backup vocals of the Shiny Soul Sisters (Sally Allen and Alice Spencer).
Walt Wilkins (2:20 – 2:50 p.m.)
Anytime Walt Wilkins releases a new album, it’s all but a foregone conclusion that it’s going to end up as one of the best sellers of the year on our e-commerce site, LoneStarMusic.com. But in 2016, he one-upped himself with two albums in our year-end Top 10: his solo album Streetlight, and his latest full-band effort with his pals the Mystiqueros, Watch It Shine. But Wilkins didn’t earn his status as one of the most respected singer-songwriters in modern Texas music by merit of his record sales; no, the reason he’s revered and loved by so many discerning fans and fellow artists alike is first and foremost because of his impeccable craftsmanship as a tunesmith and poetic eloquence as a writer. Make no mistake, the man can write a hit (just ask Pat Green); but more impressive is the fact that just about any song he puts his heart, pen, guitar, and voice to is guaranteed to be a moving work of art.
Sunny Sweeney (3:00 – 3:30 p.m.)
Last week (March 7), Sunny Sweeney played the Grand Ol’ Opry for the 48th time. She swears she’s never taken a single time on that hallowed stage for granted, but 14 years on from her very first gig (at a South Austin dive bar) and 11 since the independent release of her debut, rest assured that the Longview-raised singer and songwriter has more than earned her country music stripes. Her second album, 2011’s Concrete, debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart and netted her a Top 10 single in “From a Table Away” (one of her own co-writes), and 2014’s assertive, fearlessly personal Provoked was a critic’s favorite. But her best album yet — if not one of the best country albums you’re likely to hear this year — may very well be her latest, Trophy, released on March 10.
The Band of Heathens (3:40 – 4:10 p.m.)
Austin’s Band of Heathens have come a long way in the decade since their inauspicious start as a sort of informal jam session by a handful of singer-songwriters all sharing the same weekly bill at (the now closed) Momo’s. Half those guys in that original song-swap are gone, along with a handful of supporting players picked up along the way, but co-frontmen Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist are still at the Heathens helm and the band (filled out by keyboardist Trevor Nealon, bassist Scott Davis, and drummer Richard Millsap) is now well-established as one of the most popular ensembles on the Americana landscape. This year’s Duende, their fifth studio album (and eight overall), is both the Heathens’ crowning achievement to date and the perfect starter plater for newcomers not yet converted to their seductive blend of soulful roots, rock, and roll.
Michigan Rattlers (4:20 – 5 p.m.)
Armed only with Graham Young’s acoustic guitar and Adam Reed’s stand-up bass, the Michigan Rattlers are proof that you don’t need a lot of firepower to make a mighty sound. Although the Los Angeles-based duo is relatively new to the national Americana scene, Young and Reed have been been playing music together since their high school days back in their native Petoskey, Michigan. Theirs is a musical chemistry forged over years of friendship, as can be heard in every song on their buzz-worthy self-titled debut EP and especially in their spirited live performances.
Shane Cooley & the Midnight Girls (5:10 – 5:40 p.m.)
Originally from rural Virginia, singer-songwriter Shane Cooley has made quite an impression on the Live Music Capital of the World since moving to Austin a few short years ago. No less an authority on the local scene than John Aielle, host of KUTX’s “Eklektikos,” has been one of his biggest fans ever since he first heard Cooley in a coffee shop, enthusing “I love his voice. It makes you listen.” There’s been no shortage of additional rave reviews since then, especially since the release of Cooley’s seventh album, 2015’s exquisite Kings Highway. The Austin Chronicle deemed him “a substantial songsmith,” which is if anything an understatement, and he’s no slouch of an invigorating live performer, to boot — especially armed with a full band.