SXSW used to be a festival where the next Bruce Springsteen, Lil Wayne or Jay-Z performed. Now it's a festival where Bruce Springsteen, Lil Wayne or Jay-Z perform. What was once the Independent Spirit Awards has turned into the Oscars. Which makes you wonder: What's the point of SXSW?
If Christopher Cross can play SXSW, any geezer can.
Having now grown out of its jeans as merely a place for talented, little-known acts to get noticed, SXSW is now a place where artists in their fifties who used to get their asses reamed critically show up to play "intimate sets." Only those critics who once reamed them are now sufficiently inebriated to "reconsider" their music as something worth celebrating, ironically or otherwise (but usually ironically). It's a neat trick, and this year's ace magician was none other than Christopher Cross.
Cross is still huge in Japan, and there's no better song to do cocaine off the dashboard of a Plymouth Reliant to than "Ride Like the Wind." But the "Sailing" schlub got laughed out of the States a long time ago, and even missed the embrace of the yacht rock revival of a few years ago that made Hall & Oates okay to like again.
Yet there Cross was in Austin last week, playing a tight set at Austin Music Hall, described as "maximum smooth, but with teeth." Lionel Richie also played this year's fest, at one point bringing Kenny Rogers onstage with him for a duet. Might this signal that mainstream Nashville the new alt-country?
Inspired by these brave revisionists of musical history, a slew of once-huge acts are gearing up for "stripped-down" sets at next year's SXSW. Among those rumored to be playing, along with their expected response:
Celine Dion. Sure, she's been crapped on for being schmaltzy and melodramatic to the Nth power, but has anyone really stopped to appreciate her astounding vocal range? The crowd at Stubb's will in 2013.
Glenn Frey. While a member of the Eagles, Frey was vilified for printing money on the backs of Countrypolitan lead blockers like Gram Parsons. But it's his Miami Vice-era tracks, primarily "You Belong to the City," that really deserve a second look for their penthouse take on street-level cavorting.
Color Me Badd. Shat on for being too creepily old for a boy band and for having a member who looked just like Kenny G, CMB will peform "Sex You Up" a capella on an outdoor stage near the Capitol, converting haters by proving, once again, that four-part harmony never gets old.
Kenny G. Speaking of the G-Force, he's already playing his first club gigs in, like, forever. And sax has nine lives. If he limbers up and covers "Careless Whisper," possibly inviting George Michael onstage to sing, he could win the adoration of a whole new G-neration.
DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. Will Smith may be the world's biggest movie star, but the Willennium ended awhile ago. That is, until the Fresh Prince's long-awaited reunion with DJ Jazzy Jeff. Parents, you see, still don't understand. This duo's resonance is timeless.
Garth Brooks. Committed career suicide by creating the bewigged alter-ego Chris Gaines for commercial purposes. But, holy shit, does that move look edgy now.
Toto. They were penning epic songs about Third World continents long before it became philanthropically fashionable to do so. Bono will introduce them.