Waking up for Day 2 of the 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival, I was really sore, stiff from the large amount of walking I did on Day 1. I mean, I normally walk a lot at ACL, but Friday's walking seemed... longer. Maybe it was the crowds, who knows, but that's advice number #1 for parents at ACL: stretch. Anyway, my primary goal on Day 2 at the Austin Kiddie Limits stage was to get there in time to see Elizabeth Mitchell and Frances England. We caught the very last song of the Jellydots' set, then settled in. The kids, having been fortified with Cheetos at the media area, angled for the kefir at the Lifeway Kefir booth (because for them, flavored kefir = flavored yogurt = treat). And we were eager to hear Mitchell, whom we'd never seen in concert before and who'd been a part of our family's lives since Miss Mary Mack was still crawling around on the floor. Elizabeth Mitchell's set was reasonably mellow, but not overly so. The crowd, which seemed reasonably full on Friday, was more so on Day 2 as people brought their kids on the weekend, and it brought an energy to artists' sets on the weekend. I hadn't appreciated how much Mitchell's and husband Daniel Littleton's daughter Storey is now a part of the set. She sang on most (all?) of the songs, sometime taking lead. I wouldn't call her a pro -- that's actually praise from my perspective -- but she was poised. Ella Childs joined them for the Japanese song "The Chestnut Tree," and as I looked around, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many parents were joining along with their kids on the hand motions Mitchell, Storey, and Ella led them in or how many were attempting the Spanish-language version of "John the Rabbit" Mitchell tried out. We had to miss Tom Freund's set on Friday, so after grabbing some lunch at the food court, we dashed back to see him play. He was a nice fit between Mitchell and England -- his fun Hug Trees album is a low-key disk for the most part. He was joined here in Austin by Abra Moore, who appeared with Freund on his album as well. Moore had by far the most distinctive performance outfit of the AKL stage (sorry Verve Pipe guys all wearing ties) -- leis, big glasses, and a whole bunch of purple balloons, which she sported while bouncing on a big ol' pink exercise ball. By comparison, Freund (also sporting a collared shirt and tie) looked positively restrained. There was nothing revelatory about the set, but like I said, Hug Trees is fun, and so I enjoyed getting to hear the roots-pop songs live. Next up Frances England. England (as well as Mitchell and her family) hung out a lot at the AKL stage for the weekend, seeing the other performers. In fact, generally, it was a much greater social gathering than I recall previous AKL stages being. For whatever reason, it just seemed like the performers hung out a lot more front stage (as opposed to backstage) listening to the other acts -- the Okee Dokee Brothers wanted to see Elizabeth Mitchell, for example, while Mitchell wanted to catch England's set. It was a very family vibe. England's set was a little less of a surprise for me because I'd seen her in Brooklyn and so I knew she and her band would deliver a solid indie-folk set. England's husband, bassist John Funke, got down from the stage to lead the kids in some movement activities on one of the quieter songs, and by this point there were a fair number of kids to be led. The special guest for Saturday was Peter DiStefano playing with AKL producer Tor Hyams. DiStefano was the guitarist with Perry Farrell in Porno for Pyros, and so, as he'd done in guest sets at Kidzapalooza, DiStefano and Tor played PFP's big hit "Pets" as well as "Sympathy for the Devil." While the renditions definitely rocked from an adult perspective, it's not entirely clear what kids get out of those songs -- between "Sympathy" and the School of Rock kids, sometimes it feels like the AKL stage is both the youngest and oldest stage at ACL. But they did do the undeniably cool thing of having a bunch of kids get up on stage to strum DiStefano's guitar and then hang out on stage while they were playing. It was fun to see a bit of the controlled chaos of the crowd/AKL area make it up there. The final act of the day was Sugar Free Allstars. Again, I'd seen them in Brooklyn, but of course my kids hadn't, so it was a chance for my kids (or at least Little Boy Blue) to get up and dance. Perhaps more than any other AKL act, SFA worked hard at trying to get the kids in the crowd to interact -- not that the other acts ignored the kids, just that Chris Wiser and Dr. Rock have a lot of energy on stage that they're trying to transfer to the audience. We went offsite for dinner, and the kids went back home, but I was determined to come back and see LCD Soundsystem who I also saw here back in 2007 (and who also had one of my favorite all-time quotations). I saw about 75% of James Murphy et al's set back then and the last 25% in 2010. Maybe one of these days I'll see a complete set. While his new album This Is Happening doesn't hit me quite as much as its predecessor Sound of Silver, it's still pretty darn good. And I can't stress how great they are live. After that I sampled from various acts -- Ozomatli had a party going on under the Clear 4G tent, while Matt and Kim were incredibly hyper (which I gather is normal for them in their sets). Also, I've never seen a band pander as much to the crowd the duo did -- really, it's OK, just chill a bit. Still, they were on fire -- Kim is a toddler, energy-wise, on the drums. And I wrapped it up with 3 songs from Muse (my neighbor would have been very disappointed in me if I hadn't seen just a little bit of their act). I totally get why their live show is sometimes called the best rock show in the world right now. It had lasers, a video show, bombasticity -- like U2, except if that band had a dystopian rather than utopian bent. But after another full day of music, it was time to head back home to recover and see my kids. So I made my way back through the Muse crowds, waited for what seemed way too long at 8:45 to catch the shuttle bus back to Republic Square, and headed home.
You might be wondering... uh, what happened to my Day 1 report of SXSW 2010 Music? The answer is that the conference started Wednesday and I didn't get into town 'til Thursday. Hence, Day 2. Anyway, I thought I'd give you a day-by-day report of my SXSW experiences. Not because it's relevant to kids' music (it's not, for the most part), but because I figure a lot of you readers (fans and musicians alike) are big music geeks and would find impressions of a weekend entirely focused on music of no small interest. But I'll give you some kids music equivalents for a few of the folks. Oh, and there are details on a contest giving away a kids' music CD. So here we go... Our flight arrived in Austin about 1 or so, and after getting the rental car, we (that is, myself and Miss Mary Mack and Little Boy Blue, both on spring break) drove up to my mom's house. Because we were having dinner with friends and family, I decided to go pick up my badge and headed downtown in the meantime. Badge pickup was easy (far easier than parking at 4 pm on a SXSW Thursday -- I found the last $10 spot at a surface lot about 8 blocks away from the Convention Center), so having already spent the $10 on parking, I decided to explore a bit. After visiting the trade show (which was kinda small, actually), I got my first taste of SXSW music at the Day Stage/"Blogger's Lounge," which despite being dimly lit and furnished with large beanbags, was still in a cavernous convention center. It was like being in your friend's basement, if your friend lived in an airplane hangar.
Southern California-based singer-songwriter Tom Freund released Hug Trees in late 2007, and I'm sort of surprised it's gone under everyone's radar (including mine) until just recently. In many ways, the album, inspired by his preschool-aged daughter, is a typical "kids' music" CD -- it's got a "freeze dance" song, there's a rendition of "The Cat Came Back," there's a song about baking a cake. But there's a relaxed and playful attitude to the whole affair that makes it more compelling than you would think from the description above. Take "Freezedance," for example, which has a very funky '70s sound (Freund mentions James Brown as a particular inspiration for the track) and doesn't just involve Freund occasionally yelling "Freeze!" but also has him encouraging listeners to emulate animals and throwing out musical adlibs. "The Cat Came Back" is an admittedly hard song to screw up, but I quite liked his mellow approach on the song. "Party in the Yard" was actually written by Brett Dennen (who appears on this and one other track), and it's a soulful, funky tune (think Jack Johnson) about playing outside. (If you get a bit of a Ben Harper vibe, too, well, Freund's played with him quite a bit.) Freund's roots-rock vibe on some tracks ("Hug Trees" or "Bump Bump Bump") will remind listeners of Brady Rymer, while on the closing "Go To Sleep (Fais Do-Do)" or "Seashells" (the former with Abra Moore, the latter with Victoria Williams), Freund sounds a little bit like a West Coast Elizabeth Mitchell. (And on "I Walk the Dog," Freund just sounds like a tired guy who knows how important it is to walk your dog, if you've got one.) The 33-minute album will appeal mostly to listeners ages 3 through 6. You can hear four tracks at the album's Myspace page, or hear selections from more tracks at its CDBaby page. The biggest strength of Hug Trees is its overall vibe, which turns what might have been a collection of typical kids songs into a fun little disk, something beyond ordinary. Fans of Brady Rymer or Elizabeth Mitchell I think will respond well to the musicianship and playfulness from Freund and friends here. Recommended.