AUSTIN, TEXAS – No surprise that the music industry’s biggest annual convention would still have Prince on its mind almost a year since his death, but there were still a few surprises as the South by Southwest Music Festival paid tribute to Minneapolis’ late rock legend Friday.
Thousands of local residents — who usually avoid SXSW’s overflowing traffic and self-importance like the plague — joined the fray of out-of-town music-biz professionals and fun-seeking hipsters for a festive outdoor musical tribute on Auditorium Shores led by Dez Dickerson and André Cymone. Former Fugees bandleader Wyclef Jean added conga drums and occasional vocals as Prince’s pre-“Purple Rain” bandmates played early hits such as “Uptown,” “Partyup,” “Controversy” and “Let’s Work” along with “Let’s Go Crazy,” which kicked off the tribute. Dickerson altered the song’s opening montage to say, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate a friend, a brother.” Before the tribute, Dickerson debuted the trailer for a new documentary he co-helmed, “Nothing Can Stop Us Now,” featuring images from First Avenue, the Capri Theater and Prince’s other haunts.
Earlier in the day, Prince’s complex estate proceedings were a focal point of an industry panel at the Austin Convention Center titled “Death, Taxes and Legacy Management.” Dickerson, Cymone and Prince’s first manager Owen Husney were also interviewed on stage Friday afternoon by Rolling Stone writer David Fricke, who got Cymone to tell a well-received story about Prince opting to stay in the car at a stop into a 7-11 convenience store when they were still living in north Minneapolis. “I was in there laughing with the clerks,” recounted Cymone, who then faced Prince’s ire when he returned to the car. He explained to his friend, “I told them you didn’t want to go in because you’re gonna be famous one day.”
While discussing a now-infamous “interview” Prince did with Dick Clark on “American Bandstand” in 1980, Dickerson revealed that the budding rock star told the band beforehand he planned to throw the interview by not uttering a word. “He got that ‘Black Dennis the Menace’ look on his face and told us, ‘Don’t talk if he asks us any questions,’ ” Dickerson remembered to loud laughs.
As usual, the rest of South by Southwest was more about today’s rock-stars-in-waiting as the festival grinded toward the weekend. Hozier-like British singer Rag ‘n’ Bone Man took a large crowd to church, St. David’s Episcopal Church, where Duluth’s own winner of the NPR Tiny Desk Contest, Gaelynn Lea, also performed earlier in the night (and apologized for “taking the Lord’s name in vain” after letting out an “OMG!”).
Twin Cities pop-rockers Hippo Campus played to big crowds at both the convention center’s Day Radio Stage and the Twix-branded Collide House on Rainey Street. Washington, D.C., band Priests railed against what’s going on in their hometown during a riotous late-night set at the club Cheer Up Charlies.
A sharp contrast to the prevailing party vibe at SXSW, the ContraBanned showcase Friday night offered a powerful display of musicians with roots in the countries singled out in Trump’s new travel ban, including Somali-Canadian duo Faarrow, Iraqi-American Dena El Saffar and Sudanese refugee Emmanuel Jal.
At a panel discussion before the show, Jal quipped that his own passport now lists him as “an endangered species,” and El Saffar said the new travel regulations give her a stronger artistic purpose. “I want my music to be a channel for people who don’t have a voice, the disenfranchised who have been through hell,” the composer/string player said.
Also up late Friday: Garth Brooks cut loose after his keynote speech with an unannounced performance at the Broken Spoke. Too bad Prince never got to pull that off at Austin’s famous old honky-tonk.