Hillbilly Highway – Looking back at SXSW


by Sheldon Birnie

The Hillbilly Highway from Winnipeg to Austin and back was a long, winding, and often ice covered one. But we made it.

Last week I told you about a couple Red Dirt Americana bands and the beautiful White Horse Tavern. This week I’ll fill you in on the quick with all the other great acts I caught who are still now travelling up and down the Highways of this great continent.


First up is Jonny Fritz (formerly known as Jonny Corndawg). My good buddy Cal Austin Jr got me into his tunes, and I’ve never looked back. I caught three sets from Jonny Fritz and the In-Laws over last week, and while he mostly played tunes off his upcoming LP Dad Country, he occasionally dipped into his back catalogue. Jonny is a beaut, and I hope he makes it up our way soon, as I’m sure you’d all get a kick out of him.

One Thursday night, I managed to catch an entire showcase from Muscle Shoals musicians. This was a varied line-up, and I catch some tunes by Shonna Tucker (formerly of Drive-By Truckers), and the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm section, who played on career defining albums by Bob Seger, the Rolling Stones, and many more. What a treat!


Later in the evening, I was lucky enough to catch the sets of two up-and-coming Muscle Shoals / Florence, AL acts, the Gnarly Charlies and SCM Electrix. These young bucks were a lot more rocking than the rootsier acts of the early line-up. Of course, they have miles to go and years ahead to reach the stature of their forebearers, I’d keep an eye on them all.

Another young act I managed to catch towards the end of the festival were a group of dudes called Ranch Ghost out of Nashville, TN. They had a real cosmic cowboy sound and look, and for a group barely over 20 years old, they were tight as a drum. They’ve put out a couple 7″s, and I’m looking forward to the full length.

Mike and the Moonpiles are a local Austin band who play three nights a week in town and hit the road on weekends. They were checking out a Jonny Fritz show when I first made their acquaintance, and we became fast pals. I caught their set at the White Horse later that night, and they were making the crowd move! The scene at the Times or the Rose N Bee on a Wednesday would love them.


About the biggest thrill I got over the weekend, though, was the chance to see Ray Wylie Hubbard and Billy Joe Shaver take the stage. Both Texas legends in their own rights, these grizzled vets are the real fucking deal. Hubbard delivered on his standard style of grit and blues infused country songwriting, while Shaver’s set was downright transcendental. I got chills more than once, and it was a joy to shake his mangled hand after the set and tell him, “Man, that was something!”

All in all, my body is kicking the crap out of me for travelling long and partying hard in Austin, but when I finally recover, It’ll have been worth it. See you out on the Highway, pals. Party on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *