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“Road To Austin” — Maybe Not Your Kinda Trip

April 6th, 2014 · Tags:Arts · Cities

 

Director, Gary Fortin

 

I’ve always thought there are, for the most part, two types of concert films. There is that film from a once-in-a-lifetime moment in music history — the kind that influences you to bite a hole in the side of your cheek, as you watch, regretting so desperately that you were not there. Then there’s the concert film that leaves you thinking, “I’m sure I would have enjoyed that concert IF I had been there.”

 

No two ways about it, I love live music and music history, so I always scan the film festival schedules first looking for rock ’n’ roll shows. So, when I saw that The 2014 Dallas International Film Festival included “Road To Austin,” I was ready to rock.

 

 

Tragically, I almost missed “Road To Austin” because the road from Fort Worth to Dallas was clogged — with traffic from road construction (of course), a NASCAR event, The Final Four at “The Death Star,” the film festival in Dallas, an ever-present equestrian event … hah and a giant TV-watching event in Downtown Fort Worth. After some creative navigation through the northwest part of Arlington to get to the Mockingbird Station part of Dallas .. I made it. (The old Dallas/Fort Worth metromess got game too …)

 

Apologies to the film’s director and stars … I hope the first minute was not the high note of the show … missed it.

 

So … about those two concert film categories. I would have to put “RTA” somewhere in the middle. Much of the film is concert footage. And to my liking, one of the first songs is the strongest — a total white-man soul blowout … a high adrenalin version of Clapton’s “Layla” — featuring the team of Bobby Whitlock on Hammond B3 organ and his wife CoCo Carmel on sax and sharing vocals. This song alone made me wish I were there, and I would consider buying the soundtrack solely based on their fast — no wait, slow — now fast — now slow “Layla.”

 

It is not often that I am stumped, but I did not know the Whitlock/Carmel pair … even thought they had worked with Derek And The Dominoes (Clapton). More interesting, in Googling the film and the soundtrack, it took me a minute to find them in the write ups … among all the big names who delivered substantially lesser performances … Interesting. Ha .. it’s funny and cute to watch the couple get friendlier and friendlier on stage as the film progresses. I digress …

 

 

In addition to the concert, “‘Road To Austin’ chronicles how Austin became the Live Music Capital of the World dating from 1835 to present day” — according to IMDB. There’s great history of German oompah bands, Tejano, Antone’s and the hallowed Armadillo World Headquarters. Awesome.

 

Road To Austin

 

 The film is a bit of a hybrid of lots of things — concert film, power-point-like slide show with funny animation, one-on-one interviews, Austin history 101, a great tribute to Grammy-winner Austinite Stephen Bruton … and lastly, perhaps most unusual a call for donations. Don’t get me wrong, I support the idea of raising money to help pay for Austin musicians’ medical expenses … I just didn’t expect to see that take over the end of the film (spoiler, I suppose.) I mean … ha … Obamacare has them in good hands now, right:)

Stephen Bruton, RIP

 

The film is also a huge “let’s promote that Austin is the greatest and perhaps only star in the music universe” thang. Certainly, the title gives that away and Austin may be one of the best music cities in the world … but I think there is some license there. The film points out Austin’s 13th Floor Elevators band were the first to ride to the top of the psychedelic experience, to the chagrin of many a Haight-Ashbury travel agent.

 

But … hmmm … seems like that little Buddy Holly thing out in Lubbock might have been even more significant … just sayin. Oh … and besides the opening “Layla,” two of the bigger presences in the film are Fort Worth’s Delbert McClinton and Lubbock’s Joe Ely. (Even if he moved to Austin, Joe will always be Lubbock … where The Clash discovered him, before taking him to tour in Europe.) Thank God the film didn’t try to feed me that Stubbs BBQ is some sort of Austin legend (also Lubbock).

 

Lastly, I have to say that I agree Austin is the musical Mecca of Texas. So why in the world does Kris Kristofferson have such a prominent role in the film? Perhaps he was the closest with Bruton(?). But, we’re talking about a man known for writing great lyrics for others and growing a gray beard at the age of 20 — not for his singing. He would not make it very far on Idol or any of those shows that feature the voice, despite his Rhodes scholarly ways. And yet … and yet, KK drones away for 2-3 songs in the film … but it seems like 10. Why? I mean, Austin has so much to offer, thus the film. (Ha … yes … I will never forget seeing KK booed as he took the stage at a Willie Picnic … I digress.)

 

There is one Austin guy who gets a lot of stage time — who, bless his heart doesn’t have much of a voice, but he has soul. The one key ingredient he adds is to say “Let’s let the dog have the yard,” inviting a Bruton guitar solo.

 

 

I knew in advance the film would focus on Armadillo HQ, so I was hoping to see more footage of big events there (Clash, for instance) … also, the fact that Willie appeared only via closed circuit TV to say “Howdy” … for me those were obstacles. I still think they nailed it on “Layla” – 4 pings. Bonnie Rait does a great job. Ian McLagan is always fun. Bob Schneider was a bit boring, surprisingly … and operatic singer Cara Johnson knocks it out of the park with a classical piece, proving rednecks like purdy thangs too.

 

Another spoiler alert … yes, people will clap at certain parts of the film (ha … not even the right moments.) And … last spoiler — the artists in the film can’t hear you clap.  That is all.

 

Know what I sayin?