Meet The New Hole
Same As The Old Hole

Austin, TX: 3/16/04

The Hole In The Wall is one of Austin’s landmark venues, and for years it was host to a preview show on the eve of the South By Southwest music conference, in the guise of the Swollen Circus organized by The Silos‘s Walter Salas-Humara. After a one-year hiatus and some remodelling, the Hole In The Wall is back in action, and the Swollen Circus came home after last year’s edition at Stubb’s.

It all started on a bleak morning in NewYork. With a 6:55 a.m. flight, there was little point in trying to sleep, so Linus and I bowed to tradition and fortified ourselves at d.b.a. until closing time. It wasn’t snowing yet by the time we arrived in Newark, past that huge repository of unmentionable ersatz beer, and into a not-so-sparsely populated terminal. After a quick and painless check-in and boarding (but $1.05 for a bagel? A plain bagel with nothing on? Who let the robbers in?) we lifted off for Detroit in a half-full Airbus. Detroit is not on the way to Austin, I know, but airlines work in mysterious ways and there are things we are just not meant to understand…

Snow was swirling low on the ground when we landed in Detroit. We made the connection comfortably, walking to Terminal A through a futuristic gallery of shimmering panels in blues, greens, oranges and magentas, to the appropriate musical soundtrack (no, not Music For Airports, but close), and after a thorough de-icing spray of antifreeze from a giant mobile shower that looked like a praying mantis in the snow, we were off to Austin, where it’s partly sunny, with daytime temperature in the 70s and night around 50. Nyah, nyah, nyah!

Advance registration is a Good Thing, with comic relief provided by a new twist in badge design: there are warning notices at the booths explaining that the badges now incorporate an electronic validity tag –an anti-theft device, for you and me– and that No, it’s not collecting personal data…

Belated lunch. Curra’s Grill, on Oltorf, is one of Linus’s favorites (can you spell margarita…) Sitting on the front terrace, we sipped and supped (my Live Oak ‘Big Bark‘ was an OK amber brew that did not get in the way of my beef guisado with rice and black beans.)

Since the weather was so nice, we left a few taunting messages on various answering machines back in New York, and headed back up South Congress toward Jo’s coffee shop, a little open-air affair almost across the street from the Continental club, of which more in later installments. Some more taunting, and it’s back to the hotel for a nap. Soon, it’s evening, and time for a beer at Lovejoy’s. They don’t have their classic stout tonight, so we try the AJ Porter. Not one of their best efforts, but nice enough, and at $2.50 a pint, it’s hard to complain. A touch too bitter for my taste, in the end.

It’s finally time to get the show on the road. We leave the smoky Lovejoy’s behind (I’m already looking forward to coming back to smoke-free New York!) and make our way to The Hole In The Wall, just in time for New York’s own Mary McBride. The idea of the Swollen Circus is to present a quick preview of bands (mostly from New York and Austin) and drum up interest for their showcases later in the week. Each performer plays about 3 songs and is on and off the stage in 12 minutes, just enough to whet the musical appetites of the packed audience.

We hear from Austin’s local hero Trish Murphy, with her brother Darrin on drums, the newly named Lane Drifters, Michael Hall & the Woodpeckers, the Silos, Tom Freund, Gingersol, Mary Lou Lord, the Fighting Brothers McCarthy, and the Rock Odyssey; many of these bands will be revisited in the coming days, so I’ll stop here with the music.

Instead, I’ll finish by mentioning that judging from the sartorial choices of audience members, Kinky Friedman‘s campaign for governor of Texas in 2006 seems to be starting strong: the people support him in T-shirts!

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