I've seen so much music over the years it's often difficult for me to find much that is authentic. I have to get off the beaten track and lurk around the fringes of the music scene. Find those pockets of music where the authentic bubbles and boils. Where artists are making authentic art, for themselves, for their small stake in the world; hoping to get some response back from an audience or a scene, hoping to be noticed, hoping to share their art.
I was talking to painter Ron English at lunch in Austin during SXSW and he reminded me how cities use to stake their claim in creating a music scene with an identifiable sound -- San Francisco in the '60s with the psychedelic bands like the Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, et al.; London's punk/new wave scene in the mid/late '70s with the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, etc.; Seattle's grunge scene in the '80s with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains; even my hometown in the late '70s was christened as the "Akron sound" with DEVO, The Waitresses, Tin Huey, Chi Pig, etc.
I suspect there may be a city someplace that is ready to stake a new claim in bragging rights for creating a "sound". Or perhaps not, perhaps the digital domain has made every bedroom in the world a micro-scene for hopeful young artists everywhere. But I pray that this not be the case...
In fact, Austin has always had an authentic scene and in fact, may be the best music scene, along with New Orleans, to maintain a rich and vital music scene. Some of my favorite singer-songwriters started/built their careers there like Townes Van Zandt, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Guy Clark, Shawn Colvin, Joe Ely, Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams, et al, Blues rock acts Jimmy Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds and his brother Stevie Ray and newcomer Gary Clark, Jr., Jon Dee Graham, who started out with fellow singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo in the punk rock outfit True Believers, country swing outfit Asleep at the Wheel led by Ray Benson, former solo artist and longtime Dylan gunslinger Charlie Sexton, and one of the original country outlaws and Nashville's unofficial mayor, Willie Nelson. (There as many cool acts still creating vital, authentic music today. You can check out the list here.)
But back to SXSW. While hanging out with Ron and friends at the Spider House, I happened upon their side courtyard where the solo act T0W3RS (aka Derek Torres), from Raleigh, NC, was in full swing. I quickly noticed that the young man held the crowd in raft attention. He was resplendent in a white suit soaked to the bone, triggering beats and intermit instrumental sequences from his keyboard. Alone and unafraid, gyrating, dropping to his knees to articulate a stream of lyrics. Still all very melodic and memorable. I stood enthralled, as did the crowd.
I waited until he was finished, bought his new solo CD, then introduced myself and chatted with him briefly before his new fans pulled him away to other conversations and adulations. I was happy to have shared a moment with an authentic artist and offer my heartfelt encouragement and congratulations. I ambled back to share my joy of discovery with my group. They seemed semi-interested at best. No matter. I'd found my piece of authenticity during SXSW. They were other moments but this was my favorite during the festival.
Here is Derek Torres with his band. He's so adaptable and authentic that he can bring it solo or fronting a band. :
Show him some love and buy some of his music today. You'll be glad you did. And you'll be acknowledging the "authentic."
Mr. Wright is a content creator and cultural curator. He is a contributor to the Huffington Post, former DJ at David Lynch's Transcendental Music Radio, the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and television. He's also a singer/songwriter who has released five solo albums and one with folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was a William Morris agent.