Texas High Notes

The SXSW music fest showcases the city as much as the artists

For Teger-Zhen, though, stocking "lifestyle products" and all manner of kitschy tchotchkes -- which now make up 35 percent of her store's total sales -- isn't just a savvy business move. It's a matter of survival: "In order to stay alive, you've got to get into the lifestyle stuff to get the good margins. That's the only way I can continue to buy all the music."

Ah yes, the music. It was everywhere in Austin, which was helpful for those in search of this year's buzz, since showcasing artists often found themselves besieged by both industry figures and pure fans. Scotland's Franz Ferdinand, riding a wave of hype over its guitar-driven slash-and-burn grooves, was met with a capacity crowd and hundreds more stranded on the sidewalk outside. Ireland's the Thrills,drawing on a lush vein of American West Coast Sixties-styled pop, and New York City's organ-wailing Walkmen also had to turn away throngs that snaked down the block.

At a decidedly lower-key (and thankfully underpublicized) Thrills concert the next afternoon, Kulchur literally collided with Tony Landa, bassist for Hialeah punksters Humbert. But he wasn't here to schmooze. Landa too had been shut out of the earlier Thrills show -- just one of the many bands he'd flown in expressly to catch. Humbert may have been going strong back home, but Landa's main priority in Austin was simply soaking up sets from groups that had yet to hit South Florida.

SXSW panelist Lisa Teger-Zhen, owner of Uncle 
Sam's Music on South Beach, says CD sales alone 
are not enough
Jonathan Postal
SXSW panelist Lisa Teger-Zhen, owner of Uncle Sam's Music on South Beach, says CD sales alone are not enough

Sam Beam, whose own Miami outfit Iron & Wine had expanded from a solo act into a proper band, now drawing as much on old-timey bluegrass melodies as "Baby I'm a Want You"-era Bread, was at SXSW promoting his second album, Our Endless Numbered Days. Yet Beam would've been more than happy to trade places with Landa.

"When I come to places like [SXSW] it feels like work," he griped of the slew of shows and interviews his label, Sub Pop, had crammed into his 48-hour Austin stay. "I'm a homebody," he laughed -- a trip to the beach is a big social outing for him. Not that the Miami International University of Art & Design film instructor was going to complain too loudly: "I never expected to have a music career, so every time I play and people are there, it's great. It all seems like a dream." And his predictions for Iron & Wine's future in the beleaguered music industry? Beam chuckled wryly: "I hope we're still having this conversation a year from now."

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