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Nowhere is that more apparent than in the selection of festival keynote speaker Steve Earle. A country maverick and industry pain in the ass par excellence, Earle will no doubt be dishing out more than a few sturdy bits of advice to the assembled masses. Earle recently folded his onetime Warner Bros.-financed E-Squared label (home to alt and insurgent country acts Bap Kennedy and Marah) into Artemis Records, the indie company headed by fired Mercury Records chief Danny Goldberg.
As for the local angle on the proceedings, there should be no shortage of desert-related news. Unfortunately, of the 50-plus band submissions from the metro Phoenix area, the selection czars tabbed a total of only six local acts, including the Phunk Junkeez, Dead Hot Workshop, Pollen, DJ ZTrip, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers and the Van Buren Wheels. Considering the volume of worthy apps, and a majority of those being new groups, it's disappointing to see the SXSW judges stick with so many staid choices. That's not to say Bash & Pop isn't pleased with most of the selections, especially considering that we had a hand in one or two. But with the exception of the Van Buren Wheels, the remaining Phoenix representatives have all been to the conference at least once before, if not on multiple occasions, in one form or another.
The rest of the state (read that: Tucson) is represented by neo-swingers Crawdaddy-O, indie folkies Ambor Bellum Duo, and the predictable picks of the Giant Sand/Calexico contingent.
All of the bands seem to be on solid ground leading up to the festival. Pollen and the Peacemakers will be fitting in their spots between national tour dates, while Dead Hot Workshop has resumed a regular performance schedule as a tune-up for its high-profile Saturday-night SXSW set.
Despite some ominous rumblings that the Van Buren Wheels, a '60s-style Vox-organ-grinding R&B outfit, were on the verge of breaking up, guitarist Steve Shelton assures us that the band will be intact and in Texas where it will share a Buffalo Club bill with L.A. punks the Chickenhawks and former Urge Overkill singer Nash Kato.
Shelton says the band turmoil -- rumored to be the result of chemical addiction problems -- has subsided and the group has secured the services of former Revenant Richard Taylor -- no stranger to his own battles with substance abuse -- to fill the spot vacated by organist Jamie Lamb.
In any event, New Times will be sending a contingent of writers to cover the proceedings and, of course, to weasel as many free drinks as possible. Look for a complete run-down on all the Lone Star madness in the weeks following.
Tracks of My Tears: Had I known the embarrassing sob story I penned about Pollen's new album Chip("Heartbreak Kids," January 27) would have elicited an unending stream of, "Dude, are you all right?" sentiments and sympathetic, lingering hugs from strange women, I would have purged my soul long ago.
I have no intention of using the music section as a personal pity/dating service, and I've finally recovered enough from the intense emotional trauma of the Chip experience to report that the group will officially mark the release of its new disc with a performance this Saturday, February 26, at the Green Room in Tempe.
To put one Pollen-related personnel rumor to bed, the group does have a new bassist, sort of.
Word from the band is that longtime rhythm ace Chris Serafini will be absent from the group's upcoming national tour, and will be replaced by Sean Felcyn of L.A. alt-punks Co-Ed. Serafini will continue to work as a studio member of the band and will play all of the group's local dates, including the CD release and in-store at Virgin Records, set for this Saturday at noon. The reason for Serafini's change in status is not -- as some have suggested -- because of his membership in Ghetto Cowgirl, but rather a work-related commitment.
As a side note, Scott Hessel, longtime local drummer (Jennys, Pastry Heroes, Stumbles), who joined Tempe alt-rock trio Gloritone last year, is leaving the band. Gossip centers on a lack of chemistry between Hessel -- who replaced original kit sitter Dan Lancelot last spring -- guitarist Tim Anthonise and bassist Nic Scropos. Officially, both sides are saying the parting was mutual. No word yet on when the band will name a replacement.
Aces High: If you've heard the name Johnny Ace lately, it's due, no doubt, to the band's pedigree. Featuring former members of Dead City Love, Sonic Thrills, and Rattlebox, the group has quickly established a solid local reputation opening shows for bands ranging from local punks the Glass Heroes to Chicago popsters the Teenage Frames.
Johnny Ace will be making a handful of high-profile appearances in the upcoming weeks -- including a March 3 headlining spot at the Green Room with Fabulous Disaster and Tucson's Funky Bones, and a March 16 spot at Hollywood Alley in Mesa -- before heading into Jeff Dahl's Cave Creek studio to lay down tracks for their as-yet-untitled debut. -- Bob Mehr
Contact Bob Mehr at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org