SXSW photos taken by Vickey Ford of Sneakshot Photography for Okayplayer.
Our very own Elijah Watson is in Austin for SXSW. Check back each day to see what stories he has to share!
I always forget that SXSW overlaps with St. Patrick’s Day, two overly excessive events that, when combined, is a level of lit that only the strong can truly survive.
The fourth day of SXSW was a test of my being: mentally, physically and spiritually. My day began with a panel entitled “Birth of a Purple Nation,” that discussed the early days of Prince‘s career and how he was destined for fame.
Prince collaborators André Cymone and Dez Dickerson; former Prince manager Owen Husney; and Rolling Stone writer David Fricke, spoke for nearly an hour about Prince, with the conversation primarily centered around Cymone and Dickerson’s relationship with the acclaimed artist.
The former’s relationship with Prince is of particular interest, because the two knew each other ever since they were children. The story often goes that once Prince moved in with Cymone, the two dedicated hours upon hours upon hours refining their craft as musicians.
They were basically brothers, bouncing ideas off of one another and becoming two of Minneapolis’ most promising young musicians. But right as Grand Central (the band created by Prince and Cymone, and featured Dickerson) and Prince’s solo career were taking off, Cymone left. He never gets into detail about what exactly happened between he and Prince, but during the panel he did unearth what seemed to be a contributor to that decision.
Cymone wasn’t acknowledged anywhere on Prince’s debut album, even though he had contributed to the record. The reveal was brief, the conversation continuing on as the group talked about Prince’s first show serving as the opener for the Rolling Stones, but it was something that stuck with me throughout the rest of the panel. Had that been a choice made by Prince? Or an attempt at cultivating the virtuosic, larger-than-life persona we came to know Prince as, through Warner Bros.? Who knows.
But overall, the greatest part of the panel may very well have been Cymone and Dickerson talking about Prince pre-fame. How the Purple One wouldn’t want to go into convenience stores, because he was afraid his “fans” would recognize him, or how he once ran away from Husney as he was trying to fix Prince’s car that was stuck somewhere on a snowy day in Minneapolis, because he didn’t want to be seen.
“He was looking beyond,” Husney said about Prince. Sometimes, it’s strange to hear these stories, because it’s a reminder that Prince was, first and foremost, a human being. That before the mythos, before the stories of serving people pancakes and opting out for a showing of Finding Nemo over a Questlove DJ set, there was Prince Rogers Nelson — a kid that knew he was destined for greatness, and stuck to his convictions in a way that you don’t see from artists nowadays.
After the panel I decided to walk to Fader Fort to see if there was any possible way I could get into the event. Throughout the years Fader Fort has become one of the best parties to attend during SXSW, often featuring surprise acts and performances that contribute to the multi-day event’s charm. Plus, they’ve got free alcohol.
Thanks to a friend I managed to get in, and joined the crowd as they watched Lizzo perform onstage. Lizzo is a necessary artist — her music is fun, with the production upbeat and her vocal delivery animated and lively. But most importantly she’s empowering, a woman that isn’t afraid to celebrate herself and wants women to do the same for themselves.
As I listened to her perform her most popular single, “Good As Hell,” which is the embodiment of her championing of self-love, I looked up her Wikipedia page and learned that she’s from Minneapolis. I’d like to think that Prince would’ve liked her.
With the day turning to evening I met up with another friend so we could go check out a free Prince Tribute being spearheaded by Cymone and Dickerson. The concert was, fittingly, a shred fest, with three different guitarists onstage (Cymone, Dickerson and Micki Free) playing some of Prince’s most popular songs. Wyclef Jean was also there, going back and forth between guitar and percussion.
After Cymone played some new material, the band started off with Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” But the best moment of the night came at the end of the set, when the group went into “Purple Rain.” Honestly, I still can’t hear that song without crying, and when you’re mentally and physically fatigued, as well as a little drunk, it’s even easier to find yourself in tears wondering why one of the world’s greatest artists was taken away from us so soon.
— Okayplayer (@okayplayer) March 18, 2017
Seeing Kweli never gets old, because of how well of a performer and rapper he is. Backed by a full band the artist rapped circles around us with the utmost ease, before finishing his set with crowd-pleaser “Get By.”
Following up Kweli is no easy feat, but D.R.A.M. perfectly capped off the night’s show. All backed by a full band D.R.A.M. showed off his vocal versatility, going from deep-voiced raps to a flawless falsetto, performing everything from “Cute” and “Cash Machine,” to “Broccoli” and “Cha Cha.”
— Okayplayer (@okayplayer) March 18, 2017
I left D.R.A.M.’s show more rejuvenated than I was when I first got there. Maybe it was the coffee I managed to get beforehand (it was definitely that), but I’d also like to think that the artist gave me the energy necessary to make it home after a long and exhausting day. But if that’s not actually the case, well at least with confidence that “Cha Cha” is incredible live.
If you’re looking for real-time coverage of SXSW, or are “looking to build” and “f**k with the vision” while in Austin, make sure to follow Elijah on Twitter (@ElijahCWatson)!