On Saturday, the final day of South by Southwest, the news of rock ‘n’ roll innovator Chuck Berry’s death at age 90 rocked Austin, Texas. Soon the man’s music was pouring out of PA systems across town, from the Sidewinder club in the Red River District to the vintage-vinyl blues store Antone’s Records. And with a good number of the festival’s 1,700-plus gigging artists owing a massive debt to the legend, it was inevitable and fitting that Berry tributes would pop up all over the “Live Music Capital of the World.”
Shortly before Saturday night’s Bud Light x The Roots SXSW Jam Session, Roots bandleader Questlove tweeted a photo of Berry performing on Soul Train with the caption: “Thou Shall Have No Other Rock Gods Before Him. #ChuckBerry RIP.” And later at the event (which featured performances by Brandy, De La Soul, T.I., Method Man & Redman, T.I., Rae Sremmurd, Jidenna, Shakey Graves, and many other all-stars), the Roots paid their respects with a fun, funky, and furious “Johnny B. Goode,” complete with knee-dropping guitar solo by Kirk Douglas. (Another Roots & Friends performer, rising hip-hop star Nick Grant, told the capacity crowd, “When [losing a legendary artist] happens, you always lose a piece of yourself.”)
Amazing how the Roots put together a Chuck Berry tribute hours after he passed
— sxsw szn. (@artomatik) March 19, 2017
Brotherly band Hanson headlined the Southwest Invasion mini-festival (held on on the roof of Austin’s Whole Foods grocery store) only about an hour after Berry’s passing was announced. But since they launched their career 25 years ago covering the songs they heard as kids on oldies radio stations, they of course had a Chuck tribute ready to go — breaking out their own spirited version of “Johnny B. Goode,” which they originally recorded in 1992, that was very, very good indeed. (Incidentally, this wasn’t Hanson’s first tribute performance at SXSW 2017: On Thursday, they played a full set of fellow Oklahoman Leon Russell covers at the Grammy Block Party.)
— Laura Furr (@lfurr) March 19, 2017
Apparently “Johnny B. Goode” was the go-to Berry cover song this Saturday. Over at the famous Yard Dog art gallery on South Congress, Mekons veteran’s Jon Langford alt-country outfit the Waco Brothers, who learned of Berry’s death just five minutes before they were slated to perform, kicked off their set with that classic. And Melbourne blues-rock troubadour Hamish Anderson (one of Yahoo Music’s picks for top 10 new artists of 2016) also performed the standard at BD Riley’s “Sounds of Australia” showcase — because, obviously, the sound of Chuck Berry is universal.
Revered Louisiana swamp-rock musician C.C. Adcock and his band the Lafayette Marquis, however, went with a different vibe — performing a vivacious, celebratory cover of Berry’s 1964 song “The Promised Land” over at Austin’s world-famous blues club Antone’s. “There wouldn’t be no rock ‘n’ roll, there wouldn’t be no records, there wouldn’t be no rock ‘n’ roll business if it hadn’t have been for Chuck Berry,” Adcock proclaimed. “We’re going to do one that’s a favorite down home.”
CC Adcock and friends pay tribute to Chuck Berry with a joyous The Promised Land. RIP Chuck. pic.twitter.com/XmSbMLlL67
— Kent Wolgamott (@KentWolgamott) March 19, 2017
Rootsy/garage-y Philly punk artist Ron Gallo didn’t perform an actual Berry song, but he opened his late-afternoon show at Waterloo Records by rightfully pointing out, “We wouldn’t have this festival without Chuck Berry. We wouldn’t have any of these bands.”
And Texas country crooner Sunny Sweeney gave her own sweet shoutout while opening for Garth Brooks’s free show at Auditorium Shores. Performing her remake of outlaw country singer Jerry Jeff Walker’s “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight,” she placed just a little more bittersweet emphasis on the line, “I don’t play Chuck Berry quite as much as I’d like.” But plenty of musicians were playing Chuck Berry’s music in Austin this weekend, and everyone seems to like it very much.
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