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SXSW 2019: the return to Austin and David Byrne vs. Lance Bass – 13th March 2019 (Wednesday, part 1)

 
By on Tuesday, 26th March 2019 at 11:00 am
 

Reflecting on my eighth SXSW in a row, there are some things about the Music portion of SXSW that are self-evident. One of those things is that there is no good or bad time to arrive for the music festival. Regardless when you choose to touch down in Austin, there are going to be things you have missed, but there will be plenty more amazing things to come. Covering the event alone for TGTF this year, my decision to arrive on Wednesday was primarily a financial one: I stayed in the thick of it, on a hotel on East 4th Street for 4 days, trading number of days for location.

Our pilot on our flight from Baltimore landed us admirably through choppy, bumpy turbulence (cue motion sickness, nearly) and before our scheduled arrival time. Despite this, it took longer to get my badge this year, longer than I could ever remember it taking in past years. The badge pickup area was noticeably much smaller and with less staff than in previous years, though everyone I interacted with was in good spirits and helpful. By the time all was said and done, it was 1 PM, halfway through the two SXSW Conference sessions I’d noted on my schedule: David Byrne and his Reasons for Being Cheerful keynote at the Hilton or Lance Bass in the convention center, both of which I previewed here. Knowing that Byrne’s keynote would likely be videotaped and available to everyone later – I was right, you can watch it in the embed below – I decided to go with the *NSYNC star instead.

A music journo choosing Lance Bass over David Byrne probably sounds like a major mistake. Bass was in town for the premiere of The Boy Band Con, a YouTube documentary he coproduced on Lou Pearlman, the boy band impresario who launched the careers of *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, O-Town and many others but who was ultimately brought down by the American legal system when his fraud and racketeering activities were brought to light. Check out the film trailer below. It’s interesting to learn than it was Bass who was able to get so many past professional singer associates of Pearlman’s to participate in the documentary, winning them over by explaining that the film would be about their stories as it would be about the man who ultimately swindled them.

I was a massive boyband fan back in the day. The other day, an *NSYNC song came on Sirius XM radio in my car (‘God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You’, if you wanted to know) and I was shocked I still knew all the words. For a good portion of my formative years, while I dealt with some family and health issues, music was the only world available to me that I could escape into. I still have all the hand gestures and dance moves to ‘Bye Bye Bye’ memorised. I’d watch the kids go crazy over their favourite bands on TRL on MTV here in America and for that hour the show was on, I could pretend I was like everybody else. It sounds cliched, but when you’re young and you feel like a total misfit, any sense of belonging is welcome. Thinking along those lines, it is incredibly sad that at the same time that while his band brought joy and inclusion to their fans, all the while Lance Bass had to hide who he was and for so many years.

I suppose it’s no surprise that his sexuality was a major point during his conversation with Homophilia podcast hosts Dave Holmes and Matt McConkey. Despite years of discomfort and “playing a character” who wasn’t who he was at all, Bass is now comfortable in his own skin and an advocate for the LGBT community. He spoke of the time he proposed to his now husband Michael Turchin in what he thought would be a beautiful place to make a romantic overture in New Orleans. Unfortunately, the mood was broken by an overzealous fan who apparently wouldn’t go away and completely missed the fact that they were in the middle of something.


photo of Lance Bass from his Facebook page

Although I was only in attendance for the second half of the session, I’d argue that I probably saw the better half. Audience members took turns at the mike on the floor. A young gay man from Mississippi thanked Bass for his visibility, saying that having him as a role model gave him the confidence to be himself. (Who brought the onions?) A female fan asked what Bass thought of social media and if he wished it had been around when *NSYNC hit it big. He described as a double-edged sword. He was glad that it hadn’t been around because anything stupid they did would have instantly spread like wildfire, and he insisted that it would have been something said or done by his bandmate (and resident big mouth) Joey Fatone who would have probably caused the most problems, which elicited huge laughs. On the flipside, Bass said that if social media had been around, he would probably have over a million followers on Twitter by now, which would make promoting any of his work that much easier.

Another thought-provoking question Bass was asked was about his stance on religion, specifically given the fact that he was raised Southern Baptist in rural Mississippi. He said he still considers himself a Christian and called out the mainstream Christian church for being “fake Christians”, which I took to mean their ultra-conservative beliefs that have excluded and shunned the LGBT community. While I think we all expected such a response from a worldwide-known celebrity whose family and fans support him, it drives home how poisonous the massive divide in American Christianity on the issue of sexual orientation, among many other close-minded beliefs and teachings, really is. When will we as a nation, and as part of the global community, rise above these differences and embrace them as part of what truly makes America great?

I feel sure that Bass’ faith is behind his ability to have forgiven Pearlman after all that he did to him and *NSYNC. Lance Bass has moved well past what might have led to a dark ending for him, instead living his authentic life and being a true role model of what it looks like after you overcome adversity.

 

TGTF Guide to SXSW 2019: this year’s recommended keynotes and speakers

 
By on Wednesday, 6th March 2019 at 11:00 am
 

Every year without fail, you can count on the SXSW Conference to bring you an illuminating parade of industry visionaries and artists speaking next month in Austin. In a few weeks, there will be an awe-inspiring selection of sessions to sit in on and engage with as part of 2019’s Conference. Below is just a smattering of what music programming is on offer this year.

A$AP Rocky and Gorden Wagener (Monday, 11 March, 12:30 PM) – The announcement of A$AP Rocky as a SXSW 2019 showcasing artist has been huge. Quite possibly as huge is his session on the 11th of March to discuss his success with development and sales of his own athletic wear and accessories. (You can check out a recent interview he did with Los Angeles radio station Power 106 before a live appearance at the Forum.) Joining him in this session is Gorden Wagener of Daimler AG, responsible for directing everything related to the customer experience at Mercedes-Benz. The importance of creativity, branding and fans and followers will no doubt be discussed in this session.

T-Bone Burnett (Wednesday, 13 March, 11 AM) – He may not be a household name you recognise, but you definitely know his work. Musician, producer and songwriter T-Bone Burnett has composed the soundtracks for countless films and produced many albums, including those that launched the careers of Counting Crows and Los Lobos while helping reinvent and relaunch those of Gregg Allman and Roy Orbison. Burnett will be releasing his 13th album ‘The Invisible Light’ in April, so he’ll be chomping at the bit to talk about his newest work.

David Byrne (pictured at top) (Wednesday, 13 March, 12:30 PM) – The former frontman of Talking Heads and multi-award winner will be speaking about Reasons to Be Cheerful, a platform to drive social change he launched last year. The purpose of the Web site is to give people the tools and information to make changes locally to social issues as diverse as climate and energy to transportation. For a taste of what Byrne might talk about, I’ve embedded below a talk Byrne gave in early January 2018 at the New School in New York City.

Lance Bass (Wednesday, 13 March, 12:30 PM) – You remember him, Lance was the blond bass singer in *NSYNC. In case you somehow missed this, since his former ‘90s boyband’s implosion, he has become an actor of stage and screen and a gay activist. He even had a turn on Dancing With the Stars. Perhaps it’s surprising that his appearance at SXSW 2019 will be to talk about his current career as a film and tv producer. Like Madonna, Cher and many other legends in the music business, he’s proven resilient in successfully reinventing himself, his time as *NSYNC fading into the distance.

Shirley Manson and Lauren Mayberry (keynote; Thursday, 14 March, 11 AM) – These two female titans of Scottish music will be appearing at Thursday morning’s Music keynote. It’s being presented in association with PRS Foundation’s Keychange programme and will be centred on discussions about “creativity, the music industry and the female identifying narrative.” Both have been outspoken on feminism and and equality in the business; below, watch an interview with Mayberry at Australian music festival Splendour in the Grass.

Laura Jane Grace (Thursday, 14 March, 2 PM) – Formerly the founder and frontman of punk band Against Me!, Grace is a transgender musician who has become a role model for those struggling with gender identity and dysphoria. With her new band Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers, Grace is headed in a decidedly more intimate direction with her first solo album. The changes in her life over the last 6 to 7 years have thrust her more into the public limelight, and I’m sure she’ll be using this platform at SXSW 2019 to revisit key events, as well as discuss the music she’s making while Against Me! is on hiatus.

Björn Ulvaeus and Niclas Molinder (Thursday, 14 March, 3:30 PM) – Ulvaeus is best known as a Swedish songwriter and producer of international giants ABBA and the co-composer of Mamma Mia! and other Broadway musicals. He will be making a stop at SXSW 2019 along with Niclas Molinder; both are cofounders, along with famed pop songwriter and producer Max Martin and manager Ash Pournouri, of Auddly. Auddly is described on the SXSW Web site as “rapidly setting the standard for how music creators, their collaborators and their representatives are identified along with accrediting their contributions in compositions and recordings.” A worthy enterprise, indeed. Ulvaeus seems like such a great interviewee, as evidenced from the BBC One Show clip from last year below.

Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond (keynote; Friday, 15 March, 11 AM) – The surviving members of seminal NYC hip-hop trio Beastie Boys will be stopping by SXSW this year for the Friday morning keynote session during the Music part of the SXSW Conference. Late last year, Horovitz and Diamond released Beastie Boys Book, 6 years on from the untimely death of their bandmate Adam “MCA” Yauch.

Ross Golan (Friday, 15 March, 11 AM) – Like T-Bone Burnett described above, Ross Golan isn’t exactly a name that will ring too many bells but I can guarantee you’ve heard and appreciate his work. Golan penned Ariana Grande’s ‘Dangerous Woman’ and 5 Seconds of Summer’s ‘Mrs. All American’, among others. However, I don’t think Golan will be in Austin to rest on his songwriting laurels and will be speaking on something else near and dear to many artists and managers’ hearts. He’s a major champion of the Music Modernization Act, which was signed into U.S. law last October and aims to move forward with better best practices in issues of copyright in the digital age. He’ll be discussing this, along with the future of songwriting.

As always, the schedule of events at SXSW 2019 is subject to change. For the most up-to-date information on the SXSW Conference, visit SXSW’s official Web site.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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