She is stunning. Leaned against the wall outside the hotel. Jeans, jean jacket and designer Chuck Taylors. No heels. Flats.


Long brown hair under a baseball cap. No makeup but eyeliner. Green eyes. Say something. Might as well. We're just sitting here waiting for the shuttle.

Shirley is from Belfast and sounds like it. She works for a label called Small Town America. She's been here a week and leaves tomorrow at the crack of dawn. Headed in to town to fulfill one last commitment.

We talk about music and about Northern Ireland. I want to take Shirley to the Mean Jeans and get fucking twisted on magic. "Let's Pogo Before You Go Go." But I know better than to ask. The timing just ain't right.

In the middle of 6th we say a goodbye. Poof. She's gone. An apparition. An idea? A real person? I fill in the blanks and imagine a perfect woman.

Get going though. Wasn't to be. Go to church.

FULL TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS AFTER THE JUMP - The Lumineers, Mean Jeans, Jimmy Cliff & More

Up to St. David's. The Lumineers. Jon Pareles wrote about them yesterday and he's usually right. Heartfelt, thumping, juggy but blooming American folk. Crowd on a string. Singalong gets a ravishing response.

The velvet voiced Wesley Schultz steps down from the pulpit and into the audience. Strolling down the aisles he is preaching. A sermon about Lumineers' second SXSW, their optimism, his father and playing in church. It is their last show of a cannonball run.

From the back of the church he begins to strum. Drums and cello echo in from their perches in separate corners. He steps up on empty pew and begins to sing.

A gripping performance indeed. Although there are moments I find too kitschy, traditional, or blunt, there is no doubt: The Lumineers are destined to be fucking huge.

OK then. A fine start. On to the next. The Music Editor tells me Turf War are worth seeing. Calamitous, dirty, sunshine rock.

The location is no good. A walk away from The Shit. Fuck it. Just go. Nip at the water bottle full of Monopolowa.

Jesus, is it St. Patrick's Day?

My God, it must be. Green everywhere. All kinds of lousy corporate riff raff. Strip mall, suburb, ADHD junkies. Driving drunk for a night on the town. Tents erected. Awful music, supposedly Irish. Beer garden. Baseball caps, steroids and man tits. Taco Bell. Banana Republic and Guinness. Spray tans, fake tits and green beads. Every one totally oblivious to the World Class party and music festival six blocks west. Accelerate and jackknife on through.

Holy Shit, is that Lil' Wayne?

Up on the second story rooftop. Kinda looks like him. Hard to tell. Sounds like him too. But could it be? The venue looks too small. But who knows? Might as well take a look. Surprise me. After all, I did see him play last week in a mall in Hollywood.

Through the crowded bar, up two flights of stairs and No. Goddamnit. Not again.

Jog up to Turf War to find dudes loading amps into a car out front. They're sweaty. In the afterglow. Fuck!

The door girl offers me a drink ticket, trying to get me to stay in this beat corner of downtown. I take it, order a shot of Makers and move on.

Hoof it back to The Shit. Despite another round of bumbling, wasted and unfulfilled effort, I'm ecstatic. Gulps from the water bottle. Mean Jeans are next.

It doesn't matter that I saw 'em yesterday. I don't care what other bands might be playing. They're that fucking good. That fucking fun. Top of the world pop. Lifers. Fucking brilliant.

They've just started. Place is packed and the pit is pulsing. As everywhere the Jeans, from Portland to LA and beyond, the whole crowd shouts along. The choruses of almost every song and sometimes the verses. Unabashed Anthems. Few can write 'em as tight as this. They might be Bill & Ted, but the Jeans have hit a collective nerve.

All are fucking psyched. Kids win the battle against security guards up front. Show them how rad it is. Tromping through broken glass. The mob lurches into the P.A. With a lighting truss on top it begins to tip. I grab it just before reaching critical mass.

Jäger bombs are lavished to the stage. Christian says he's gonna barf. He shoots them and cringes. It's a long tour, I'm sure. This is the final show. Another special reason to get fucking twisted.

When it's over no one wants it to be. Except maybe the Jeans themselves. But it's to their advantage. Better to play short than long. Always leave 'em wanting more. Something the Jeans clearly must understand. I buy a t-shirt and make my way towards Jimmy Cliff.

Big bastard of a venue. Has the faux traditional sheen of an Outback Steakhouse. Bit of a line. Thank God I have a badge. I feel for the wristbands. Whenever there's a badge line badges are all going first. Wristbands wait and watch us go by. Second class. Steerage. And in this hyper-compressed window, waiting in line is the ultimate clusterfuck.

But it moves and I'm in. A pretty brown-skinned woman is onstage. Light, coffee shop soul. Mall reggae. I get a text from a friend. He's here. Meet me in back.

I step outside and discover a second, massive stage. My God, Austin—just phenomenal. You've made so many million venues. In your service to live music I am taken aback. Even this clunky club. All of 'em. Every one.

Friend and I hurriedly reconnect in anticipation. Cliff opens with "I Can See Clearly Now." Friend and I agree it's a gutsy way to start but it works. Cliff's magnanimous charm envelops us in the open air. Overwhelmed with positive vibes. All the while he grins. Deeply feeling it. So relaxed. Easy going. Stoned to the Bone.

Jimmy Cliff

Playing hits. "You Can Get It If You Really Want." And more. A song about Afghanistan is particularly poignant. A touching moment of earnest, unselfish politics—seemingly quite rare at SXSW. Twenty-four hundred bands and who else is talking about the war?

In terms of the festival's confines, Cliff played a substantial set. Still, it was over quick. No encore to the crowd's dismay.

It's 1:30 AM. Chance for one more. I want to see Kendrick Lamar. Blew it not seeing him the other night. But Goddammit—it's on the East Side. No way I'll make it back there in time. Not again.

Friend suggests a show next door. Givers. Dirty Projector protégés, he says. And the instant the door opens and the sound explodes out I know he's right on.

Pretty young girl and a few boys. Girl leads, playing ukelele, drums and other percussion. Sings all the while. Something sensual about her. Magical. Still, she rocks and pounds and shouts it out. The boy I don't like so much. A little more straightforward. A little less possessed. Emo.

Nonetheless they're doing it. Flawless execution and charisma at full blast. A young, precious, affluent audience goes bananas. Givers respond with vigor and bounce. Shiny shards of warm light. Golden harmonies. Odd meters, shifting tempos and ping pong interplay. Dirty Projectors would be so proud.

And just like that. It was over. Not just the show. SXSW.

Out in the middle of The Shit a pall befell the once-ecstatic crowd. Insatiable thirsts were not quenched.

I feel as if I've blown it.

At the same time, competition has been lurking throughout. Not just for the bands, who benefit, but in the media-centric nature of the SXSW itself. A balls-out arms race between new media assholes, new age beverages, poachers and king makers, street cred, hipster salvation, and the knowledge that for everything I saw I missed eighty things that were better.

Goddamnit. I don't need competition in my music.