Frequently, in attempt to hear one act, you would wind up hearing somebody you never expected and wouldn't have given a thought about otherwise. Showing up to hear Neil Young, for instance, I stumbled into a session featuring Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel talking about the need for the development of cultural opportunities in urban planning for big cities. I could get a couple articles just on the part of that discussion I heard, but I was so stunned (not to mention sleep deprived) that I didn't turn my recorder on and lost a good bit of the conversation.
The biggest and best surprise of that type at the festival a performance by Austin Samba drummers and dancers at the Mexican American Cultural Center at the far end of Rainey Street. I had arrived early to hear the Mexican Institute of Sound. Just as I walked in, the dancers in their costumes were lining up and within minutes the drumming started.The Austin Samba School is the largest samba club in the U.S., counting over 40 drummers and 60 dancers in its membership. The performers cleared the audience from the large area in front of the stage and went right on, the audience getting involved, for a full 45 minutes as the sun set, the stage lights came on and the full moon rose over Austin. It wasn't the most expert dancing, but it was passionate and authentic. Samba is often described as sexy, but its really has a lot more to do with power and muscle. For a musician like myself, the Brazilian rhythms in the drumming were worth more than the price of admission (free, by the way, but I would have paid). But the dancers, particularly the white-gowned queen seen above, gave the performance a sense of physicality and joyous, almost religious ritual. Corny, hilarious, awkward, beautiful, totally delightful -- bottom line: I couldn't have asked for a better show right then.