Every year pure insanity comes to Austin, Texas and gives it a bear hug. You may be more familiar with this pure insanity in the form of a music, technology and film festival called South by Southwest. And each year we're always inundated with some very concerned gripes that the festival has gone -- gasp! -- corporate. We live in the United States of America; SXSW was always gonna go corporate and it was always gonna rely on cheap and free labor to get by. Oh, say, can you see.
However, there's at least one event in Austin every year that focuses on the music, the people and the nice weather. It's on the Sunday after most the SXSW crowds have cleared out, and it's a party thrown by The Kessler Theater. Oh, and it's in a mansion, too.
In order to get to the said mansion, you have to take a winding road that's give or take 20 to 30 minutes outside of downtown Austin, where all of the hooplah takes place in mid-March. When I get to the estate, there's a row of cars parked on the grass and when I walk up to the driveway, which is nearly long enough to be a dedicated road, I'm met by a man who offers to take me to the front door on a go-cart. Now this is a party.
The mansion itself is the gaudy type of abode you might expect an actor to own. But its owner isn't an actor, just the middle-aged son of Texas Rangers owner Ray Davis, Jeff Stephen Davis. It's a beautiful home that walks the line between opulent and a breathtaking site with a wonderful location. It sits on the Colorado River, with a river home to match. There's a grand piano in the foyer, an infinity pool, a handful of rooms and classical paintings on the ceiling.
Jeffrey Liles, the artistic director of The Kessler, says they've been throwing this party for three years now. It serves as a retreat from the corporate takeover of SXSW, even though with his operating a music venue in Oak Cliff, that means he can't really hit the ground running on 6th and Red River. On Saturday, the Kessler crew hosted a show in Dallas -- the five-year anniversary of their grand reopening, in fact -- and then packed up and headed to Austin to get the party set up.
Liles says he's been a friend of Davis' for years and threw a show at the legendary Roxy Theatre with him in Los Angeles in 2011. The show featured some Texas acts (Slobberbone and James Hall, who recently opened for Mavis Staples at The Kessler) and was free for anyone with a Texas ID. The next year they brought the same idea to Austin with a homier feel -- if by "home" you mean "mansion." The amenities are synonymous with a top-notch event sponsored by Doritos or Vans: Catered food, an open bar, free cigarettes and even complimentary bathing suits for folks feeling like taking a dip into the pool or hot tub.
Most importantly, though, there's an entire day of music, from 12 p.m. to just before midnight. It's all free to boot, and there aren't any wristbands or badges, either. Word is spread only through social media and word of mouth, as Liles put it, "To keep the SXSW tourists from fucking with it." The bill of artists confirmed to play is stacked with a handful of musicians, including Vaden Todd Lewis, James Hall, Carolyn Wonderland, Carsie Blanton, Dan Dyer, Lily Taylor Music, Betty Soo, Jacob Metcalf, Homer Henderson and Carty Talkington.
Liles says part of the reason he, his Kessler crew and Davis put the party together is to give a showcase to Dallas artists, because SXSW hasn't been all that welcoming to Dallas over the years. However, I suspect that they really just wanted to throw a kickass party in an exceptional house for friends, acquaintances and other Dallas folk. This just so happens to be the perfect time to do it.
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