Chasing Amy Winehouse

Last year, it was Lady Sovereign. This year, it was supposed to be Lily Allen. But boozy blues chanteuse Amy Winehouse was the name that emerged as the next hot U.K. diva-to-be at SxSW. We're happy to say we saw her a few times. We're sorry to say that none of those times was on stage.

Prior to the music kickoff at SxSW, rumors circulated that Winehouse had canceled her performances. We knew that wasn't true on Wednesday night, because we saw Winehouse in the lobby of the hotel where she's staying. It was 10:30 p.m., and we were outside the hotel doors, smoking and bemoaning Austin's ban on puffing inside public places when a white van pulled up.

Out climbs Winehouse, along with a huge black guy who we presumed to be her bodyguard. She was all smiles and waves with us, looking happy and sober. The next time we saw her, she looked a little pissed and ripped.

We missed Winehouse's performance at Eternal on Thursday night because the line to get into the venue stretched across 6th Street and down the sidewalk. We missed Winehouse's performance at La Zona Rosa on Friday night because we couldn't haul ass fast enough from another venue to get there before her set ended.

But at around 2:30 a.m. on Friday night/Saturday morning, we were standing outside the hotel smoking again when Winehouse came staggering up by herself. She wasn't smiling this time.

Her big black bouffant hairdo was a little disheveled, and her black Elvira eyeliner was starting to run down her face. We wanted to stop her and ask her what it felt like to be "the next big thing," but she looked really tired and somewhat pissed. Besides, we figured we'd have a chance to talk to her and see her perform on Saturday afternoon -- she was supposed to play at the private NY2London Party that Le Tigre was hosting at Habana Calle. We'd RSVP'd for the party two weeks before SxSW, figuring that even if we missed Winehouse's scheduled performances, we'd have this last chance to see her sing.

Well, Winehouse canceled. No one knows why. Most people speculated that she was drunk, hungover, or hungover and drunk.

On Saturday night, we ran into Winehouse again, this time at a tent show off 6th street and Red River. She wasn't performing; she was just hanging out, with another woman leading her around by the hand. So we took the opportunity to finally approach her.

"Hi, Amy. Can I get a picture with you, please? I've been trying to see you perform all week, and I haven't been able to."

Winehouse's response was a dirty look and silence. She kept walking as if we weren't even there. So we left, secure in the knowledge that Winehouse already has the whole bitch/diva attitude down (at least on this night; maybe she's nicer when she's not being touted as "The Shit" at a massive music festival).

So we never saw her perform, and have had to rely on feedback from those who did catch one of her shows. Here's some hearsay:

(From a woman who saw her Friday night): "She was really good. She had a great backing band, too, and some backup singers that were doing some cool moves. She's got a great voice."

(From a fellow music critic who saw her twice): "She's not much of a performer. She's got a great voice, but she hides behind the microphone."

Well, so much for catching Winehouse's performances. But there's always the hotel lobby. Maybe we can buy her some drinks and get an a cappella performance in the elevator before she blows town. Provided she's not in "future star" mode again.

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