Artist Spotlight: South By Southwest (No, Not That One)

I expect this to be among the most unusual of Artist Spotlights we’ve done. To my knowledge, no previous entry in this series has been about a Country act, no previous entry in this series has been done about an artist without national recognition and acclaim, and no previous entry in this series has been about a musician that was a family friend of its writer. This will also be an unusual spotlight in its structure– though I do know Michael Hearne a little bit, I don’t personally know him well enough to have much knowledge of the history of South By Southwest’s members and careers direct from the source, and they are small and obscure enough that the online research I might normally undertake is impossible. Instead, I’m going to take this opportunity merely to serve as an introduction for an artist that is deeply personal to my father and to me– for God’s sake, they played at one of my father’s weddings!– and allow their music to speak for itself– and for the beauty of our shared home state of New Mexico.

South By Southwest (And yes, they had that name before the music festival) are possibly my father’s favorite band on Earth. They consist of guitarist, lead singer, and songwriter Michael Hearne from Taos, NM by way of Dallas, bassist Zeke Severson, of Santa Fe, (whom I very nearly took lessons from as a teenager), and Carmen “Ace” Acciaioli of Amarillo, TX, vitruoso of steel guitar, fiddle, mandolin, dobro, and hammered dulcimer. Fellow Taos local musician Jimmy Stadler often plays with them live as either a fourth member or when Carmen can’t make it up from Texas. Hearne is also renowned as a singer-songwriter solo artist, and as the organizer of Taos’s Big Barn Dance music festival.

Musically they play primarily a very old-school take on folk-country, with elements of Texan Swing, but their oeuvre features songs in every American folk genre from bluegrass to zydeco to rock and roll. I often compare them to the Grateful Dead’s more country-influenced periods, both musically and because, like the Dead, they have an extremely loyal army of fans who attend shows as regularly as possible– made much easier by the fact that it is rare for them to tour outside the southwest. In fact, their cover of “Me and My Uncle” is the one I was raised on– I never knew it was by the Dead originally until I was a teenager.  I offer it to you as the first song on our program, along with a couple songs from each of their albums, and a few other songs– mostly from Hearne’s solo material, that they sometimes cover live, in an order I might expect them to play them. For the best experience, listen outside or in a pavilion tent with someone who can Two-Step.