Lilly Hiatt, Blank Range Embody Nashville's Best at SXSW - Rolling Stone
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Lilly Hiatt, Blank Range Embody Nashville’s Best at SXSW Showcase

Country chanteuse and raucous country-rockers turn in memorable sets at SXSW’s most unconventional venue

Blank Range, SXSW

Blank Range singer Jonathan Childers performs at SXSW.

Lorne Thomson/Redferns

As the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin, Texas, has a number of live venues that skew toward the unconventional. But the oddest just may be the flagship store of the popular Yeti Coolers, which have become a lyrical go-to for today’s country songwriters eager to illustrate the essential element for a good time: ice-cold beer.

Just in time for South by Southwest, the brand opened the store, with its dedicated performance space, and hosted some of the festival’s more country and Americana-leaning artists. Thirty Tigers, New West Records and Jack White’s Third Man Records all staged events there, with acts ranging from Texas country hero Jason Eady and classic-country stylist Whitney Rose to the high-volume punk power trio fronted by Ron Gallo – who kicked off their set with Gallo reading a snarky prepared statement about South by Southwest’s corporatism before concluding with a nod to the surroundings: “Could this be any cooler?” Cue the groans.

Eady previewed his upcoming eponymous album (due April 21st) with a set of writerly songs in the key of Merle Haggard, full of just-right details. Eady is a thoughtful tunesmith and performer, confident in precisely who he is at this stage of his career – his new album will be his sixth.

Lilly Hiatt, meanwhile, proved she’s more than just the daughter of esteemed roots & roll icon John Hiatt. She’s also one of the finest rising songwriters in the Americana universe. Her set was engaging, nuanced and emotional, much of it delivered with her rocking a Rickenbacker guitar that looked as good as it sounded.

Nashville’s the Whistles and the Bells also turned in a passionate set. With singer Bryan Simpson taking the stage in a medical boot on a broken right foot, he performed with all the fervor of a preacher.

“I like to say I broke it from dunking on three dudes,” he said afterward. “But I did it fighting the music business. It only hurts when I stomp with the songs. I guess I should stop stomping?”

But it was Blank Range, a Nashville country-rock outfit featuring amped-up guitars with occasional steel-guitar atmospherics, plus the sort of precise vocal harmonies rarely heard in guitar-rock nowadays, that demolished the Yeti stage. Singer Jonathan Childers also earned sartorial extra credit by rocking a thrift-store cowboy look with a white-suit-and-hat ensemble that made him appear as if he just escaped from a high-school prom.

“I bought a pair of jeans off a guy at a show in Flagstaff, Arizona,” Childers said after the set. “They were acid-washed, I wanted ’em and the guy said $10. But I gave him 20 since he was taking them off.”

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