Thursday, March 21, 2013
Caveman with a van: Stak5 at SXSW
By Stefan Marolachakis ESPN The Magazine
Stephen Jackson at SXSW transforms into rapper Stak5
Editor’s note: Drummer Stefan Marolachakis is traveling the country in a black van with tinted windows, touring for his band Caveman’s eponymous second album. Every week, Stefan will hunt the nation to gather musicians and athletes to discuss the link between the two clans. First stop: Stefan recaps a rapping Spur at SXSW.
For those who don’t know -- and there probably aren’t too many of you left out there at this point -- South by Southwest is the massive annual festival during which the tech, film, and music industries overtake Austin, Texas over the course of 10 days in March and turn the city into a madhouse of food, noise and revelry. During the music leg of the fest every club, bar, restaurant and rickshaw within city limits is overtaken by touring and local bands looking to spread the word and party all day in the process. So yes, the rumors are true: music festivals are pretty entertaining.
This year marked our third trip down to SXSW and, as usual, the fest had no shortage of fun on offer for us. The standout for me had to be the party involving several members of the San Antonio Spurs. The basic inspiration for this column in the first place was the growing sense that the worlds of professional sports and indie music were starting to collide in ways previously unseen, so when our friend Amy Hersenhoren from Collective Concerts in Toronto told me she was throwing a SXSW party with the Spurs, there were many reasons why I knew it would have to be a focal point of our trip -- not the least of which being that Stak5, aka Stephen Jackson of the Spurs, was slated to headline.
I was honestly pretty impressed by Jackson’s performance. The beats were solid, and the appearance by Bun B really took it where it needed to go. My favorite jam had to be "N.B.A." which in this instance stood for "Never Broke Again." As Jackson rapped "I live the life of a ball player/All I do is ball, player," his teammate DeJuan Blair danced side stage as fellow Spur Gary Neal pantomimed popping fadeaway jumpers. Matt Bonner stood stage right bobbing his head and smiling, and most of those in attendance happily radiated a disbelief that what they were watching was actually happening.
Outside the Club Deville after the show, a crowd had assembled outside to marvel at the two-tone Rolls Royce convertible Jackson had left double-parked outside the club. The man has no shortage of showmanship, and he definitely didn't forget to bring it down to SXSW.
The party was helmed by Bonner and his brother, Luke. I caught up with the Spurs’ sharp-shooting forward to talk shop about music, sports, and their SXSW party. “It was just so many positive vibes,” said Bonner. “Everything at our event was free and everybody was having fun, enjoying a great lineup, and it was all for charity. At the end for Stephen Jackson, my teammate, to be there, with half the team up on stage, and Bun B coming out for a few songs ... if you were just a random passerby who happened to wander in, that had to be one of the most unique occurrences in the history of SXSW. It was awesome.”
This is by no means the first charity show Matt and his brother Luke have organized. “After my first year I signed a decent contract, I wanted to start doing some charity stuff, to take advantage of playing in the NBA to do some good for the community,” says Bonner. “So my brother and I started the ‘Sneakers for Speakers’ concept, combining basketball and music for charity. We put on our first concert 2007 in Concord, New Hampshire and have been doing it ever since, culminating with the SXSW show.”
I first became aware of Bonner’s love of music through our mutual friend Dave Hartley, who I met when we toured with his band The War on Drugs. A lot of people in the music world recently got hip to Bonner’s three-point shooting wizardry when Dave initiated the #LetBonnerShoot campaign on Twitter, his bid to get Bonner added to the three-point shooting contest at this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend. The viral trend was a success, garnering mentions from luminaries like Eva Longoria, Arcade Fire, and the governor of the Bonners’ home state of New Hampshire.
“Dave Hartley’s a good friend,” says Bonner. “We first met last year when we were playing in Philadelphia and his publicist contacted our PR director because he wanted to interview me. So we met up, hung out that night, and became friends after that. This year we went back to Philadelphia and got to hang out for the day. Me, him, my brother and Tim Showalter from the Philly band Strand of Oaks snuck into The Palestra on the Penn campus and were shooting hoops in the dark.” (That anecdote will be further explored when I sit down with Dave for a later CWAV installment.)
Being a music devotee, Bonner tried his hand at it at one point, but according to him the results were mixed: “I tried to learn the guitar and worked really hard at it for a year, and have very little to show for it. I’m more of an appreciator of music, a listener. I’d say my personal music revolution happened when I got into indie rock in the early 2000s -- I think it was in ’05 or ’06, I was playing for the Raptors. I remember we were playing the Cavs, and after the game I had a voicemail from my brother saying ‘There’s this band Okkervil River playing at Lee’s Palace. A: They’re a really good band. B: The lead singer’s from New Hampshire.’ People from New Hampshire who venture outside of the state are a close-knit group and we like to support each other. So I wanted to go support my home state and that’s what made me go check it out.”
“I caught a taxi over to Lee’s Palace from the Air Canada center, walked in, and the place was packed. It just blew my mind. This obscure band at the time -- to me, at least, I’d never even heard of them -- was packing this place. You know, up until that point I’d only seen concerts in arenas or stadiums or parks; I’d never had that kind of intimate, small-venue, indie rock experience. I love music, and the fact that this whole world that I had never knew existed ... I couldn’t fathom. I was completely oblivious to the whole indie rock explosion that was just starting at that time. That same year I got to see The Walkmen and Bright Eyes. Seeing those three bands back in ’06 was mind-blowing.”
It was pretty incredible to hear him talk about bands the way we talk about NBA players. When I referenced to him how impressed I am by professional ballplayers, he responded by saying “Yeah, it’s the same thing for me with guys like you, who are in bands. I’m equally mystified and impressed. So it’s definitely a mutual respect.”
“For me it’s an important diversion, an escape from what I do for a living. You know, you’re on the bus stuck in traffic or on a plane -- you get a lot of opportunities to listen to music. So it’s important.” This was an amazing thing to hear, because whenever our band needs a break from music, we listen to games on the radio -- when we’re lucky, our beloved or podcasts about the NBA (the Jalen Rose show being must-listen radio for us).”
And what about when it gets down to specifics? Does he have any teammates that get into the same records he champions? “The only player I’ve ever played with who had any knowledge or concept of indie music would be Brent Barry, and he’s retired now so I’m pretty much on my own. I’ve tried many times to get the guys into indie rock ... it just hasn’t happened.”
CAVE DWELLINGS: Random notes from SXSW
The first of our nine shows was Tuesday night at the RocNation party (which happened to be co-hosted by Jim Pallotta, the Boston Celtics owner. And if you ask Pallota what’s the best job he’s ever had, don’t be surprised if he says working the door at a music bar). Shortly before we took the stage at the legendary Arlynn Studios, we learned that Willie Nelson’s son Lukas had been added to the bill. One thing led to another, and we suddenly found ourselves watching Willie himself play to a room of no more than a hundred people. Wouldn’t have predicted that in a million years, but that’s the nature of the beast in Texas this time of year.
Even though we had eight more shows to play over the next four days, we managed to bounce around town and check out some great bands (the Walkmen, Savages, and Chris Cohen, among them). Game ball goes to my old friend Jesse Williams, who came to Austin for the premiere of the new film They Die By Dawn, in which he stars, and subsequently managed to get me in to see Prince and Tribe Called Quest play a tiny club show. Our perch side stage basically made us de facto members of Prince’s horn section, and what with the bejeweled cane and seemingly endless costume changes (my favorite definitely being the sexy Count Dracula vibe he chose to start out the night), it’s not a concert I’ll be forgetting anytime soon. Not to mention seeing Tribe Called Quest in action again, a group I first saw for my very first concert back on Randall’s Island for Lollapallooza ’94.
Another game ball goes to our friend Ahmed Gallab, who performs under the name Sinkane, for the duet of his song “Runnin’” he did with Usher over at the Fader Fort.
Check out Caveman on tour: 3/22 at the Beauty Bar in Las Vegas, NV // 3/23 at the Cellar Door in Visalia, CA // 3/24 at Blue Lamp in Sacramento, CA // 3/26 at the Independent in San Francisco, CA