Every year, the Fader Fort at SXSW is a watershed event for festival goers, particularly those with small wallets and no badges. Last week’s edition was as insane as ever, with enough free beer to keep you tipsy for four days’ worth of indie hip-hop acts and experimental punk bands. I came, admittedly, for the free beer, and also to see Zola Jesus, about whom I will never stop rhapsodizing. But the Fader Fort is like Hotel California as sponsored by Converse, so if you want to see ZJ at 7:30, you can never, ever leave.
Enter Gary Clark Jr., who performed about two hours before Zola. I had never heard of this guy, and apparently neither had most of the people surrounding me on the old-people sit-down bleachers (we were sharing a jumbo bag of kettle corn—I told you this was Hotel California). I was prepared to be bored, or perhaps entertained by a cute band member, but I was totally caught off guard by how good Clark was. He began his set by shredding like a boss--an old school, hipster Jimi Hendrix–style boss--and the crowd went absolutely nuts. I don’t usually go for straightforward rock music, perhaps because I am still subconsciously rebelling against my dad’s attempts to make me a Springsteen fan in high school (don’t worry, I saw the error of my ways in college), but Gary Clark Jr. won me over within a minute. The Fader audience loved him, too--after his set, people kept yelling "one more song," a thing that does not really happen at these free afternoon concerts where people just want to see whoever’s next and move on to a different venue.
Clark is actually from Austin, unlike nearly everybody else at SXSW, and he is amazing. So amazing, that in 2001, when he was 17 years old, the mayor of Austin proclaimed May 3rd "Gary Clark Jr. Day." Child prodigy much? Anyway, his release The Bright Lights EP ended up on a ton of year-end best-of lists in 2011, and you can listen to it here on Spotify. And if you’re inclined to think he’s super hot, which he totally is, you can watch him in the 2007 movie Honeydripper. Is there anything this man can’t do?
Gary Clark Jr. is on tour this summer. Tour dates here, and video below of Clark doing his thing in 2010.