AUSTIN -- Let's begin at the end.
This year's South by Southwest was dominated by well-known acts, many of whom descended upon the capital city Saturday. The attention being paid to the likes of Justin Timberlake, Smashing Pumpkins and Prince squeezed out some of the up-and-comers, but it was possible to balance the star wattage with the happy discoveries. Here's a look back at my time on the ground at this year's SXSW.
Prince just kept coming back.
First one encore, then another, and then another. ("You got somewhere to be?" he asked after the second encore. "You got a curfew?") The hour was nigh on 3 a.m. before Prince finally relinquished the expansive stage inside La Zona Rosa. The Minneapolis musical polymath just couldn't help himself.
The exuberant music spilled off the stage and into the exclusive audience -- Samsung, which bankrolled the much-anticipated evening to cap off a week at South by Southwest spent promoting its new Galaxy smartphone, only allowed 1,300 into the club in downtown Austin for an unforgettable finale to the 27th annual SXSW music festival and conference.
Shortly after midnight, Prince, backed by a 40-foot-long LED screen and flanked by a 22-piece band, launched into a set that showcased his hits (1999 was an early, face-melting highlight) and a smart array of covers, including Michael (Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough) and Janet (What Have You Done For Me Lately?) Jackson. He even dipped into the Time's catalog, giving Jungle Love a full-tilt workout, and generally showed up almost every other act who set foot on a stage in Austin over the previous five days.
Other SXSW highlights:
I was unfamiliar with Guatemalan troubadour Gaby Moreno, but I came away from her short set Tuesday night a fan. The easy shorthand is a Spanish-speaking Norah Jones, but Moreno's sound is more expansive than mere jazz-pop. She spun out a sultry Spanish-language blues, and her lilting voice was cradled by her ace backing band. Hers was easily my favorite performance of the night.
I zipped over to the Moody Theatre at ACL Live, bracing myself for crowds, but was startled to find almost no one. I was there to see Dixie Chick Natalie Maines make her solo debut. ... Maines took the stage with special guest Ben Harper (who co-produced Maines' forthcoming solo debut, Mother) and Fort Worth's Justin Pate tagged along on keys. Maines, her hair mashed into a faux-hawk, was in fine voice in a tasteful selection of covers, including a gorgeous reading of Jeff Buckley's Lover You Should Have Come Over and Patty Griffin's Silver Bell.
I began my third night with a one-two North Texas punch that left me dazed and thrilled. Fort Worth's the Longshots are one of the most impressive local acts I've seen in a while, ripping through one punk-stained rave-up after another. Likewise, Cleburne's Fungi Girls bashed out frenetic rock songs that pulled the room toward them like a magnet.