“Just in case you didn’t know, this is her first gig with a band.”
Guitarist Charlie Sexton introduced Calder Allen, a young singer-songwriter making his ACL Fest debut in Tito’s tent on Sunday afternoon, to a crowd that probably didn’t know Allen. They might have known everyone on stage: in addition to Sexton, whose daily job is to tour with Bob Dylan, the cast included keyboardist Bukka Allen (Calder’s uncle), guitarist Billy Cassis, a section rhythmic ace of bassist Glenn Fukunaga and drummer Conrad Choucroun – and, for the last two songs, violinist Martie Maguire of (formerly Dixie) Chicks.
Calder hasn’t missed a beat. “They make it easy for me, if you can’t tell,” he said with a big smile.
Calder’s grandfather is Terry Allen, a world-renowned songwriter and sculptor from Lubbock, and many of these musicians also play in Terry’s band. There was no way he would make a bad start with these people. But while their presence definitely upped things up, the musicianship ultimately served Calder’s nine American songs.
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Sexton was a big part of the sound, adding harmony vocals and tasteful tracks to back songs that sounded pretty solid for a guy who had just graduated from high school. Seven songs, Maguire joined to the left of the stage, his violin passages adding to the intensity of the last two numbers (one anthemic, the other a slow tune that reached its boiling point in its last minute). This may have been Calder Allen’s first gig, but we’ll likely hear a lot more about it soon.
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It was a family afternoon at ACL Fest: Across Zilker Park, the VRBO scene kicked off their Sunday offerings with Shooks, a local indie rock band led by Charlie’s son Marlon Sexton. They had been around for a few years as Marfa Crush before the recent name change.
It’s almost impossible to watch Marlon on stage without remembering a young Charlie, who made the cover of Spin magazine when he was still a teenager. It can be both a blessing and a curse – the expectations for being Charlie Sexton’s child can be pretty high – but Marlon and his four Shook groupmates seem determined to carve out their own territory.
In fact, if there is a local band that they would likely be compared to, it’s not something that Charlie was involved with, but rather Spoon. Like Britt Daniel, Marlon dresses well, cuts dramatic moves on stage, writes angular punk-pop songs, and sings with a sharp rasp.
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Will Shooks or Calder Allen reach the level of their ancestors? It is too early to tell. Austin has yet to have a next-gen escape like, say, Loudon Wainwright’s son Rufus or Billy Ray Cyrus’ daughter Miley. From a creative perspective, perhaps the best so far is Curtis McMurtry, who has succeeded in large part because his music sounds so different from that of his father, James McMurtry.
For now, the few hundred people who showed up to these concerts in the early afternoon seemed to appreciate what they saw. It’s hard to take your eyes off Marlon when he’s struggling on stage; and those in Tito’s tent gradually realized that they were attending one hell of a night out party for Calder. We will be keeping an eye on both in the months and years to come.