AUSTIN, Texas – The 24th annual South by Southwest Music Conference began somberly as word spread throughout this gathering of 13,000 artists and industry professionals that the iconoclastic singer-songwriter Alex Chilton had died. But in the early morning hours of March 21, South by Southwest came roaring to a celebratory close with some of Chilton’s closest friends singing and performing one of his greatest songs.
“September Gurls,” a classic song from Chilton’s days leading the Memphis band Big Star, rang out at Antone’s, one of this music city’s most revered clubs. On vocals were Susan Cowsill, R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and the Watson Twins. Jon Auer was on guitar, joined by Andy Hummell, one of the founding members of Big Star who had not played publicly in decades. Ken Stringfellow played bass, anchoring the rhythm section with Big Star co-founder Jody Stephens, who smiled wanly as he attacked the drums. The song capped a night of glorious music, the type of music – melodic, yearning, concise – that can transform a wake into a celebration.
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