by Bill Forman
But walk just two blocks north, and there's a different kind of transformation that takes place. A few years ago, the 75 or so bars, clubs and concert halls that serve as official SXSW music venues diversified in an unexpected way with the addition of two Eighth Street churches.
It was there, at the hushed St. David's Historic Sanctuary, that I witnessed revered Duluth band Low (pictured above) in all its quietly intense beauty, and across the street, at the even more hushed Central Presbyterian Church, that I caught Texas-born genius Josh T. Pearson (pictured below).
Pearson's performance was especially dramatic. Combining the introversion of Nick Drake with the on-the-edge eccentricity of Tim Buckley's later years, Pearson found critical acclaim and cult following with his former band Lift to Experience, which enthused BBC legend John Peel so much that he recorded three Peel radio sessions over the course of five months.
After Lift to Experience's short lifespan, Pearson reportedly "spent many years in the wilderness," although he did appear on a Bat for Lashes album and recorded a version of "I'm So Lonesome I could Cry" for a split 7-inch single with the Dirty Three. His music worked well in a church, as did his droll advice to the audience about the the SXSW experience. "Don't get drunk and hangover," he said. "That would ruin it."
Here are some clips of Low and Pearson going to church at SXSW, plus additional footage of Brooklyn indie-rock band the Loom, which also played the Presbyterian: