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SXSW Review: Austin 360 Review - Ponderosa Stomp Showcase

Review: Ponderosa Stomp showcase
By John T. Davis | Saturday, March 15, 2008, 02:02 PM

It’s one of life’s piquant little mysteries how a myriad collection of has-beens, never-quite-weres and one-hit wonders can deliver such a satisfying package of entertainment at a forward-looking event like South by Southwest.

But for the third year running, the Ponderosa Stomp — the New Orleans-based traveling festival of roots music, soul, R&B, swamp pop and blues — served up a full plate of veteran performers who relished the chance to get onstage once more before a sweaty, dancing, beer-drinking, downright happy crowd. The festival exists, as their Web site says, to “celebrate the unsung heroes of rock ‘n’ roll.” And so they do. The Stomp is “all killer and no filler,” as they used to say.

The event ran all night at the Continental Club (the parent festival goes for a jam-packed two days next month in New Orleans), and I had other obligations around town and so was able to catch only a woefully small fraction of the festivities.

That was enough time, however, to see some sizzling performances from Herbert Wiley, guitarist Herman Hitson and Ralph “Soul” Jackson (“Soul is his name and soul is his game!” raved the overheated emcee). There wasn’t, alas, an opportunity to see the great Philly soul singer Barbara (“Yes, I’m Ready”) Mason or Little Freddie King or the Flaming Arrows Mardi Gras Indians.

Still, there was enough visual spectacle and charismatic, danceable music for a half dozen SXSW showcases. Between Herbert Wiley’s red zoot suit, Herman Hitson shredding notes on his vintage Strat and Ralph Jackson working the room like a tent-show preacher with the Devil breathing down his neck, it was hard to single out individual moments and performances.

But Hitson helped define the prevailing zeitgeist when he paused in the middle of a song to ponder the ineffable nature of the human heart: “She may look like dried-up hamburger to you, but she’s T-bone steak to someone else!” Even Cole Porter couldn’t have said it better.
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