Photo by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
SXSW can be very unpredictable at times, and it’s best to roll with the punches. Case in point: the illustrious Lianne La Havas had to bow out of KUTX Live at the Four Seasons at the last minute, but Billy Bragg was able to fill in. This wasn’t Bragg’s first SXSW rodeo, either. The British folksinger can often be found in Austin in mid-March, either performing at the festival or the Travis County Correctional Center as a part of his Jail Guitar Doors initiative. He generally goes where his acoustic guitar takes him, and that guitar has taken him a lot of places.
Bragg started out as the frontman for a variety of punk bands in the late ’70s, but he soon was busking his songs on the streets of London for anyone that would listen. After catching the ear of record labels, Bragg made his solo debut in 1983. He scored a hit with “A New England” when British singer Kirsty MacColl took it to number seven on the UK charts, and soon Bragg became a household name. Since his beginnings, he’s mixed the political with the romantic, so it made sense when Bragg teamed up with Wilco in 1998 to tackle Woody Guthrie’s unused lyrics for the Mermaid Avenue records. His influence spreads across generational and social lines; he’s as comfortable performing in a nightclub as a prison.
Bragg tackled an early-morning ballroom crowd at the Four Seasons during SXSW, drawing from his thirty-year career for a decade-spanning set list. He even played a few from his recently-released twelfth album, Tooth & Nail, including today’s song of the day. On “Handyman Blues,” Bragg jokes that he’s not handy around the house, but he proved the exact opposite by filling in on a moment’s notice and mesmerizing the eager crowd.