Conference Call

Country Artists Make Their Presence Felt at South By Southwest Music Conference

Kay Clary, who represents new country artist Clay Davidson, knows that this week’s South By Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas, represents a rare opportunity to get the young artist in front of journalists who could lend valuable support to his career.

“You can stand on a street corner, swing a stick and hit 10 writers,” says Clary of the annual event, which gets underway today (March15) and continues through Saturday. Just being at the conference and playing in the music festival can lend credibility to an artist’s resume.

Davidson, from Saltville, Va., will be one of several country-oriented artists performing during the weekend festival, which features music of every genre. Terri Clark will preview songs from her upcoming album in a special acoustic performance.

Others making appearances include Country Music Hall of Fame member Ray Price, the Derailers, the Cornell Hurd Band, Don Walser & Pure Texas, Clay Blaker, Rick Trevino, Emilio, Billy Joe Shaver, Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch and Wanda Jackson.

Also on the slate: Ronny Cox, Phil Lee, Jim Lauderdale, Kim Richey, Shelby Lynne, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, The Hollisters, Mike Ireland & Holler, Hank Williams III, Ed Burleson, Jo-El Sonnier and Eric Heatherly.

From the mountainous, southwestern part of Virginia, Davidson has never been to Texas. He’ll play at 11 p.m. Thursday at the Broken Spoke — Austin’s most prominent country venue — on a bill with four Texans.

Less than a week ago, Davidson made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, performing his debut single, “Unconditional.” Forty family members and friends came to see his performance.

“Every emotion I had inside me came to the surface,” Davidson said later. “I felt like I was going to explode!”

“Unconditional” sits at No. 33 on Billboard’s most recent country singles chart, so country radio programmers have embraced him already. In April, Davidson will begin touring with George Strait on his 10-date stadium tour.

His South By Southwest appearance should help build anticipation for Davidson’s album, to be released by Virgin on April 11. If he turns in a strong performance, some of the writers in attendance could become journalistic disciples for his cause.

Clark’s fourth album won’t appear on Mercury until August, at the earliest, but the tall Canadian singer is making the most of her visit to Austin. In addition to her solo acoustic performance, set for midnight CT tonight (March 15) at Antone’s (a venue better-known for presenting blues), she’ll appear at the Austin Rodeo, and she’ll speak at 2 p.m. Friday on a music panel, “Artists Only,” at the Austin Convention Center. Sharing the podium with Peter Case, Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Byrds’ founder Roger McGuinn, ex-Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan and former Talking Head Bernie Worrell, Clark will discuss artists’ concerns in the face of technological change and consolidation in the music industry.

Steve Earle will give the keynote address at this year’s conference. He’ll speak at 10:30 a.m. CT Thursday at the convention center. Past addresses by Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Nick Lowe, Lucinda Williams and others have mixed music and spoken reflection. An outspoken opponent of the death penalty, Earle no doubt will take aim at capital punishment, since Texas has a high execution rate, and Earle’s home state of Tennessee is fast approaching its first execution in many years.

Among other country artists and representatives of the country music industry speaking on panels during the daytime music conference are Jim Lauderdale, Terry Radigan and Kim Richey, all of Nashville, who’ll join Ryan Adams of Whiskeytown and J.D. Souther on a panel titled “How Many Songwriters Does It Take to…” about songwriting, moderated by BMI’s Roger Sovine. Other panels will examine the legacies of Woody Guthrie and Townes Van Zandt.