You may have heard: a little music festival by the name of South by Southwest is happening in Austin, Texas, this week.
Over the past couple of decades, the annual gathering has brought together a motley crew of stylish musicians—spanning the eras of grunge to rap to whatever it is we’re calling that thing where a skinny guy playing a tambourine wears a trilby and suspenders with a white T-shirt—so we thought we’d take a look back at the festival’s illustrious history of onstage fashion.
People tend to forget that well into the ’50s and ’60s, before rock and roll really took hold, jazz musicians were still the epitome of subculture cool—and they’d gotten even cooler since the raucous ’20s of ragtime in speakeasies.
So when Charlie Parker hit the West Coast for a string of gigs in 1951 and chose an up-and-comer by the name of Chet Baker to play with him, a new subculture star was born. He may never get the biopic treatment like Ray or Cash, but his story runs about the same—just swap in a trumpet and Baker’s magnificent head of hair.
Chet spent his formative years in the Army and was still sporting the preppy civilian style he’d picked up on base during his rise to stardom. And you can see documents of the style continue in his wardrobe as his life visibly unraveled—succumbing to the same vices that plagued most of the greats at the time (which, sadly, he would never fully get over). He was a jazz legend, a stylish dude and an all-around badass...
It was with great pleasure that we were able to witness a bona fide Kempt style icon on stage last weekend. Yes, Huey Lewis, who delivered his famous brand of News, on the 30th-anniversary tour of his seminal album, Sports.
(The weather, by the way, was fantastically humid.)
Looking very much his handsome self performing for a black-tie benefit at the Saint Louis Zoo of all places, Lewis and the News brought it hard, with what could only be called a barrage of certified hits, those songs that everyone knows as soon as the first chord drops. “I Want a New Drug,” “If This Is It,” “Heart and Soul,” the list went on. A little “Power of Love” here. Some “Stuck with You” there. Sadly, Gwyneth couldn’t make it for a “Cruisin’” reprise.
The red carpet at a music awards show is often host to the most egregious of questionable fashion choices—mostly because musicians have never been ones to shy from experimentation or making statements.
Which is why we were happy to learn that a few prudent musicians chose to wear Billy Reid—it paid off especially for the Mumford boys as they collected the big award of the night, looking like the sort of guys you’d want to hear crooning with banjos despite their British accents. The other group that wore Billy’s stuff was equally well suited for the task, being fellow Southern natives, the Alabama Shakes. Even their songstress, Brittany Howard, wore a custom-made dress from Reid—lest you forget the man has mastered both sides of the aisle.
Long ago, in a mythical place known as Minneapolis, a baby named Prince Rogers Nelson was born. The ancient texts don’t mention whether he came out wielding a guitar and wailing in a dolphin-like falsetto (but it’s safe to assume he did).
There’s a fine sartorial line between Neil Young and, say, Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazzard. Both subscribe to function over form. Rather than laying out tomorrow’s clothes the night before, more often than not they simply wear last night’s clothes tomorrow. If they own mirrors, they’re of the rear-view variety. Neither is particularly attractive, yet both are widely beloved.