AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Stars of all stripes and celebrity hit town to close out South By Southwest, but it was a marching band that stole the show Saturday.
Members of the Austin High band watched their star turn in the premiere of filmmaker Emmett Malloy's "Big Easy Express," then joined documentary subjects Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes and Old Crow Medicine Show in an outdoor concert at the University of Texas as the music conference fell into an exhausted heap on its final night.
Across town, Timbaland held a listening party at Perez Hilton's annual to-do. Norah Jones played her new album for an appreciative group of fans. Matthew McConaughey joined The Cult during a free concert. Punk rock icon Bob Mould played "Copper Blue" in its entirety, bringing out the graybeards. And Peter Buck and Mike Mills of R.E.M. joined The Posies and Blitzen Trapper in one final tribute to Big Star frontman Alex Chilton, who passed away two years ago as he was due to participate in SXSW.
Rumors of celebrity appearances swirled up and down Sixth Street, but few of them materialized as St. Patrick's Day revelers clogged downtown Austin in a frenzy of partying that didn't end till 2 a.m. last call.
Superstars such as Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, Eminem and others made this the busiest SXSW ever, overflowing with celebrity, secret performances and high-dollar endorsements that made sure the festival looked nothing like the humble event that started 25 years ago with just 200 bands spread over 12 clubs. With so much going on and plenty of places to get hammered on green beer, even the usually most exclusive events were easy to get into.
It took a bumpin' tuba line and a bunch of enthusiastic high school kids to shake off the glitzy veneer that had many longtime festival participants grumbling about the good old days and inject a little innocent joy back into the conference.
With the UT Tower lit up in the background, the band took the stage, then laid down a rolling groove before joining Mumford & Sons on "The Cave," recreating a powerful moment from "Big Easy Express" in front of thousands of fans on the lawn at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library.
"That's real music, ladies and gentlemen," Marcus Mumford told the crowd after the song. "That's real music from real people."
Afterwards fans surrounded marching band members on the street and chanted: "One more song! One more song!"
The love of making music and the community brought by close collaboration were the dominant themes of "Big Easy Express," which made its world premiere earlier in the day at the Paramount Theatre, then was replayed for the crowd before the night's concert.
Malloy follows the three bands as they made a train trip from California to New Orleans via Austin. They covered 2,500 miles in a week and a half, playing music almost every step of the way and enlisting Austin High to join the fun in one of the film's most delightful moments.
"Very few people have seen this film," said Malloy, whose previous credits include The White Stripes 2009 documentary "Under Great White Northern Lights." ''But the ones who have, everyone says they're very jealous that they weren't on (the train). They want to quit their day job and go be a freak. And I think the fact that this film evokes that kind of like, 'I want to get in touch with my wild side' is great. It's more emotional than I would've ever thought, and the fact that I was able to work with everything those guys were doing those days and create a little bit of an emotional journey, that put this film in a very special place."
The film is full of poignant moments as the bands bond in close quarters, jamming on each other's songs, writing new ones and taking old standards and making them new.
"We got on the train and you guys were just setting the tone, really playing music nonstop," said Alex Ebert, nodding to Mumford and OCMS member Gill Landry during a red carpet interview before the premiere. "It was a really powerful experience and one we jumped into probably willingly and happily. But I mean in that sense that's what we took away the most — the preparedness, willingness and effort to constantly play music."
Over at Hilton's party, producer Timbaland took the stage after a long absence from the spotlight.
"I know you been missing me for a while," he said.
Timbaland bragged on his own group of favorite collaborators, saying that collaborator Dev was now a member of his "Superfriends" before launching into his latest single, "Break Ya Back," from his forthcoming album "Shock Value III." He also rapped and beat-boxed over abbreviated versions of some of his best-known songs.
"I don't know if I can get off the stage," he said. "I've got too many hits."
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Chris Talbott at www.twitter.com/Chris_Talbott.
- Emmett Malloy