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Veteran local bands head for Austin festival

The Word by Rick Bird, Post music writer

Two very different veteran Cincinnati bands have been chosen to play at the prestigious South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, on March 18.

Freekbass and the Ass Ponys have been selected to play the festival designed to showcase indy-label and unsigned bands from around the country.

It's appropriate these two groups will represent the area's modern music in the festival. The Ass Ponys have a sonic, jangly rock sound with a hint of tang, while Freekbass keeps the Bootsy Collins funk influence alive.

They are symbolic of the diverse sounds the area has nurtured over rock's history, ranging from Lonnie Mack to James Brown.

Both bands have local gigs this weekend before they head off to Austin:

The Ass Ponys are poised to make another splash on the music scene. Six years a go the band's clever storytelling style - with its slightly warped rural rock humor - landed them a major label fling with A&M Records that saw the national release of two CDs. Now the band is with the Chicago-based independent label Checkered Past, which will release their new album ''Some Stupid With a Flair Gun'' on April 11.

The band has been around since the late '80s and plays the occasional local gig. Now the group is dusting off its old van for the Texas trip, and plans to increase their exposure with the new CD.

''We just keep getting reinvented. There's a certain thing to our longevity. And I don't think we ever move from our spot, but we always seem to reclaim our spot. There are advantages to never getting popular,'' laughed Chuck Cleaver, the band's lead singer and songwriter.

The low-key and self-deprecating Cleaver admitted its exciting to again get the rock juices flowing for the Austin gig.

''It's a bunch of old men on the road,'' he laughed. ''I just put a grand into the van to get it running. It's been out behind the barn, but it works.''

Cleaver admits the band has never been great at self-promotion, but he says fans always seem to come out when they play.

''Our web site hasn't been updated in four years and we are older, fatter and worst looking than years before,'' he said. ''It's amazing that our fan base isn't entirely gone.''

The Ass Ponys play Saturday at the Barrelhouse Brewery on 12th Street in the Main Street entertainment district with opening act the Tigerlilies ($5).

Freekbass, the funk labor of love for bassist Chris Sherman, has a prime spot a t South By Southwest performing after Rock Hall of Fame inductee Bernie Worrell of P Funk fame. Sherman, formerly with the popular local party band Shag, kept the funk alive when the group stopped touring two years ago. He's continued with a stripped down, earthy funk group that still keeps the party going. Freekbass is managed by Cincinnati bassist and former P Funk member Bootsy Collins.

Freekbass tunes up for SXSW playing the Overflow on Main Street Friday ($3). Itaal watchers: Former Cincinnati musician and Walnut Hills High School grad Itaal Shur basked in the Santana Grammy spotlight last week as he won a Grammy for song of the year for co-writing Santana's hit ''Smooth.'' Shur has made a name for himself in New York City music and writing circles since he left here in 1993, but his former Cincinnati band mates were watching.

''I do confess to a little jealousy, but mostly it was joy when I saw him get the award,'' said Rob Hamrick, now with the local band Mahoola.

Shur played with Hamrick in the art rock outfit Sleep Theater here in the early '90s. Also in that band was Chris Sherman, now with Freekbass.

''It was surreal seeing Itaal up there,'' Sherman said. ''I'm an only child, but I'm guessing the feeling was like (watching) a brother up there getting his day.... It was very inspiring. But it wasn't that big of a surprise. Itaal has always had tons of talent.'' TV rocks: A dozen local bands will play a benefit Sunday night at the Mad Frog, McMillan and Vine, for the Links program sponsored by Buddy Rogers music. The charity provides instruments to needy Cincinnati school children. The hook for the night is that bands will play covers of their favorite TV theme songs. Among the groups playing are Bagg, Sweet Fat, Third Hour, Stapletons, June Box and more. Cover is $3 with all proceeds going to the Links program. Marley tribute: The 20th Century in Oakley hosts a gathering of local reggae lovers Friday with a salute to Bob Marley. The tribute features eight local bands including the Zionites, Positive Reaction, the Drive Thrus and the Firehouse Crew. Also featured will be a poetry slam, an African drum troupe, Latin dancers and a Bob Marley look-a-like contest. It's at 8 p.m. ($10). Fat Tuesday: The area's big Mardi Gras bash is in Covington MainStrasse this weekend, but for party purists who want to get the New Orleans vibe on Fat Tuesday, Robin Lacy and DeZydeco will wrap up the celebration Tuesday night at Longworth's in Mt. Adams. The bar-restaurant also plans a menu of Cajun specialties. Cover $3.

Publication date: 03-02-00






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