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Rita

Rita Coolidge previewed her forthcoming album Friday at Cooper's BBQ at SXSW.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Rita Coolidge stepped onto the stage on the upper floor of Cooper’s BBQ Friday and, after her first song, made it clear why she’d come to South By Southwest.

“I’m going to do a bunch from my new album,” she said. “I figured that’s why we’re here.”

And that’s precisely what the 72-year-old legend did -- bringing ace Austin guitarist David Grissom up to join her band, and kicking into “Satisfied,” a song Grissom co-wrote with Chris Stapleton for “Safe in the Arms of Time,” the album she’ll release May 4.

Then came the bluesy “Doing Fine Without You,” a Graham Nash co-write and “Walking on Water,” the album’s first single -- a soul-tinged number Coolidge wrote with Keb Mo and a lovely, lively duet “Rainbow” on which she was joined by Chelsea Williams, her Blue Elan Records labelmate who’d played the preceding set.

Singing the songs that were drawn from her experience, Coolidge’s voice throughout was warm, rich and expressive, the band solid, kicked up a notch on the songs with Grissom.

Coolidge wrapped up her 40 minute set with some of her 70s hits, wringing the heart out of “Close the Window,” “The Way You Do The Things You Do” and (“Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher.”

Those songs were plenty enjoyable. But I’d have rather heard a few more “Safe in the Arms of Time,” a record that I’m now looking forward to hearing.

Coolidge’s show was my musical highlight Friday. But South By Southwest, at least for me, is about more than just seeing as many bands as possible every day.

It’s about barbecue. And Friday marked our annual run to Lockhart, a small town southeast of Austin that’s Texas bbq central. We hit Kreuz Market, one of Lockhart’s three bbq eateries. I’m proof that it’s possible to eat a couple slices of prime rib, some brisket, a pork rib and a sausage and live to rave about it. Oh yeah, no sauce, no sides, no fork.

I’ll be taking Saturday afternoon off from SXSW to cover the Nebraska - Arizona State NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament game. But I’ll be back out on the crowded streets filled with St. Patrick’s Day revelers Saturday night to wrap up the fest.

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