SXSW Film Review: Road to Austin (USA, 2014)

Road_To_Austin_credit_FORMAX_Group

Concert movies are a rare breed. It goes without saying that if you’re not a fan of the music of that particular musician or band, then you’re probably not going to have a fun time.

Road to Austin, however, is somewhat of an oddity – because even if you’re not familiar with any of the artists that you’re witness to throughout the film, the range of musical styles present is so diverse that you’ll probably find something to enjoy about this unassuming music documentary.

Road to Austin was the brainchild of music director Stephen Bruton, who wanted to create an event that would bring together the wildly eclectic tastes of Austin music lovers into one three hour concert. Country, rock and roll, blues – even opera – it’s all here. A huge roster of artists including Kris Kristofferson and Bonnie Raitt collaborate with rising stars to create a night of music that could be enjoyed by just about anyone.

The version of the documentary playing at SXSW is a heavily edited 73 minute cut of both interviews with artists and the three hour concert, and from what I understand the concert in its entirety will later be released in cinemas and on DVD. This abridged version is disappointingly clunky, with piece to camera interviews awkwardly bookending the piece and a well-intentioned but uneven ending that pays tribute to Stephen Bruton, who passed away from cancer shortly after the Road to Austin event. While it means well, the interviews attempt to chronicle the Austin music scene from its earliest days and it’s just too broad a topic to cover in what only amounts to around half an hour. The discussion unfortunately feels unfocused; it’s certainly interesting stuff, but it doesn’t get enough time.

That being said, the sections of the concert are far and away the highlight of this film. Unlikely collaborations and huge amounts of talent present some wonderful stuff, and even being so far removed from it I could see that the Road to Austin would have indeed been a special night.

As a documentary it leaves a little to be desired, but music fans will find plenty to enjoy about Road to Austin – though it’s probably best to wait for the complete package rather than the highlights, which we have to look forward to!

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Road to Austin screened as part of SXSW 2014 in Austin, Texas.