Road to SXSW: The Helium Capitol of the World


I am in Amarillo, Tex., with Finn Riggins having a post-show beer in a bar without a ceiling. In its place is clear plastic sheeting held in place by an intricate web of duct tape. 

The guy who invited us here is telling us about an arts and entertainment website he is starting that focuses on historic Route 66. His business partner says her family started and still owns Hastings Books, and that she doesn't get any sort of employee discount for owning 52 percent of the shares. She wants the band to come back and play at her friend's birthday party. Their friend is telling us about Amarillo's monument to helium and how locals fiercely defended a favorite donut shop by boycotting Krispy Kreme for the six months it dared to open in their town. His drawl is pronounced. A Shiner Bock is clutched loosely in his hand.

Eric Gilbert, keyboardist for Finn Riggins, tells me that the band prefers to mingle, meet locals and be regaled with their bizarre anecdotes after shows. That is a major draw of the touring lifestyle. It is also something that sets them apart from larger acts, who frequently go to great lengths to avoid interacting with the places they visit.

As the lights come on and the drinks are rounded up, there are offers of places to stay, some sincere, some not. One comes with an awkward and lengthy hug. But we pile back in the van and hit the freeway. 

After blasting onward for several hours, we spend the night at a rest area. The first song on the stereo come morning is "Rambling Man" by Hank Williams.