12:33pm PT by Andrew Hampp, Billboard
SXSW: Usher Surprises The Fader Fort While Lil Wayne Health Scare Shocks Backstage
Andy Cohn, president and publisher of the Fader, gave himself the best birthday present imaginable Friday night.
One of his all-time favorite bands, The Afghan Whigs, headlined a closing-night set with surprise guest Usher that practically ripped the roof of the 11-year-old Fort with epic rock arrangements of Usher hits like “Climax” and “OMG” as well as a sublimely soulful duet between Mr. Raymond and Greg Dulli on the Whigs’ “Somethin’ Hot.”
How did the week’s most talked-about surprise pairing come about? Courtesy of Sara Newkirk, former head of management at Fader’s sister agency Cornerstone and now a principal in William Morris Endeavor’s Music department.
“We worked with Sara to figure out the the biggest, most surprising ‘first’ The Fader could bring again to Austin, and came up with Usher,” Cohn told Billboard's Backbeat after the show. “He wanted to pair with an incredibly talented backing band -- the Afghan Whigs are one of my favorite bands, and everyone from our edit team, to booking, to [Cornerstone co-founders] Rob [Stone] and Jon [Cohen] thought they’d be perfect. Their music is influenced by soul, and it was a perfect pairing. Usher was totally into it, and it was one of the most epic pairings and surprises at the Fort to date.”
The Whigs/Usher collab kicked off just minutes after Lil Wayne had been rushed to the hospital for an apparent seizure. Earlier performers T.I., Trae and the Grand Hustle crew sent out on-stage well-wishes to their homey, while Usher took a moment two songs in to say, "Lil Wayne is going through a real hard time right now, ya'll. I want to send a lot of positive energy out there right now.”
Several folks were spotted backstage checking their phones for updates from TMZ and other sources to hear the latest. The majority of those in attendance didn't seem to be aware of Lil Wayne's emergency state. Dave Gordon of ND Promotions had no clue it was occurring. Reception is known to be spotty at the Fader Fort. Mikey Fresh, MissInfo's Senior Editor/VIBE's Online Music Editor, caught drift of the news at the tail end of Trae tha Truth's surprise set and hurried to reach out to contacts for confirmation and details.
The duo drew an equally star-studded crowd, from Pharrell kicking it backstage with Stone, Cohn and two of the sisters from Haim to A-Trak mingling with Cohen to Sylvia Rhone hanging with her Vested In Culture artist Kat Dahlia while Epic sibling Future, who played just before Usher, and his crew loaded up their van. Pepsi’s cultural marketers Bozoma Saint John and Richie Cruz were also in the VIP, as were Converse CMO Geoff Cottrill, CAA’s Susan Kamenar, the New York Times’ Jon Caramanica and dozens more. After the short, sweet 30-minute set from Usher and the Whigs, several girls in VIP left the venue in tears from the one-of-a-kind performance they’d just witnessed.
Just before the show, Rhone and Dahlia were seen brainstorming a possible Vested In Culture showcase for next year’s SXSW -- or, more likely, this fall’s CMJ, by which point albums from Dahlia and labelmate Quadron will have been out. Of the latter, Rhone said she has big plans for the Danish indie-pop duo’s upcoming sophomore album and just-released single “Hey Love,” noting that she has to work around the schedule of band member Robin Hannibal. His other band, Rhye, was in Austin this week to play a pair of shows. “It’s a beautiful record,” she said of Rhye’s Woman, released last week.
The other band on the lips of many in The Fader Fort was “The Alabama Homies,” a fake group conceived by one of the Fader Fort’s key execs via Twitter, who enlisted Matt & Kim to tweet out the band’s imaginary reckless activity. “@mattandkim : Hanging with @alabamahomies they are throwing shit at the cops right now! Crazy! –k” Kim tweeted. Billboard's Backbeat promised to keep the account’s owner a secret for now, but a quick perusal of @ replies and retweets should help you connect the dots.