SXSW: Springsteen shows up Austin one night early, plays sideman to Joe Ely, Alejandro Escovedo and Garland Jeffreys

The Boss was a guest of his Austin buddies Alejandro Escovedo and Joe Ely at Wednesday's Austin Music Awards. (Dan DeLuca/Staff)

Bruce Springsteen showed up one night earlier than scheduled at SXSW on Wednesday, turning up at the Austin Music Awards as a guest of his Austin buddies Alejandro Escovedo and Joe Ely.

How cool was it? Pretty darn cool. Here was the best part: The presence of The Boss at the awards show - where bluesman Gary Clark Jr., who absolutely killed it at La Zona Rosa later that night, was the big winner, was the headline news, but instead of stealing the show, Springsteen played it like a sideman.

First, Escovedo brought Ely out, and the Lubbock-born wildcat country rocker kicked out his "The Highway Is My Home." Then Ely, said "we need another guitar player out here," and the flannel shirted guy from New Jersey came onstage and went to work.

He was on stage for four songs. First, he played lead guitar on Ely's "Love or Fear." Next, he dueted with Escovedo on "Always A Friend" from 2008's Real Animal, prefscing it with a story about how he played the song "at the enormodome" in Houston with Springsteen that year, and "those three minutes changed my life."

Then, Ely took over the mic again for a rustic but robust take on Woody Guthrie's "Ain't Gonna Be Treated This Way," with Springsteen again sticking to lead guitar and cotributing to a verse of two. And then New York rocker Jeffreys came out for a Escovedo-led cover of the Rolling Stones' "Beast Of Burden," a song he and Springsteen had snaked their way through at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park a couple of summers back.

Here's the other thing: There were lots of hot shot acts in town in Austin tonight - Jimmy Cliff played in somebody's backyard, for goodness sake, with Robert Plant introducing him - but Springsteen close to play with pals. As my friend Nick from Brussels said, 'He wants to play with his mates." And he chose to do it at the local awards show at the Austin Music Hall, an event that is largely ignored by the free beer and barbecue feeding music industry hordes that take over the town for SXSW week. 

Instead, it's a local event, attended by people who support the music sence in Austin all round, and don't just drop in for SXSW. Most of those people are going to get shut out of Springsteen's show on Thursday night, but this way, they got their peice of the Springsteen experience, too. And let me tell you, they appreciated it.

Springsteen gives his SXSW keynote on Thursday morning, and plays with the E Street Band Thursday night. That's Escovedo to his left, and Ely to is his right, in the photo above.

Previously: 'Downloaded' and Michael Kiwanuka Follow In The Mix on Twitter here