The South-By-Southwest (SXSW; or "South By" if you live in Austin and are complaining about the utter traffic nightmare) festival has been going on pretty much 360 degrees around me, non-stop, for over a week. Say it with me Austinites: only two more days. Then blessed silence, empty streets, and I can stop protecting my very convenient parking space with a sawed-off. You think I'm joking. Well, I am about the sawed off.
SXSW is like a mullet: business in the first part, party in the second part.
The first weekend was "Interactive" - technology demos, panels about social media marketing, the gamer conference called ScreenBurn - and "Film" - docus and short productions looking for distributors and more eye-balls. These parts of SXSW are run by "badges" - the level of your badge dictates were you could enter, what you could see. Of course, these badges sold out months ago and cost upwards of $1-1.5k.
Generally, the vibe was hip, young, business-(wo)man looking to connect with other hip, young, business-people in a hyperactive, sponsor-constructed atmosphere of The Next Big Thing or Idea Is .....
I went to a local coffee shop to work and people watch last Monday, the last full day of Interactive and Film, and the banquettes were full of hip, young, business-people fully plugged in, and fully checked out. iPhones and MacBookAirs out and coffees in-hand, their owners were slumped over from far too little sleep, far too many espressos, and total brain drain. That night Jay-Z and Eminem were playing a show at ACL Live to mark the end of Interactive/Film, and a lot of the audience was asleep in that coffee shop.
The business was over, the party had already begun. Bonafide stages, impromptu music venues, and open-mics next food carts sprouted up by Wednesday morning; if it has open cement, grass, or a roof, someone was now performing upon it. The record label/store across the street from the Mothership put a festival in their parking lot, so good luck getting down 6th or Lamar. There is a stage in the parking lot of the St. Vincent de Paul's Thrift Store down the street from my apartment, as well as behind the pizza shop one block up from St. Vinny's and the restaurant across the street from St. Vinny's so good luck getting down South Congress. Friday night The Counting Crows and a by-all-accounts-trashed Adam Durlitz gave a free concert less than a block from me as the crow flies, and the three bars located between me and that stage also had full musical line-ups. So good luck getting down South First, Riverside, or Barton Springs. In addition, there was a whole section of downtown that the city just summarily closed to traffic. I stupidly thought I could get places like swim practice and the grocery store. Apparently, I can hear The Counting Crows play from my couch, but I can't buy bananas.
Music is run by wristbands, which sold out months ago and cost hundreds of dollars, but day-time shows are generally free and open to the public. Most acts stick around and play several times - once at night, for a "wristband-only" show, and once during the day, for a free/sponsored/showcase show.
Saturday I went to my only SXSW concert, or the only one that didn't waft into my living room on the breeze, to see a band that I had never heard of, to support a friend of a friend that I didn't know. See if you can follow this: the band's keyboardist's parents live in Madison, next door to parents of two kids with whom I went to high-school and still keep in touch; the parents of the high-school friends remain close friends of my own, newly-returned-to-Wisconsin parents and a message was passed along that I needed to act as the Texas-Midwest Cultural Relations Committee. Isn't that how everyone finds their new favorite band?
I mean...wait...their reputation demands that I say...they were mal-adjusted, filthy-mouthed guys who likely wandered out of a council estate in England. Which sounds suspiciously like how the Rolling Stones started....hey, a band can dream big.
Teddy, Johnny, Pete, and Casey (the friend of the friend), started this band when they were barely teenagers, ten years ago, and it shows. Tight musicianship, multiple albums of songs they wrote themselves, and a live show that demonstrates they just really love to play rock 'n roll together.