SXSW Part One

Written by on March 30, 2011

Well, here I am, a week after returning home from Texas. I feel mostly recovered, but it was a long road. SXSW is a monster. For 3 days following the festival I was a mess, constantly tired, ears ringing, no appetite. At the same time though, it was an absolute blast. I saw so many incredible performances, met countless kind and intelligent people, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t nice to get out of the northwest for a bit, even if Texas is too hot, too dusty, too other things as well. It kicked my ass, but in a nice way.

Over the next few weeks or so I’ll be posting tidbits from my trip, including photos, interviews, ramblings, etc. I wanted to have it all ready to go as one big entry, but there was just too much going on. Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the whole thing, I can start to put it into words.

I’ll begin things with some excerpts from my writings prior to the trip. Now we all know the saying, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, I had intended to keep a very detailed journal throughout the entire festival. By the third day, that intention was completely lost. Oh well. That’s what happens at these types of crazy nonstop events.

Sunday night – roughly 3am

The plan is to starve myself for sleep until late tonight, almost morning. I’ll hit the sack around four and wake around noon. Tomorrow I’ll stretch it even further, stay awake through the night and ride adrenaline until I board the plane. At that point I’m hoping to sleep through most of the plan ride, and maybe go to bed early the first night in Austin. I’m hoping to have dinner with some relatives, but there don’t seem to be many shows that night so I won’t have any guilt about calling it an early night and zonking out around ten.

There is one thing that might ruin all of my careful made plans. If I get a window seat, I may be too distracted to sleep.

For those unfamiliar with SXSW, it’s a yearly music festival held in Austin Texas which attracts tens of thousands of spectators to watch some 2500 bands, give or take, perform. It all goes down over the course of four days, with a few shows leading up to and dropping off on the surrounding days. Today I spent the majority of my day putting together a schedule for my trip. I carefully plotted out all the panels and shows I might be interested in attending, made sure to send RSVPs to the proper places, and then organized them by day and time, as well as alphabetically by artist in a handy dandy survival guide. I also researched restaurants I may patronize, and included a map of the downtown area where the majority of clubs are found. I‘ll only be in Texas for 5 days but it seems simultaneously like a very long time to be somewhere unfamiliar where I don’t know anyone and also far too little time to do everything I’d like. This schedule is the only thing standing between a finely planned, carefree holiday and complete and utter anarchy. It is to be my holy book for the next week.

Tuesday morning (at the airport)

It’s been more than a few years since I last flew anywhere. Stayed up all night and wracked my brain every 30 minutes or so trying to be sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. Still waiting for that Home Alone moment, but I guess that doesn’t happen until mid-flight. I gave myself a generous amount of time to catch my flight, but since I checked in online, prepaid for my checked luggage, and am flying out so early in the morning, I got from taxi to gate in around fifteen minutes. Definitely could have left the house an hour later. I wonder if that had been the case (leaving at 5am instead of 4am), would I still have come up with this crazy idea of staying up all night? Right now I feel pretty good, I’m tired but nothing I can’t handle. The idea is still to sleep on the plane but I don’t know how realistic that is, especially considering I just bought a cup of coffee. Gotta have something to pass the time. I downloaded a handful of NPR Podcasts, suppose I may as well give them a try.

Tuesday evening

Wow, I guess it’s been a bit since I last updated this. I successfully stayed up all night and made my flight, however I was unsuccessful in my attempts to sleep on the plane. I dozed for a few minutes here and there, and in the end made a 3 and a half hour flight feel like 2 and a half hours, but it didn’t really help in the long run. I originally scheduled my taxi to come at 4am thinking that it would take an hour or so to get through airport security but since it was so early in the morning it ended up taking around 15 minutes from drop-off to gate.
Both plan rides were more or less nondescript. I sat by some friendly by quiet people, we exchanged pleasantries but no personal information. I still get a little freaked out each time we come in for a landing. I know all the statistics about how safe planes are but I’m also reminded of the Modern Family episode where claire describes planes as sideways buildings thrown through the air. No matter how much I trust the pilots, there is still the opportunity for error and error means a hideous fiery death. So that’s fun.
I arrived in Texas around 2pm, noon Portland time, and immediately began to see signs of Austin’s reputation for live music, as there was a country band playing in the terminal, and giant decorated guitars being displayed by the baggage carousel. I collected my luggage and walked to the bus stop. Waiting for the bus with me were people assumedly from all over the world, and I heard more than a few languages being spoken. On the bus I spoke with a guy named Travis, and after talking about SXSW and Austin for a few minutes we discovered we were both from Portland, and even knew some of the same people. Small world.
The convention center was a madhouse, so very many people. The Interactive festival merges with the Music festival, and it was a very interesting mix. New technologies were being touted left and right, and musicians and music types were agog at the wonders on display. The majority of the booths seemed focused around social networking, and new ways to do that. It seems like there is so much technology these days, nearly anything is possible. It just takes a good idea about how to use it to start a revolution.
Aside from an acoustic set by Jonquil, I didn’t see any shows on the first night, opting instead to check in to my hotel, walk around downtown Austin, and get comfortable and familiar with my surroundings for the next five days. Fifth and Sixth streets were already blocked off, and the sidewalks were thick with people, bleeding into the road, but I’ve seen a Friday night at SXSW, and the crowds are going to be much much larger.

Wednesday morning

Woke up and took a hot shower, feels good to have slept. I was okay for most of the day yesterday but every couple hours I would go into zombie mode for fifteen or twenty minutes. I was successful in my plans and it worked for me, not sure that I would do that again however. It would probably be better to make the trip on four hours sleep than none.

Much much much more to come. Check back for show reviews, interviews, photos, and more of my inane ramblings!





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