Wednesday, March 19th

Exhaustion and Mixed Emotions at SXSW

No matter how much I try to prepare in the weeks leading up to SXSW, it’s always a scramble. Part of it is the nature of the conference and surrounding events; there’s little notice as to what’s really going on. I earnestly RSVP to everything I can in the hopes that I’ll make it into the must-do events, all the while knowing that I’ll never keep up with my overly ambitious schedule. The invites come later and later, so being flexible, yet prepared, is crucial. The day I had planned to really wander around and check out the free events surrounding Interactive, it was cold, rainy, and miserable. Craft Taste and I went to a fun party hosted by Pinterest at La Barbecue. Food and drinks were free and we checked out the Pinnebago and listened to a female punk band. We missed Grumpy Cat, the Game of Thrones exhibit, and countless other things. We walked around, saw some stuff, and went home soaking wet. The day I brought my DSLR to take the really good pictures? A total wash.

Pinnebago

We made it into the first Kimmel taping and saw Seth Rogen and Snoop Dogg. Although we were seated way up high in the balcony, it was a fun experience and I was glad we went. I especially enjoyed Jimmy’s house band Cleto and the Cletones. Even more than the musical guest White Denim.

Jimmy Kimmel in Austin

Later, I won tickets for the opening night of the iTunes Festival. Winning didn’t mean we got to skip the very long line, but once inside the Moody Theater we were afforded a spot close to the stage amongst a crowd equally excited to be there. But no one was as excited to be there as Imagine Dragons, whose energy and and enthusiasm were through the roof.

Imagine Dragons in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

Imagine Dragons in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

Imagine Dragons in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

Coldplay was grown up and polished, putting on a flawless performance under a dazzling light show. No bullshit on stage or in the crowd. It was ideal.

Coldplay in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

Coldplay in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

Coldplay in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

I took advantage of my official SXSW Guest Pass and checked out the marketplace one day. It was clearly the tail end for the vendors, but it’s one of my favorite conference expos and I lingered at the booths with live music and good swag. I’m always amazed at how grand some of the booths are. I especially love checking out the other countries’ offerings.

SXSW Marketplace

Perhaps the coolest event we went to was the Heartbreakers Ball. (It didn’t hurt that we were chauffeured in a stretch limo and given VIP badges.) It was our first time visiting Willie Nelson’s ranch at Luck Texas. The ranch is more of a set for an Old Western with a chapel, a jail, a saloon, and other buildings. I loved that much of the property is used to foster horses. We watched people line up for free tattoos and drinks made with Midnight Moonshine in between the rocking sets. Willie and friends took the stage at the end of the night and despite the late hour and the cold, Willie was fantastic. I don’t know if all that pot-smoking has served as a preservative, but his voice was strong and smooth, unaffected by his many years. It was quite a show.

Willie Nelson's Luck, Texas

Willie Nelson and Friends at SXSW Heartbreakers Banquet

The aftermath of the tragic drunk driving accident that killed three people left a dark cloud over Austin. The city reeled from the news and shed tears for the lives lost and the news gained international attention. There’s no denying that SX is forever changed. We will remember and reflect on this every year. Criticisms arose and people questioned whether the excess of free flowing booze is hurting the intention of the festival. It seemed that the louder criticisms were directed towards the overblown commercialism of the conference and surrounding events. It seems that the sponsors are running the show now and no one is happy about it. In the days following SX, Austin is usually enjoying a tired but happy afterglow. This year we are collectively wincing at all the bad press and trying to figure out how the hell this happened. I predict big changes for next year.

I’m proud to live in Austin. I love that for two weeks every year we become the center of the universe and celebrate artistry and intelligence. South by Southwest celebrates the future and creates history. I hope we are able to strike a better balance in the years to come, retaining the indie spirit on which the festival was built, while letting sponsors be a part of the action in a more authentic way.

What are your thoughts on SXSW 2014?

6 Responses

  1. Macy says:

    Curious as to who paid for the limo ride and the VIP badge to the Willie show…

    • verykristin says:

      Hi Macy. The tickets to the show were actually free for everyone as it’s an invite-only event each year. The PR representatives of one of the sponsors gave me the tickets and the limo ride. (They also gave me a bunch of tickets to give away before the event. If you scroll down a few posts, you can see the details there.) Thanks for reading!

      • Macy says:

        I understand that it’s possible to critique the way that some sponsors handled things this year while still enjoying the benefits of relationships with sponsors. But it kind of threw me off that you talk about how much you enjoyed those benefits and then in the next paragraph write, “It seems that the sponsors are running the show now and no one is happy about it.” I read your blog pretty frequently and I enjoy it, that just kind of gave me pause. Thanks for answering my question!

  2. kristina says:

    Well said at the end. I’m always amazed that your writing captures so much of what I feel at these events.

  3. Michele L. says:

    Oddly enough, I did happen to be downtown on that fateful night, just a few blocks away from the accident, but other than that I didn’t even participate in SXSW at all this year. It’s been on a downturn for me for the last two years and this time I just finally opted out. Too big, too commercial, too I-don’t-know-what, but I just can’t deal anymore.

  4. Meredith says:

    I had a great SXSW but felt like the sponsors were running the show too! The festival in the past felt like a fun free-for-all, but it seems like the sponsors are now wanting more from you in exchange for free booze, food, and music. I guess I can’t blame them for trying to get more out of their marketing budget, but I definitely noticed the shift.

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