If you're persistent enough, South by Southwest can offer some truly intimate experiences that aren't easy to find elsewhere. I wanted to share some of the highlights from my first time at the festival.
What do I mean by intimate? Thursday morning I was woken up by a phone call at 5:30 am ... it was an anonymous woman from another room in the hotel wanting to engage me in phone sex. Later that day, after being turned away from Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk with Me, I ran over to nearby Gayby (clever & funny - see it) and got to talk and sit next to Australian sex worker, Rachel Wotton, the subject of the festival documentary Scarlet Road. Wotton provides sex work for the disabled in Australia - a truly powerful and culture-bending practice. Wotton preaches decriminilization of sex work and touch and compassion for the most vulnerable among us. On my last day, I happened to walk across a show of one of my favorite artists, Glen Hansard. I was right up front as he played a 30 minute set in a small bar with Clarence Clemmon's nephew Jake. Hansard opened acoustically with Leave.
In general, you can get closer to artists at SxSw than in many of today's larger venues. I was 10 feet from the pit for Bruce Springsteen, 40 feet from the stage for Fiona Apple (sound was unfortunately awful) and 20 feet from up and coming star Kimbra (check out her amazing video with Gotye, Somebody I Used to Know). I also got to see a live podcast of You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes and comedy legend Judd Apatow.
The difference in energy and vigor between the vocals of Kimbra and Hansard vs. Apple & Springsteen was notable. Here's a clip of Kimbra in action:
Seattle radio station KEXP offered weeklong live music at Lance Armstrong's bike shop, Mellow Johnnies. You could walk right in and catch a show (Choir of Young Believer's pictured below) while they fixed your flat. All seven yellow jersey's are hanging on the wall nearby.
My week actually began in an amazing leadership training workshop put on by Yogi's Seane Corn, Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling which culminated in part on the roof of Austin's Arthouse in a SxSw yoga class. I'll be writing more later about their organization and mission, Off the Mat Into the World.
I found the people in Austin to be quite friendly (definitely different than Seattle-ites, fairly or unfairly attributed to be cold). The TexMex food was mostly great and usually offered a variety of vegetarian options e.g. the Fried Avocado Tacos at Torchy's were probably the most exotic thing I tried. I highly recommend whatever crack the vegans are putting in the Freeto Burrito in East Austin's Vegan Yacht trailer. And, Austin offers some pretty decent coffee to keep a traveling Northwesterner from losing it. Caffe Medici in Austin was good - and I even coincidentally ran into a former Seattle barista there.
Aside from the scheduled events, there is an abundance of music everywhere in Austin during SxSw and it wonderfully bleeds out on the streets...
If I go again, I think I'll try to avoid staying far from town as the R&R Shuttle just wasn't very convenient and my northern digs a bit isolated. The days and nights grew pretty long, leaving the hotel in the morning and not coming back til late at night. Going back mid-day to change, rest or retrieve a laptop was just not a good option.
The density of industry folks at SxSw interactive is amazing. You can meet nearly anyone (including one of your ex-girlfriend's "notorious" ex-boyfriends - pictured below). The new Highlight mobile app even pinged me when my brother's boss was nearby. One of my favorite interactive sessions was How to Misuse the Internet and Make People Love You, which featured Oprah's 9,000 penis #fail and the awe-inspiring Pretty Color's blog. I can't wait to see the Pinterest Pretty Colors mashup.