South by Southwest (SXSW) is one of the high points of my year. With so much going on it still continues to surprise me with what emotions and experiences it throws up. I’ll speak about the myth that Interactive has somehow ‘jumped the shark’ in a later post, for now I want to talk about some of the things that made the week special for me.
Let’s Have A Party Right Here.
For all the organisation and big parties, most of the conversations that stick in my head are not from the big parties, but from the hotel lobbies and bars where a group of people just sat down and started talking, inviting a few people by direct message, until the collective brain (of Twitter, Gowalla and Foursquare) started to pass the rumour that "Brian Solis has bought more champagne.” Only one night went by without me heading to an impromptu party, and that was Sunday night… Fray night.
Following on from the Emu Unboxes an X6 video over Christmas, I’ve been on the lookout for a suitable puppet that I could make my own and not be haunted by the ghost of Rod Hull. Step forward Cthulhu (note, he’s just a teenager, and not fully grown yet). Vikki finished sewing him the night before I left, and he popped up a few times during SXSW, including this meeting with Shel. What was delightful is the number of people who recognised him, even from a distance, and the character that slowly came out of the puppet as the week progressed. I think you’ll be seeing more of him in the future.
Motorhead playing at Stubbs.
Because it was Motorhead… playing at Stubbs… rawck!
Brad Graham performs at Fray Cafe
Brad passed away suddenly at the end of January, yet his presence still lingers in Austin. As well as the Break Bread for Brad meet and greet on the first night, the most powerful moment was the opening of Fray Cafe. Fray is a SXSW institution, running for more than ten years on the Sunday night. It’s a simple event; an open mic and people tell true stories about their life. And Kevin Smokler opened this year’s event with a simple "Welcome to Fray, our first story tonight is from Brad Graham."
So to a dimmed stage and an empty mic, we all sat and listened to Brad’s story of "his second time" from last year, which I had recorded. Powerful stuff, especially as the 2010 crowd reacted just like the 2009 crowd, and just as Brad played to the crowd then, he seemed to feed off this year’s crowd.
She and Him in an Ally
M Ward and Zooey Deschanel’s band might have been playing three times through SXSW, but I didn’t want to see them at the big outdoor stages or mega-venues. I wanted to see them in the little stage at Cedar Street Courtyard, a public space slightly bigger than an alley squeezed between two bars. It’s a great venue, rich in character and charm. This was the perfect setting for the bubblegum 60′s influenced sound of the duo that I’ve been hooked on since discovering their first album last year.
Magnolia Cafe and the Social Media Breakfast
I love Magnolia’s in Austin – it’s the perfect cafe where everyone knows your name, or at least remembers the mad Scotsman (err, me) who turns up every year and takes over the patio for a meet and greet event on the Saturday morning of SXSW Interactive. It takes some dedication to get up for an 8am Breakfast event, especially one that’s a little bit out the way, but those that come along to it know it’s worth it for the food and the friends. It was good to see the regulars along this year – it was the only chance that I got to see some of them through the whole of SXSW – but also many new faces who had picked it up on the grapevine, or had finally remembered that this was an event they had always wanted to go to.
The Frantic in the Trophy Room
There’s a certain amount of delight in just walking down Sixth Street until you hear something you like, going into the bar, and listening. That’s how I found The Frantic, from Chicago, a band that I’d cheekily describe as "19 year old pretty boys with guitars, but who can make each tune sound different." Definitely a band I want to find out more about, and likely to be on a Rock Show podcast in the near future.
Bill Hick’s Funeral
"You passed the test," I was told after interviewing the producer and director of American, the Bill Hicks Story. Turns out that after countless interviews, they’ve been playing a game of does the journalist really get Bill, or just doing his work? For those that pass (which included myself), they had a little present. One of the last cards that was made for Bill’s funeral. A box of them was found in the family archives, and his Mum asked them to pass them on to people who would appreciate them.