Austin is in a state of recovery this week. It’s just closed out its 29th South By Southwest festival – a tech, film, and music collaboration that’s grown tremendously since its first year of 700 registrants. These days, it’s hard to find a venue where the line has fewer people than that.
Although I’m now technically an Austin “local,” I’m far from knowing what to do and where to get in. But I learned as the festival’s 10 days passed by, and enjoyed the ride in the meantime.
As a member of the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce, I started the festival as a volunteer at both the Nordic Lighthouse and the Swedish booth at the convention. The Nordic Lighthouse – located in Austin’s Waller Creek Boathouse – was a gorgeous, waterfront venue where all of the Nordic countries hosted tons of events: design panels, networking happy hours, and outdoor concerts. I was in charge of making sure everything outside “flowed” during the Saturday kick-off, which mostly involved mingling and pointing people in the direction to the bar. I also manned a shift at the Swedish booth for the convention, where I happily answered as best I could the questions of passersby about Sweden, and what we were doing there.
The tech part of SXSW ended on Tuesday, and as the computer geeks exited the city, a deluge of music lovers flooded in from all over the world. There was definitely a shift in the types of people seen walking the streets over this transition. NS and I got to see some pretty cool bands – for free! – during the music part of the festival, including Chromeo, Marlon Williams, Kaleo, and Soul Asylum (yes, from the 90s).
But my favorite thing about SXSW this year was going to local radio station KGSR’s live morning broadcast at the W hotel on Thursday. This involved waking up at 4:10 and getting in line by 4:45. It wasn’t as painful as I’d thought, especially when my ride there was in this vehicle:
After waiting for over an hour in the early-morning darkness, I made it to the front of the line – and got in! For $5, I got a warm breakfast sandwich and a seat in one of the hotel’s meeting rooms where, with about 300 other people, I listened to 5 of the morning’s 9 bands – all before heading to work at 9am. Each band played 2 songs and did a short Q&A with the radio station host. The musicians – Tor Miller, Sarah Jarosz, Aurora, The Strumbellas, and Declan McKenna – were truly incredible. Even with such short performances, I loved each one, and seeing them in such an intimate venue was amazing. There was something special about this experience, shared with both friends and strangers at such an early hour, that stuck with me and made me appreciate what SXSW is all about and can be – at least for anyone willing to get up that early. It was a long day at work that day, but so very, very worth it.