29 Observations about SXSW (and Austin too)


This post accompanies our South By Southwest 2019 Playlist.

Alright, we are fresh off our first-ever trip to South By Southwest (which takes place in downtown, Austin, Texas). Since we were new to both this super-massive conference that we have heard about for nearly 20 years, as well as new to Austin—where we’ve heard is hopping for live music—I thought I should track our observations of the experience. Keep in mind, that I was doing this to compare our vision of these two experiences to the real thing—plus, I knew this list would have the added bonus of providing quite an awesome blog post for other never-been-there before folks.

Keep in mind that there is no “logic” per se to this list—it is NOT ranked and both SXSW and Austin observations are mixed together. Actually, the ONLY order is that list was curated chronologically; from the time we arrived until the time we left—with a few added just today.

Did you check out our daily vlog from South By Southwest 2019?

Having said all that, here goes:

1. More and more ways to rock black. I am not sure if it was because when we arrived, we were housed with and were around the film people that this was the case. People in every shape and size, old and young were wearing extremely tasteful and artistically-chosen black outfits. Head to toe. In fact, in crowds of 100 folks, 95 of them seemed to be wearing all-black. Somehow, looking around and seeing so many people with cool haircuts and in all-black made me feel less special at first, but then, I learned to love it and began gathering ideas on what additional black items to add to my wardrobe. (And, in fact, I believe this was proven to be unique to this particular crowd of filmmakers, because after that tract of the conference was over, the masses of people wearing all-black diminished greatly.)

2. Food trucks everywhere. Just as advertised on Food TV, there were food trucks EVERYWHERE; on sidewalks, arranged into food courts, in buildings! EVERYWHERE! Not surprisingly, however, we did not try ANY of the food in the food trucks; not because we weren’t curious, but because we try to eat only one really big meal a day and wanted a sit-down experience, but also because we are old enough to remember what we lovingly call “roach coaches”; which were the food trucks of the 1970s and 1980s. –If you know anything about this, you will understand that often eating from one of these is an unpleasant and risky experience, food safety-wise. –Now, we are SURE that these new, hip incarnations of the roach coach are NOT what we grew up on—and actually, we had a really wonderful experience during our Gearfest 2018 visit—but why take chances that you don’t have to, right?

3. We can tell the music groups by their collective outfits. We’d often happen upon a band that was probably going to be performing that day. How did we know? Because the band would have on some type of matching gear or was wearing all-black or was literally carrying their instruments from one showcase to another. –Often the showcases were in different venues on the same day, so we could tell that they were hustling to make it to the next gig, which was not sexy, but was romantic. (The idea of being an up and coming band, who is still doing its own roadie work, all the while showcasing at SXSW? Yeah, that sounds so good that it could be a made-for-tv movie….)

A band waiting to enter the Artists' Lounge.

4. No music during the day until Wednesday. What was odd was that though the music portion of the conference was set to begin on Monday, March 11, 2019, there was no music anywhere during the day it seemed until about Wednesday. From Wednesday on, almost every club we went past seemed to have some kind of live band playing even as early at 9 a.m. in the morning (which was joyous and invigorating).

5. Everybody says “y’all” when they’re greeting you (esp. in restaurants and stores). We’re not sure if it’s a “Texas” thing, a southern thing, or just an Austin thing, but each person that greeted us—no matter where we went—followed up that greeting with “y’all,” which was really cute. –I even got called “ma’am” a few times, which was pleasantly surprising.

Customer service was really great everywhere we went in Austin.

6. Customer service was 90 percent wonderful wherever we went. Following up from the last point, customer service was one the greatest assets of Austin, as far as we are concerned. We were treated with kind smiles and helpful attitudes no matter where we went. And now that we’ve been around the world, this is a wonderful thing to report. The only other place where we’ve seen folks who are as helpful as Austin is in our very own town, which was one of the prime reasons we chose to move here. So, better than Disney, Austin wins hands-down for their Southern charm.

7. Homeless folks are representing. They are "homeless camps"???? We thought we had seen all there was to see when it came to homeless folks, but going to Austin really upped the ante on that. We had seen a few small groups—in front of stores and wandering near the convention center—but we turned the corner at 7th Street and there were what seemed like hordes of people lined up around the block! It was really an overwhelming experience. We were saddened; realizing that if you TRULY do ONLY rely on live gigs to pay the bills, then you may not have the “best” retirement plan (unless you are prudent, which many musicians surely are not). So, we get it, but it was a pretty big deal. We found out that they call some of these groups of homeless folks “homeless camps” and that Austin services them with what they think might help. "First World" problems, I know, but after spending that boatload of money to attend a conference to be confronted with the reality of these folks’ lives is humbling.

There were beautiful, exotic plants everywhere.

8. Beautiful exotic plants. Everywhere we went, we saw the most beautiful exotic plants. Cacti in an abundance of variety. And trees slightly in bloom. I think they think it’s spring down there. But it was nice to see Mother Nature doing her thing and amazing us mortals, as always...

9. Not many “chocolate chips” (as we find with quite a lot of our adventures). We arrived at the film and interactive portion of the conference and though everyone was wearing all-black —see #1, if you’re lost—we would count the number of other “brown “ people on one hand (including us). Of course, once the music portion began, so did the number of brown people. We’re not surprised by this for quite a number of reasons too lengthy for this post, but we “represent” wherever we go.

10. Food is not that expensive. But then, you don't get much either. This is probably two observations wrapped up in one, but dining out was more affordable than any place I can remember. However, what was also strange was that you didn’t get a plate overflowing with food anywhere we went. —Which really means that you have to factor the cost of ordering more into that total food equation. So, actually we spent about the same, if not MORE than we usually budget per day for food. Having said that, I negated my own point! 😳

11. You’re not going to get fat from these portions. The other “off” thing—which ALSO might end up being two points in one or maybe even 3 points in one—is that there are many healthy choices on every menu, we didn’t get much food, and we didn’t see many morbidly obese people throughout our visit there. The size of the portions AND the size of the people was incredibly surprising to us, given the lore that “everything is bigger in Texas”; well, not this time! We felt healthier for being around healthful choices and fitter people.

12. Every restaurant seems to actually be a bar in disguise. Therefore, morning, noon, and night, they are serving drinks wherever you go—at least, during SXSW. So, no matter which showcase, installation, restaurant, and event, there was a pop-up bar!

13. First two presentations were so dry and disconnected that this one—“Trailerized: Music in Film & TV Marketing”—pops. [–BTW: We learned that “Trailerized” means adding elements that makes the music more suitable for use in a trailer.] Not only can we see the panel on a supercool set, but the panelists had lively personalities. –I used the “Bruce-ometer” to gauge interest and if he’s awake, then I know they are doing their job from the stage.

14. There are times when you have nothing conference-related going on and then there are times when 6 sessions that you want to attend are happening simultaneously! In different locations! Ugh!

15. Hotel restaurant looked very promising, but turned out to be as underwhelming as usual. (We don’t want to embarrass them, so we WON’T include a clip—nor the name.)

16. App is not as useful as it seems it should be. Shows you sessions from days past in your calendar (as if they are new options), which is incredibly NOT helpful.

17. There are people here truly from all over the world (which is a little awe-inspiring). Everywhere we went, we were surrounded by different accents. This truly was a world-wide draw, which made us feel as if we a part of something great.

18. Music is naturally political. In fact, the sessions that were more political turned out to at least provide a take away (or a call to action)—whereas some of them were unstructured and seemed pointless. (See #23 for more on that.)

19. Sets for this event are generally fantastic and must have cost a fortune!

20. Line management was very odd. The way in which overflow of a line was handed was almost always non-sensical.

Line management was non-sensical. Click video above for an example.

21. Conference was well-manned; tons of volunteers to assist when we needed it.

22. Whatever the humidity is, it has dramatically affected my hair. I barely recognize myself, because my hair has either been a pile of green cotton balls or super straight and spiky. Ugh!😕

23. Too many sessions didn’t have a structure (which doesn’t work if panelists aren’t naturally entertaining). There isn’t a lot of value being given in many of the sessions we attended. Often, it’s a lot of panelists talking amongst themselves, which is a waste of the attendees’ time. (—Note to self; keep entertainment and engagement near the top of the list, as well as providing tangible, actionable tips, and take-aways.)

24. We were looking for more useful tips in the D.I.Y. sessions—since this is one of our deepest passions—and as far as we could see, Ari Herstand’s session—“How To Make It in the New Music Business”—was the only one that offered practical, usable, hit the ground running advice (which was very disappointing). Perhaps SXSW was just too high level for even discussing D.I.Y. concerns.

Click video above for an example of a sign flipper in action.

25. Sign flipping is an art. Period.

26. At the restaurants, it doesn’t seem as if they assign a particular waiter to tables. It’s a more fluid process than we are used to, but whomever happens to be nearest you when you need something is the person who can help you. –We can say with confidence that this method ONLY worked because the servers everywhere were so nice and attentive.

27. They don't give out straws and paper napkins in restaurants unless you ask. We guess they’ve decided to be proactive in planetary conservation….

28. On Saturday, rappers took over the club street (6th Street), which made it not as much fun. Honestly, rappers are not great to be around (with the mean-mugging, blocking the walkway, and weed smoking). It's not my scene and I was ready to go once that was apparent. (Check out this clip to get a gander at what we were facing.)

Click video above for an example of the crowd that took over.

29. Exotic birds making tropical sounds (Check out this clip with us competing with the birds in our intro.)

Here's our last day at South By Southwest 2019.

Here's our other Music Conference experience.

How to Get More Done? Here's how...

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