I honestly thought I was prepared for SXSW. I've been to other festivals around the country; I even worked at one for several years.
I set up a schedule, planned my meals around the parties that served food and made sure I had a small, must-see-no-matter-what list of bands (She & Him, Wanda Jackson, Nneka). However, once we found Sixth Street, those well thought-out plans went straight to Hades. I felt like Dug the Dog from the movie Up; every new sight or sound would cause me to jerk my head around, point and yell "Look!" -- like Dug would yell "Squirrel!" -- just didn't seem to fit the situation.
The sheer number of interesting and (mostly) good sounds pouring out of every bar and restaurant along with the many busking musicians on the street led me to become somewhat of a Nancy Drew. I now had a personal mission to discover each and every one of them.
Once we checked into our amazing room at the Doubletree Hotel, I immediately opened the curtains to check out the view. What I saw made me gag. Our hotel room directly overlooks the Darrel K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium. Yep -- that's the University of Texas, the other Texas stadium.
Now, I fully appreciate being able to book a room within walking distance of Sixth Street -- unofficially the "Music Capitol of the World" -- but knowing Bevo and the rest of the Longhorns are within viewing distance let alone smelling distance was almost enough to make me turn around and go home. Almost. So I gave it the Sooner Stink Eye, and shut the curtain.
Arriving at SXSW is overwhelming to say the least. As we walked toward the Austin Convention Center (ACC), every pole and wall were covered by promotions: posters, postcards, business cards, even CDs littered every signpost and door. Apparently the City of Austin expected this, since every pole was pre-wrapped with a kind of saran wrap -- I'm guessing the wrapping makes everything easier to remove after the festival ends.
After registering and getting the first of several bags of (mostly unnecessary) swag, we headed off to the Music Conference.
Every turn of a corner brought another four or five people handing us flyers and postcards about parties, bands, showcases and just about anything related to a band or business.
This incessant marketing brought to mind my honeymoon in Las Vegas, where underage teens would constantly hand out flyers about nudie bars and "escort" services. We were bombarded with so many CDs, magazines and other random things (including breath mints, earplugs and condoms) that we would have to make at least one trip a day to the car to unload everything.
Wednesday, our first day, was spent learning the venues, the surrounding restaurants and the locations of any secret shows (Broken Bells played in a parking garage at 1pm on Wednesday; the show info was sent to Twitter followers only hours before).
Wednesday night was all metal, all the time.
After seeing an interview with Lemmy (Kilmister, of Motorhead), we decided to walk a mile (uphill, both ways, in bare feet -- no snow) to the Austin Music Hall for Motorhead. This venue is out there; I believe it even serves as the unofficial border of SXSW.
We arrived just in time to catch the full set of Michael Monroe, the former lead singer of Hanoi Rocks. I've never been a huge '80s glam band/hair metal fan, but Monroe hasn't performed in Texas in more than 20 years! Michael Monroe and his band were a lot of big-haired fun, and I can definitely appreciate a history-making performance when I see one.
Before we made the long trek to Motorhead we had to catch Wanda Jackson and the Green Corn Revival. Not only is she an Oklahoma native but a living legend in her own right. Heck, she's the Queen of Rockabilly! Performing her ex-boyfriend's "Heartbreak Hotel" (yep, Elvis Presley) to such a small, intimate crowd was simply amazing. Jack White hit the nail on the head when he described Jackson's voice as a growl unlike any he'd ever heard before.
I feel like I'm leaving so much out -- and this is just Wednesday! At the trade show, I collected some 30 CDs and five (actually wearable in public) T-shirts. Our feet are already covered in almost-blisters. Smokey Robinson is speaking Thursday. People are genuinely friendly in Austin, and they truly believe everyone should move here.
If Wednesday is any indication of the fun we're gonna have throughout the next four days, give me a Monster energy drink and a shot of B12. SXSW, here I come!
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