Friday Top 5: SXSW Is No Fun
A few years ago, we had a huge debate about which Austin festival was the best, Austin City Limits or SXSW. In the interim, other great festivals have gained status in our world, such as the incredible Fun Fun Fun Fest, and although SXSW was our favorite then, I’m just not so sure. Looking back, I should have seen this coming; I should have known that the hey-day of SXSW was slowly in decline. Now, I’m not saying that I’m ungrateful that so many incredible bands flock to Austin once a year, but rather I’m pointing out a few things that, to me, demonstrate just how far things have spun out of control in recent years. Take note that this is just one man’s opinion, and not necessarily the opinion of Austin Town Hall. And, in all likelihood, you’ll probably still see me out about town in my Killin Time Til Dave hat, I just won’t be too happy about it!
I get it folks. I understand that the economy is in a huge crisis, and we should all be grateful that there are so many companies willingly supporting independent music, but it seems that everyone under the sun now gets to sponsor an event of some sort, even if it has no relevance to the event as a whole. But, SXSW was not always this monstrosity with the sole focus of creating a financial boom for Austin, or for the companies that sponsor it. Long ago, in a different landscape, it was indeed about the music, it was indeed about the film, and it was indeed an entirely different affair. Perhaps it is just me, but when the whole event was more about discovery and music, it seemed a lot more carefree. There’s a certain paradox that exists when all these bands with ties to independent music and helping the little guy come into town piggybacking the corporate giants. I guess we’re no longer Keeping It Weird.
Admittedly, markets all experience inflation, but this seems just absolutely ridiculous to me. Back in the day, and not even that far back, one could purchase tickets (multiple ones) for less than $70, yet this year, that’s not even half the cost. You include the clever trick of supply and demand, and anyone could get away with it. Offer a few thousand tickets at a reasonably low cost, yet still double the original prices, and people feel like they’re getting a steal, as you may as well buy them while they’re cheap. People, don’t be a sucker for basic economic ploys. Sure, you’re getting your money’s worth in the end, but we could all have so much more fun if we could all afford it, thus we wouldn’t be scrambling for free shows. However, I see that this could all be blamed on the corporate sponsorships and Austin’s need to recoup the cost of losing the entire town to a slew of freaks and weirdos.
In this chapter, we will discuss the necessity for scheduling every last detail of your Austin SXSW adventure. First, realize that you don’t need that fancy spreadsheet, or that App that helps you coordinate where you need to be at any minute of the day. As a native of Austin, I’ve been to SXSW for over a decade, excluding the year I was trapped atop a volcano in the jungles of Costa Rica, and it was never about schedules. I used to just wander around with my badge, listening to bands at the door, then wandering in as I saw fit. In the end, I think I felt a greater appreciation for SXSW then because the music controlled my adventure, not some spreadsheet I put together for all the friends on my contact list. I get that everyone wants to see certain bands, but if you map out every last minute of your life, you forget that part of the chaos and exuberance of SXSW comes from walking down the street with your Best Wurst in hand, hoping to hear a distorted guitar or catchy melody that grabs you, and beckons you to follow. People, it’s music that should move you, not the convention aspect. Please, be my friend, burn your spreadsheet, and let’s celebrate the joy of discovering music all over again. Trust me on this one folks; I’m a teacher, and I’m extremely detail oriented in that regard, but this is one of those few weeks when I get to kick back and ignore all scheduling conflicts, and just follow the tunes. Please, come with me.
Given, we have hosted these in our time as a site, and I’ve enjoyed myself, but not because of the free beer, though I love that a great deal, but because of the music itself. I know there are a lot of you who research where your favorite band is playing, you follow them to every show, you scream your heart out, and you have a blast. But, then there are those, and I know you all know these people, who compile list upon list of where they can get the free stuff, especially the beer. I’m tempted to let this slide a little bit as the economic downturn has made pursestrings a bit tighter than usual, but then again, I can’t let this slide. SXSW is not about free beer and food, though that’s an added bonus, it is about the music. All kinds of people keep emailing me their party lists, telling me where I can get free beer, and I just want to email them back a nice knuckle sandwich. Your job at SXSW is not to see celebrities or get toasted on free beer, it is to enjoy the experience that the music brings, to fall in love with a band for the first time so hard that you forget the rest of the festival, following them like a sad puppy dog. If you’re following around the free beer cart during the whole festival then you’re doing it all wrong.
I’ve alluded to this throughout, but this is perhaps the biggest complaint from my end about SXSW, and it’s actually not the fault of anyone at SXSW. In its hey-day, the festival was huge in promoting discovery, both for bands and for labels. Bands used to come and just rock on the street in hopes of catching someone’s eye, getting signed, or really, just getting listened to for a minute by passers-by. Perhaps I’m a bit jaded, as I’ve seen this coming from a mile away, but it seems that as each year passes, more and more people are caring less and less about the music, and more and more about the party aspect. Sure, I’m all for having a good time, and I’ve done that at every SXSW I’ve attended, but music has always been the heart and soul of my adventures. Whether I was stumbling into some random showcase because the other events were packed, or whether I caught that one band I hadn’t seen, it’s always been about the music. I don’t know, it seems like so many of the bands coming are already huge, and I’m glad to see them come and play, but where are those diamonds in the rough? Where are the bands I never heard before? I’m tired of trying to jam myself into that “must-see” show, or wasting my day in hopes of catching some secret gathering around town. Come on people, it’s about the music.
In conclusion, I’m sorry if I’ve angered any of you, or you feel like I just crushed your party plans, as that was never my intent. This was just my attempt to bring a little resolve to the SXSW experience, in hopes that one day the tides will slowly begin to turn, bringing music back to the forefront, and making our experience a thousand times better. Here’s to you, and hoping you discover that one band that will forever be your favorite. Forever and ever, amen.