In light of the horrible tragedy that took place in Austin on March 13, we would like to extend our deepest condolences to the victims and their families. We hope everyone at SXSW stays safe.
One year ago, I experienced one of the most unforgettable weeks of my life. On March 13, 2013, I flew down to Austin to work the music portion of the two-week long festival as a project coordinator for Royal Media Group. When I was told that I would be heading down to Austin, I was as excited as I was anxious, as it had been seven years since I flew anywhere and my first time traveling solo. Still, it was an offer no person could say ‘no’ to.
My boss flew me down to San Antonio on Wednesday and rented a car for me to make the 90-minute trip to Austin. Though it was terrifying driving so far by myself in a state I had never been, it was also exhilarating and let me take in the scenery. I only had half hour to settle into the rented house before making my way into the heart of the city. As someone who lives in New York and has seen Times Square at its busiest, I can say that Austin during SXSW is unrivaled in its complete chaos. While I expected a big crowd and had heard stories about the famed 6th Street, I was still overwhelmed. The streets were littered with bar-hopping millennials, music journalists, amateur musicians, promoters, and event fliers leading people to where they needed to go. Though most people probably picture Texas as an ultra-conservative Bible-thumping state, the very-liberal Austin felt more like a warmer Williamsburg. You couldn’t take a step without your ears being filled with music; to put it lightly, it is every music lover’s dream.
My company was stationed in a rustic venue called Swan Dive on 615 Red River Street, right off 6th Street. Though old and worn down, it had its own charm and glowed with a rich past full of famed performers and shows. Our company was working with a Canada-based company called Planet Quebec (who are focused on promoting talent from Quebec), which was an odd endeavor that presented a nice challenge and allowed me to meet some interesting people and observe some unique talent. Wednesday and Thursday were primarily spent on promoting the acts and working the shows. On Thursday morning, I was able to overcome a mishap with my alarm that forced me to wake up late and attended a meeting filled with some of our company’s artists and Pandora executives. I was able to learn a lot, eat some great Texan food, and get take in a beautiful Austin view from their office. Throughout the week, the work kept on coming but it was extremely rewarding and in many ways did not feel like work. Though there were ups and downs, many of the events the company put on (including one showcasing Cirque Du Soleil) were well attended and well covered.
Luckily, it was not all work and no play. I made sure to highlight every artist I wanted to see along with their set times and locations, and made a point to catch as many artists as the Lone Star State had to offer. I was able to catch Pentimento, who were coincidentally playing an 11pm set Wednesday night in the patio right behind Swan Dive (as part of the Weapons of Mass Creation Showcase). This was only my second time seeing Pentimento perform but reaffirmed that they are a can’t-miss, high-energy live act. One of my favorite sets of the festival happened on Friday night, when I saw Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls play a set at 12:50am at Blackheart Bar and Grill. After completing a long day of work, I sprinted down to the bar – which was far off from the heart of the festival – to catch the always incredible Frank Turner. Blackheart is a small bar with a spacious backyard patio that created a brilliant setting to watch the show. Frank looked like he could not be having more fun as he drunkenly played through a 13-song set and playfully bantered with the crowd in between songs.
On Saturday, the big Alternative Press day-long showcase at the radiant Red 7 venue was the highlight of my trip. Featuring both an indoor and outdoor stage, I was able to fit in Pentimento, Air Dubai, What’s Eating Gilbert, Allison Weiss, and headliner Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls. Though this set was a lot earlier (he performed at 6pm), the crowd was equal to the task of the previous night’s performance; Frank made sure to switch up the setlist and the crowd danced, swayed, partied, and sang along. After my final day of work, I finished off the Frank Turner trifecta at Cedar Street Courtyard, where he performed alongside The Revival Tour. Although I missed Chuck Regan and Jenny Owen Youngs, I made it in time to catch Matt Pryor (The Get Up Kids) play some classics like “Close to Home” and “I’ll Catch You” and Chris Carraba (Dashboard Confessional, Twin Forks) perform Dashboard anthem “Hands Down”. Frank’s final set offered a different spin as he took the stage minus the Sleeping Souls and played a handful of his hits along with covers from artists ranging from Blink-182 to Bruce Springsteen. For the final song, the entire Revival Tour joined Frank onstage and closed out SXSW in a glorious fashion, capping off my unbelievable week.
As I look back one year later, I cannot begin to say how lucky I was to be able to participate and take in the sights and sounds of SXSW. It is truly one of the most remarkable festivals in the world and gives fans the opportunity to experience so many talented individuals in so many different fields in such a short amount of time. I would highly encourage everyone to attempt to make the trip down at least once in their lifetimes. With the proper preparations, research, and performances, you could be creating memories that will last a lifetime.