When I first saw the initials for South by Southwest: SXSW. . . well I didn’t get it. But I got it now! This is my 12 year! And some of what I write here is accurate to my experience and at hand knowledge. And well, it’s my story.
The conference known SXSW (http://sxsw.com/) started like all things small in a small city. It is now an international multifaceted, whole she-bang, big deal. But it’s not a festival like New Orleans Jazz and Heritage, it is and was created for the folks who get things going for artists of many sorts: the one who write PR, and book acts and producers show off their talent. .. and the other stuff like Interactive, I don’t really know. I’m married to a musician and our first SXSW was 12 years ago and we came down from Boston because a band, Stan Martin’s Band, got a SX showcase.
The other side of the story is that I was accepted for the MFA program at Texas State, just 30 miles south of Austin. We lucked out big time, that year in a way we could not have understood until we got here. A young woman who had been a work-study student in my department at Boston University, had come to Austin for her Masters in Speech Pathology. We had stayed in touch and she offered us her apartment to stay in because she was leaving town for spring break.
(It seems to me that all the schools in Texas, I mean ALL, take the same week off in March. So SXSW is always during spring break.)
Well this apartment was two blocks off South Congress. 12 years ago, Congress still had a mechanic’s called Doc’s, (now a burger joint) on the corner of Academy. . .and up the hill, heading south, was . . . you know it’s easier if I just say, that when we came to Austin, SoCo still had a used car dealership where there is now expensive clothing and food. There was a Baptist Church were a hotel is going up now; there was a pet store where you can buy a nice hat. There was no side-walk in front of the old houses on the east side of Congress.
Oh but it was wonderful to come down during dreary March to sunshine and a city that was pretty in its mix of homespun twang, music spilling out of the Continental as we walked by. We walked up to The Magnolia Cafe, our first food. . .it was what it still is: eclectic, veggie forward, funky with the biggest glasses of water we’d ever been served. And we gulped it and munched. And walked down hill to the apartment. . . picking out shops to visit and waiting to hear from the band mates. And I believe we didn’t have cell phones. . . well I know I didn’t.
The first night, we went to the Broken Spoke. And I got my first sense of a true dance hall. And the band was working with some other folks who were DJ or promoters. It was rather thrilling, to be in this arena. It was great to see my husband and friends being treated seriously for their craft. And it was at the “Spoke” that I first saw my friend Deb two-step, dance. She was married to a guitar player in another band, and well, she danced like the joy it should be. Blond, tall, all legs and smiles. Generous and smart. Over the years she and I became very close friends and have supported each other in ways that are sister-like. Never would have thought that, on that first day in Austin.
SXSW is a series of showcases at night, produced and handled by SXSW only. During the days music venues, and venues, private homes, and such become places where radio stations or record labels strut their stuff. And even only 12 years ago, it was more intimate. I also didn’t know about the film and the digital-interactive areas that SXSW covers and embraces. I was along for the ride with my husband but more than that we were looking at Austin as our next home.
And “nothing succeeds like excess” as the Dowager Countess said on Downton Abby. The excess of SXSW that first year seduced us. The smell of BBQ smoke floating in the air, the ‘real’ Mexican food (Boston, remember?) and sky, so much sky. We took a trip to see the campus where I’d do my graduate work. We visited the Katherine Anne Porter House along the way, not knowing it was attached to the MFA program.
Over these 12 years I have been a volunteer for SXSW, working back stage and meeting wonderful and ‘famous’ musicians. I have hosted people in the house, which is fun. . .and we’ve loaned out hubby’s studio so ‘famous’ folks could rehearse with Austin based musicians who are ‘famous’ in their own right. This year I rather wish I’d left town for the charm is gone. I thought the traffic would be worse, but then again, I have not gone where the hipsters reign.
My very happy moment this year is my son saying: “Mom, I saw on So&So’s Facebook page, that you heard Jorma Kaukonen at a coffee shop yesterday!” I admit, I will thank all those who made it possible for Mr. Kaukonen to be in Austin for SXSW, for after 34 years, I am still a ‘cool mom’. My son is in Boston, with all that snow and cold. Next year, I’ll fly to Boston and mind my grandson so my kid can see all this, that is called SX, for himself.
(And for those who are still reading. . .writing this made me feel very proud of my family. . .and the many people, who are now friends, or even no longer friends. . .well it’s made Austin our home.)