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Apr 1 / aguse

EM @ SXSW

SXSW 2011 156

April: I love me some (err…lots of) TexMex. It’s the one thing I could probably eat in various forms every day. Especially breakfast tacos. Guess how often I ate breakfast tacos? Once. And only one. In the Austin airport. Waiting for my flight back home. Also, we only had tacos once the whole weekend at a random bar because it had a sandwich board outside that said “Tacos Upstairs.” I was a little taken aback that taco or Mexican food trucks were few and far between downtown Austin in the general vicinity of where the showcases were happening, however, the hot dogs/burgers/sausage ‘n pepper sandwich food trucks were abundant because America I guess? I really don’t know.

The taco from upstairs in the bar

And another

Gourmet Food Trucks: Where’s my mom so I can slap her?

To be fair, this was my third time visiting Austin and my second time attending SXSW, so yes, I knew what I was in for, but with a population of 36.9% Hispanic or Latino background in Texas (which is 27% more than the USA average, according to the 2009 U.S. Census Bureau) you would think the Mexican eats would be vast. There were some barbecue stands and restaurants here and there, another Texan staple, but we didn’t have any because I don’t eat meat and vegetarian “BBQ” is whatever. There was a Korean BBQ Taco stand we passed a few times one night, but the line was long and our stomachs needed instant gratification because we only had time to eat twice a day. We got empanadas at a food truck called mmmpanadas. I got soy chorizo with brie and Christiana had spicy black bean. They had other really fun culinary creations such as asparagus prosciutto and peach cobbler empanadas. Also, the apartment we stayed at was right off of South Congress where there are plenty of restaurants and food trucks for a good mile stretch. Jo’s Coffee stand had breakfast tacos, but they only served them until they were gone. Other than that, there were no food trucks serving Mexican food. I was glad there was so much variety for food in both of these areas, but was disappointed there wasn’t at the very least one sub-par Americanized Mexican food truck. You know, straight outta the taco dinner kit box.

Christiana: Being from northeastern Pennsylvania, there’s basically no such thing as a food truck let alone a gourmet food truck and furthermore, the folks ‘round here would probably be thoroughly sketched out about buying their lunch from a truck. Wimps. This (personally) novel movement blew my mind. There was Korean, Turkish, American, vegetarian, Hawaiian, Mexican, and fusions of all kinds. The quality was downright impressive (homemade breads?!), the service was always friendly (would you like some chipper with those chips?), the portions weren’t scarce by any means (food babies abound), and the prices were unbeatable (averaging $6 a pop). I was pleasantly surprised to realize that a foodie like me barely spent any money on food even though what I had been eating all week was still of great quality time and time again. I can only hope that this movement catches steam sooner than later and more and more mom & pop food trucks spring up in smaller towns. A food truck renaissance, perhaps.

All Hail The Mighty Cone!!!

The Mighty Cone

The Otha' Side

(Above, from left to right) Fried Pickles w/ Jalapeno Ranch sauce, Fries, Fried Avocado Cones, and a Veggie Slider

Waffle taco from Lucky J's food truck

(Above) Waffle Taco with potatoes, cheese, fried onions and hot sauce

Aster's Ethiopian

Spicy Black Bean empanada from Mmmpanada

Everything is Bigger in Texas

April: Let’s be honest: SXSW can be done without buying badges. There are so many free showcases throughout the week, why would anyone want to drop a few hundred dollars on a badge? Unfortunately, this was evident this year. I say unfortunately because there were crowds on top of crowds everywhere you went in downtown Austin. The festival this year was overcrowded and overwhelming. Good for SXSW and the city of Austin, because that means bigger bank for both. After 24 years, I think it’s normal to expect the crowds to get bigger as the festival itself gets bigger. In comparison to the last time I went, which was in 2009, the crowds were incomparable. Imagine lines of people pouring around every corner of the street. This is to be expected, but it was doubly apparent this year.

The Fader Fort was the most crowded I have ever seen it, and I have attended the traveling venue several times between SXSW and CMJ. There was literally a swarm of a hundred or so people around the bar (where there were only three bartenders) at The Fader Fort when we were there on Friday early evening. The showcases were on top of showcases. There were definitely more showcases than ever, unofficial and official, making it difficult for “The No Namers” from “Little Town” to get noticed. Trying to lure the average festival goer to see The No Namers with free beer worked for exactly that: free beer and oh, there’s some apathetic looking band onstage. Why would they want to see the No Namers while The Strokes are playing for free the same night? I’m not saying no one wanted to see the smaller acts, but for the average festival goer, why would they care? The average blogger wants to see them because they want to say they heard it or discovered it first before they became The Strokes. Otherwise, the little guys got lost in the mix of Kanye West and TV on the Radio.

The gap between the media and the festival goer appeared to shrink as we hopped showcases. For the media, if they applied for press passes, they also had to declare if they would be documenting the acts via photography and/or video. Those who applied needed to describe in detail what the purpose of documenting would be for, what kind of media outlet it was, what acts they planned on seeing and where, etc. We needed our cameras to be tagged to allow us to take pictures. There were rules, which again is typical for festivals, such as only photographing the first three songs of an artists set. The night we went to see Chromeo was the evening it became apparent to me that these “tags” were laughable and all the rules became void, and brings me back to my first point: you really don’t need a badge to get into official showcases. Anyone can pay cash at the door to enter, unless it’s already filled to capacity, in which case having a badge or wristband is a perk. We wedged ourselves to the left of the stage, preparing our cameras for Chromeo to come out. As soon as they set foot on the stage, a cacophony of little LED screens filled the audience. Guess how many of those cameras were tagged in our immediate vicinity? Zero. We were the only ones with tagged cameras. Let me also add here that most people were photographing with their phones…and leave it at that. Photos were taken well beyond the first three song limit. I saw no official-looking SXSW employees telling people that they could not take photos. I felt like all of the suckers who paid badges or wristbands had been had, and the time I spent working on my press pass application and camera shoot schedule I had to do pre-SXSW was a complete waste.

Christiana: That’s not to say that the showcases we actually got to see were so overcrowded that it deemed the actual band’s performances unpleasant; quite the opposite actually. Most of the shows we made it to were either filled to capacity or pretty close and I, for one, do not do well with crowds to say the least (call me crazy but I prefer much more intimate settings). Nonetheless, I had a blast at basically every showcase I attended. There was this energy floating around that entire week that the artists must have been feeding off of because every band I had the opportunity to see just totally killed it. It was the vast amount of walking (or pacing), then waiting, then intricately maneuvering our way as close to the stage as possible that was the annoyingly undesirable part of a music festival that had blown up to newly epic proportions (but that comes with the territory so I tried to be mindful of that). This year’s SXSW was on a mission to attract a crowd of mass appeal, no matter how unprepared the staff was, and with that came four or five days of a jam-packed, chaotically entertaining shit show.

Now back to the showcases! The showcase schedule that I spent almost a week beforehand arranging deemed almost completely useless when it came down to actually having the time and energy to follow through with what I had been planning on seeing. If you make a showcase schedule and you’re determined to follow it as closely as possible, you best be sure to have a crystal clear game plan… and let’s be realistic here, that’s almost impossible during SXSW. The distance between one venue to the other may be quite inconvenient, then once you get to the venue you have to consider how long the line already is, then if the line is stretching as long as a city block or more you start to wonder if you’ll even make it to the door before the venue reaches capacity, but even if you finally make it into the venue after a long wait in line, will you have missed most of the band’s set? Point being: you’re better off going to SXSW a free bird. Don’t plan too much, don’t have high expectations (or any at all), and WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES.

Once April and I decided that we’d be fighting a losing battle if we tried to follow our schedules the majority of the time, we decided to drift along instead and check the schedule when we had an hour or more to kill. This decision set the stage for some pleasant surprises. The beauty of SXSW is that there’s an underground scene even within this festival in the form of unofficial showcases and parties. There were numerous times when April and I would wander around, in search of nothing in particular yet something at least mildly entertaining to pass the time and we’d end up mindlessly making our way into an unofficial showcase/party and, “OH!… The Pains of Being Pure At Heart is performing! AND free beer?! Okay we’re staying here until they force us to leave,” which is exactly what happened. Another time, our afternoon was pretty open so we made our way to a bar that we particularly enjoyed and who was about to start playing? Only one of our favorite bands that we’d been wanting to see for over a year now, Jeff the Brotherhood! So. Much. Fun. Then we made our way to The Fader Fort Party with no idea about the lineup only to discover that Smith Westerns were about to take the stage. We had been trying to catch a showcase of theirs all week but the lines were outrageous so the timing really couldn’t have been any better this time around. Who else did we happen to unexpectedly stumble upon, you ask? No Joy, Surfer Blood, Oh Land, and Chk Chk Chk. Those happenstance moments were some of my SXSW favorites. Oh and the gourmet food trucks. Oh and the amazingly friendly people.

The Verdict

April: Austin is such an amazing city, probably one of my favorites, but the city itself is overshadowed by the hype of SXSW so you can’t fully appreciate what Austin has to offer. I can’t say I’ve been attending SXSW since the first year it started, but knowing what I do know about the festival, its original purpose is–or at least was–to attract people all over the nation to not only do business and get creative, but to help smaller acts gain exposure. This year, that got lost somewhere within the masses, and sadly, on the bigger, buzzier, and more established acts. Would I go back next year? I’m not sure. I think a number of things would have to change (for the music portion)–perhaps less showcases and/or less acts, the “rules” created for media would have to be stricter or done away with (preferably the latter), and maybe cut off the more mainstream acts to make room for the little guys. Oh and more taco trucks, please!

Christiana: I honestly don’t know if I’d go back to Austin specifically for SXSW. To me, it seems to be losing its appeal as a festival which supports independent artists since this year was infiltrated with quite a considerable amount of bigger, mainstream acts who have already established themselves as a staple in the music scene. Where’s the independence in that? There needs to be a bigger emphasis on the little guy, and with that there needs to be a filtration system because of the overwhelmingly insane amount of bands on the roster. On the other hand, it’s pretty cool to have the option to go see Kanye West and then head to a dive bar and see a pretty much unknown band that has the potential to blow up within a year. All in all, I can only say that one must take SXSW in stride and realize that there are many hidden gems to be found within this whirlwind of a festival. Don’t fight with it, just ride with it.

Summer Camp

Grandchildren

White Denim


Das Racist

Oh Land

Pains of Being Pure At Heart

Bear Hands


Never-ending line to the Fader Fort

JEFF the Brotherhood

No Joy

Smith Westerns

Dirty Beaches

Puro Instinct

Toro y Moi

Chromeo

!!!

Shipla Ray singing back up for !!!

SBTRKT

Po Po

-April and Christiana

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