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SXSW Tuesday

17 Mar

In Which Your Correspondent Gets Free or The Benefits of Bureaucracy

Hunched over in the exit row of the tiny plane (I had to use the bathroom standing like a closed parentheses) heading down to Austin, Fort Wilson Riot’s “A Wordlessly Whispered Melody” shuffled onto my iPod. A sudden swell of nostalgia and I spun the dial back to play the Idigaragua album in full. Perfect traveling music. Two and a half years ago, when the Twin Cities theater and music scene was still relatively unknown to me, I was a part of the stage production that accompanied that rock-opera’s premiere, and I count it as one of the singular best and most formative experiences of my life. It was one of those things that was ridiculously hard work to pull off, that became more pleasurable the harder it became, was a rough an d beautiful synthesis of music with movement and art. The people I made that show with, I love them all still.

It seemed only fitting, that the dangerous travels and travails of the American journalist be the soundtrack for my first push down to South By Southwest. Here seems like a perfect place to lose oneself, to encounter gypsies and pirates and singing, dancing cacti, or their modern counterparts. I think PR and marketing people must be the carnival barkers with their Dancing Geek of Ciegozia. You have to go into this willing to accept those dangers, the perils of booze being flung at you, the weight of people pushing their band’s free swag, late nights, long lines and auditory assaults from all angles. Take it in, write it down and smash the glass of the rules you follow.

There is, however, a bureaucracy and hierarchy to the South By Southwest Music Festival, something a little akin to bribing your way through a Soviet regime. Who you know and how fast you get there are keys to getting the most out of your visit to Austin, like knowing which shopkeeper in Tito’s Sarajevo has a shipment of sugar coming in. However, unlike some dour Politburo meeting during the Cold War, all the apparatchiks of SXSW are well-coifed neon hipsters or leather-clad grungy rockers. No one is going to mistake our skinny jeans for Mao suits, and the purpose of meeting is the pleasure principle, and once formalities have taken place, you can get around to partying hard. ‘Round here, we’re trying to tear down the Berlin Wall of humdrum living.

Upon entering the Austin Convention Center, the air buzzes with attendees and functionaries running around with wireless devices, gathering credentials and standing in lines. The highest credentialed level is the Badge (which Staciaann has) an imprinted security-coded device that grants different levels of access to the various functions and conference panels, easy circumvention of lines and an all around munificent blessing. The wristband (which I have) is tagged on, unremovable for showering and general human functions offers access to basic services like venues, of course for a price. It is also totally possible to see plenty of great music for free, often on the condition that you RSVP to the open invitations beforehand.

The Constellations at the Fader Fort

At South By Southwest, the RSVP is the everyman’s secret weapon. On Tuesday night, before the festival even kicked off in earnest, an RSVP to the Levi’s Fader Fort (this is no place to start quibbling about corporate sponsorship of music) opened the doors for free popcorn, mechanical bull rides and Southern Comfort-Red Bulls and a performance by Canadian band Metric. Which is pretty amazing, because anyone who has seen or heard Metric should have, in the words of another journo on the trip, an “indie-rock boner” for lead singer Emily Haines. Hell, if you are capable, you should probably just have a regular boner for Emily Haines. And to push up for free to the very front so that when she spins her head and prances…

Hang on, a Japanese glam punk all-girl band in black vinyl and kimonos just walked past. I may be distracted like this throughout.

So, when Emily Haines prances and bounces around the stage for “Help I’m alive” and “Gimme Sympathy” her sweat lands on you like holy water. When the finale of “Stadium Love” rolls around and you’ve only been in Texas for four hours and seen a band you would have paid $25 at First Avenue to see and the weather, though cold, has the promise of sunshine and warmth, good god, I’m alive and my heart keeps beating like a hammer.



As the night progresses, because we feel unconstrained by schedules or coverage expectations (I hope, dear reader, to remain similarly unencumbered throughout the festival) we wander through the streets, eating BestWurst hotdogs, which put to shame Minneapolis and it’s abhorrent lack of decent street fare, stop in to some parties, watch people wander around. One of those people happens to be Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, who is in town doing music interviews for a show in IFC, so I get my picture taken with him. One of the people in our hotel room says that she swears she saw him on our floor later that night, so if Craig Finn is staying on our floor, there might be some very awkward hanging around the elevators later in the week. But the night goes on. We run into the Ice Cream Man, who gives us free swag and with free pineapple basil ice cream, we walk through the streets to a place called the Beauty Bar and music streams out of different venues every ten feet; this is what freedom looks and sounds like.

My phone just reminded me I am supposed to be at work in 15 minutes. Nope, I already am. At work riding the bull, leaping in the water.

Carl Rides The Bull from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

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