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SXSW 2012

22 Mar

For me, SXSW usually involves running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to shoot one band after another. I’m usually in pain (feet, back, shoulders) by the end of each day from carrying photo gear and any swag I decided to pick up. It’s fun, and I love it, but…

This year I was given the opportunity to attend the festival through my new job at McNally Smith College of Music. I was a little apprehensive going in without having a set photo gig lined up, and I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect for responsibility. I was able to sit in on the SXSW class (yes, they have one) a few times to get a feel for the students that were heading down to Austin as well. It was my time to try to get them to understand what they’d really gotten themselves into.

So fast forward a few months and I’m on a plane on my way to Austin. I arrived on Tuesday, with a few other members of the College as well as some of my music-nerd friends. Good combo. Right away there were hotel issues (they got resolved) and a few other minor things. All good. Stopped by the Convention Center and picked up my badge as well as the tag for my camera. It was still early in the day, so a few of us wandered about. Leslie and I stopped and had some cold tea at a weird pop up stand, and just hung out, which was great as we hadn’t done too much of that. Met up with Tom and his girlfriend Robin and headed to check out Free Energy in a weird snow globe dome thing that Nokia was putting together. Man, was it hot in there. I did get a ridiculous free pair of scientific goggles though…

The next day the students flew into Austin and were overwhelmed. I met up with some of them at the Convention Center and went to check out our trade booth with Rock the Cause. Great stuff! So then I had an appointment to get a tattoo… yes mother, a tattoo. It took over an hour to get a cab to the shop, and another 2.5 hours to get back after the tattoo was done. Thank goodness for Tom and his car! After the tattoo I really wanted to check out Fiona Apple at the NPR showcase, so I hightailed it over to Stubbs and met up with some of the students and staff from McNally. We got in and I showed them my super sneaky way to barge up front for a good view. Apple was quite lovely and her emotional outpouring hasn’t changed. She performed some of the songs that made me fall in love with her such as “Sleep to Dream” and “Criminal,” so I was a happy camper. A bunch of us split off from the others and headed to the 1101 Warehouse to see if we could catch the buzz band Fun. Yeah… so after  30 minutes of waiting in a hot, sealed venue, I headed out. Smart move as it turns out Fun. didn’t go on for over an hour after their scheduled time and ended up performing acoustic.

Thursday was Springsteen Day! I got into the super packed Keynote Speech and man, it was inspiring. Bruce knows what he’s talking about and gets how music is really in your soul. It was so great to hear that from a legend. I found out I’d won a ticket to see Springsteen that night at the Austin City Limits Moody Theater and went to grab my wristband for that show. That show was the highlight of the week, as guests like Jimmy Cliff, Eric Burdon, Alejandro Escavedo, Arcade Fire, Low Anthem, Joe Ely & others crowded the stage along with the E Street Band. You can watch a rad version of everyone singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” here:

“This Land is Your Land” at SXSW from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

By this time my phone was dead, but I stopped in to check out Rock the Cause & GreenRoom Booking’s Vic Chestnutt tribute party. I ran into Chris Koza, Andrea Swensson and a ton of other Minneapolis friends – always a nice treat down in Austin. My friend Alison was supposed to be coming in on a super late flight, and with my phone dead I didn’t have a way to find out when she got in. So I hightailed it back to the hotel and awaited her arrival. Turns out it took her forever to get a cab and she ended up with the First Ave peeps for the night.

Friday was a big day with the showcase I’d helped book at The Dirty Dog Bar. I got up and took some 4×5 photos with Nick (project I’m doing for MCAD) and then met a student to hang out and attend some of the legal continuing ed panels. I’d always meant to do this, but never have before. We sat through two panels that were both pretty heated and interesting. We jetted after the second one over to’s party and saw Rogue Valley tearing it up on stage. Met up with a bunch of Minneapolitans and also had a few minutes to check out First Ave/City Pages day party, which just happened to be down the street. Later, Niki and I headed back over to the convention center for the last legal continuing ed panel of the day.  whee!  So far, 2012’s SXSW was a whole new thing for me.

I knew the next day was going to be crazy with the McNally party. I also knew I’d promised to meet the students at 9am. Yes, I am officially insane. Turns out the shuttle from the hotels doesn’t start running until 9am. Oops. So instead I meandered to coffee and then across the freeway to East Austin and the Liberty Bar. Students soon followed and we all went together to get more coffee (it was SO early!). We sat in a circle and sipped our caffeine while talking about the day. What did we expect to happen? Who wanted to stage manage? What about merch? Posters? Should the artists sign them? What about the free Vitamin Water that was donated? What about drink tickets? Food? There was a lot to run through and process. As we went through the information I tried to convey the most important thing I’ve found working in the music “scene”: (1) Be yourself. Don’t be someone you’re not; (2) Be honest. If you don’t know something that’s ok.; (3) Be helpful. Ask what you can do for someone else, not what someone else can do for you; (4) Talk to people. Almost everyone in this business is actually a good person. (5) Breathe. Eat. Hydrate.

Back at the Liberty the students got set putting up banners, getting the backline set up, dealing with merch and Vitamin Water, among other tasks. As the day started we weren’t sure what to expect. We were a far cry from 6th Street in the grand scheme of things, and we knew that many festival-goers don’t venture out that far. We had great bands, free food & free beer on our side. As the day progressed I found that the students needed me less and less. I checked in to make sure they were taking care of themselves, but they really came into their own. If there were problems, they’d troubleshoot, pretty much always working things out themselves. The show ran on time and as smoothly as possible. They helped bands load in and load out, drove vans to parking spots, grabbed snacks for friends, snapped photos and video, met new people, and learned how a successful event is really run. Multiple musicians (both those performing and those just hanging out) mentioned how professional the McNally students seemed. How prepared they were for this event. I was so proud! They really hit a home run with the day party and it was just great to see them really take control – while observing my “helpful hints” for how to survive in the scene.

At the end of the night everyone pitched in to clean up. We hit up an AMAZING food truck court for dinner and talked about the show and things that went right and those that went wrong. Overall #SXSuccess! After that I knew I had to pack all my stuff, shower, and just get ready for my awesome 6am flight home. So I did just that.

Wait, I’m forgetting all the amazing bands I saw, all the running around like a crazy person… I didn’t do that this year. I mean, I did see some amazing bands, but instead I also got to soak up some meals with friends and learn at some panels. I saw a few bands I really loved, and got to experience a great show with Springsteen (and my partner in crime Tim). It was not what I expected from SXSW, but it was wonderful. I hope I get to do it again!

Photos of the week from Nick & I here!

Check out some of the bands who performed at the McNally Day Party… yes, I suck at video.

Night Moves at McNally Smith’s Day Party from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

Pink Mink at SXSW from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

Zoo Animal at the McNally Smith Day Party from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

Kara Laudon at the McNally Smith Day Party from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

Fort Wilson Riot at the McNally Smith Day Party – SXSW 2012 from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

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