Closing in on that magical time of the year here in Austin. It's time for SXSW; the music, film, education and tech conference. Two weeks of .....

"South by," as it is referred to by locals, started out as a straightforward music festival during which bands from across Texas, and then across the U.S. and now around the world, made their way to Austin, Texas to play for free (or next to nothing) in hundreds of clubs and temporary venues in the hope of being discovered. When the festival started to expand the owners looked to other industries to expand the audiences (and the sale of pricey wristbands). 

Consensus is that the event has peaked. The cool kids find it about as attractive as a sunny Saturday afternoon at a local shopping mall and even the corporations are starting to glom to the fact that the overall festival has gone from trendy to Sears and Roebuck. 

But that doesn't deter the event's owners and promoters who seem to understand that even boring, plodding, participants from the downward side of  the coolness Belle Curve can spend money prodigiously and, since most of the content is more or less free to the producers, why would they stop now? No such thing as leaving on a high note in what used to be the music biz.....

But for anthropologists/photographers there is still a lot to like about the next two weeks (my take is that the official start is March 9th. Yes, there is an education segment to the conference that starts this week but it's a newer add-on and I don't think it really counts...). 

Over the next two weeks the clubs in downtown, along Sixth St. and in the Rainey St. district will be packed with bands playing everything from vintage punk to new age polka. Rabid or vapid fans will be swirling through the street oblivious to traffic as they stay up to speed on schedules via their cellphones which will never veer more than two feet from their faces.

Photographers will head downtown to photograph this year's variations off youth culture, music culture and some will brave the lines to see the good and bad movies that are part of the festival. Like participants in the stock market a tiny sliver of the attendees will actually make connections that will help their careers, everyone else will end up subsidizing national hotel chains, scrounging for free beer and finger food and generally waiting in long lines for crappy entertainment they would never have wanted to pay for at home. All at about $1200 per person for the generic wristband. 

Me? Yeah, I've watched SXSW grow from an extension of the native music scene to a city clogging world event so I'll head down as I have the time to see if there is anything interesting I can shoot for posterity. Maybe I'll catch some K-pop. Meet the next Spielberg. Rub shoulders with the next Fedex-shipping-dog food-delivery-online-start-up. Oh shades of 1999.

The camera of choice for me is usually something smaller and lighter but still capable of good stills and very good video. This year it's probably going to be the Panasonic G85 with the kit lens and a nice little microphone sitting in the hot shoe. I'll remember to pack a couple of ND filters. And to get into the center of downtown along with Austin's temporary 70,000 new hipsters I'll definitely be riding down there on the city bus. Parking a car is so last decade....

Maybe I'll see you down there on Saturday after the noon workout and the coffee klatch. Could be groovy. Want to fit in? Gain a lot of weight and wear a lot of black along with a really crappy pair of sunglasses. 

And don't forget to bring along your corporate mascots....


  1. I was on the road in 1989 with a band working the Midwest fair circuit (Mike Reed's Dixie in one of its many iterations). I distinctly remember us talking about the still nascent SXSW as a possible showcase to book bigger fairs. Fast forward a couple of decades, I was now an Austin resident dreading the impact of SXSW on getting around downtown for almost two weeks. Ok for people watching, but yeah SXSW peaked some time ago (along with sales of CDs). Have fun with the street shooting in any case!

  2. Really seems kind of sad they play for free. All that cash floating around, ending up everywhere except with the musicians. They should call a strike, like the teachers in West Virginia (I'm joking, but kind of serious).

  3. I'll be going downtown, of course, to shoot the street.

  4. SXSW and Burning Man -- two things I wish I had experienced when they were young and fresh but have no desire to see in their present forms.

  5. SXSW on bucket list for me and my wife for years. Your contra-PR sways me towards avoidance.

    If you're ever in the Philly area around mid August, try the Philadelphia Folk Festival, which is always good for unusual people pictures. NOT free at all, though, but worth the admission price.


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