SXSW: The Ride Goes Upside Down

SXSW staggered in this year like a drunken bear in a mosh pit; tossed us upside down inside out chewed us up and spit us out on the pavement like a day old chaw of wacky tobacky.  Do they even make that?  If they do, I’m sure someone was chewing it at SXSW.

It is over for now and the screaming throngs are fading memories, but here is a shout out to all you long time Austinites who avoided SXSW this year and stayed tucked away in your suburban bubbles doing yardwork, watching March Madness, playing with your kids,  peeking at internet porn while pretending to read War and Peace on your Kindle Fire.  You know who you are – and I feel you baby, I really do.   Every year about this time I used to hunker down and stay hidden like a shadowless groundhog.

But this southby I had something of an epiphany after a bottle of red wine and a couple of black-and-tans. Strolling with KT down East 6th, we watched bands set up on every available corner, nook and balcony playing snippets of their best song and passing out promo cards to the besotted stream of peds, like a fly fisherman casting a line.

SxSW 2012

An enthusiastic group of rappers huddled around a plush set of maroon motorcycles with pop-up DVD players and a beat box blaring on the seat, lit up when they saw my H4N Recorder.  They laid down a passionate but largely unintelligible rhyme.  I found myself talking to them in their own cadence, know-what-I’m-saying, infected by the energy of their lexicon.  A man in a white robe passed by carrying a life-size stuffed deer on his shoulder.   I was spun around and bumped into the guitar case of a tall thin guy with dark flowing locks sticking out from under a goofy, bright-green Irish Hat.  He looked and swaggered a little like Russell Brand.  I thought he told me the name of his band was Herb and Renewal.  But when I asked him that he said, “No, follow me and we’ll smoke some Herb.”

“We’re going this way.” I pointed, “But thanks.”

“I love you,” he slurred sincerely, and hugged both of us warmly.

SxSW 2012

You see, my epiphany was this.  SXSW is a living entity, a palpable energy field, supercharged by the collective DNA of artists and voyeurs from all over the world.   As with any entity, we can choose to have a relationship with it or choose not to.

In this the year of our lord 2012, I got intimate with SXSW. It was like taking an excused vacation from normalcy.   Look, the reason we take vacations is to create a parenthetical experience to our otherwise mundane lives, an experience that delivers fresh stimuli to our jaded perceptions.  We are lifted from our routine and transported into a childlike state of wonder and awe as every day presents a set of fascinating and exotic situations.   Hello?  That pretty much nails the blur that was the past eight days here in Austin.  Time wept, all attempt at discipline and self actualization were put on hold.

Saturday night downtown was a river of blood, piss and beer.  The smell of deep-fried food stung my nostrils.  An overlapping cacophony of whistles, moshed electric beats, guitars and drums, sirens, tricked-out amps, rap and country, screamed conversations, fleshy co-eds shrieking laughter and hanging on each other.  A real scene of chaos and debauchery.  Of course it’s like this every Saturday night at 2 am on Sixth street,  but there was a little extra spark of electricity in the air witnessed by the pods of important-looking black-clad hipsters, badges swinging to the rhythm of their gait as they tried to get to their circled-in shows.

Mornings during SXSW, you get to practice your hangover cures.  Each day brings a new challenge, an opportunity to hone your detox and recuperation skills.   My personal recommendation is to drink 4 ounces of bentonite clay in the evening before bed, followed by a 16 ounce glass of water.  The next day, take an infared sauna and blow a quart of organic coffee up your ass.   If that is not available to you eat an enormous breakfast, preferably the Migas at Kerbey Lane Cafe with a side of Home Fries then start drinking as soon as possible.  Nothing cures a hangover better than a little pelo del perro.

SxSW 2012

Here’s the real deal for all my Austin SXSW homebodies.   If you’re gonna do it, you gotta focus on the positive.  Look, this is good advice for everything:   relationships, your job, overdue library books, terminal diseases … but it is particularly true for SXSW.   Sure, traffic is heavier and your favorite haunts are crowded.   But with a little ingenuity and various combinations of cars, bicycles, pedicabs, metrorails, buses and walking, you  can suspend your routine and view the city with fresh eyes.   There is a reason why thousands flock to this event and it is not just to push you out of your favorite restaurant.  They come to immerse themselves in the synergy of talent and opportunity and creativity and raw excitement that only this city during this event can provide. What is fast becoming known all over the world through SXSW is that Austin is not just a place with weird people, Austin is an ideal; the embodiment of artistic freedom and individuality, grace and spontaneity.   So the next time SXSW comes to town, get out of your box and live a little. What the hell are you doing in a box anyway?

photos by Kevin Taylor


  1. Eleanor says:

    Even immersed in the madness, so many artists shone through. I especially admired the buskers, who put their hearts into making ripple in the raging sea of sloshed passersby. I take my hat off to anyone who could capture the attention of even a few from the over-stimulated masses. The groups who left the greatest impressions with me after the weekend had passed were the spontaneous and motivated street artists, such as the drum line who took over the streets on Friday evening, led by a dashing director, A wolf playing violin, and an enthusiastic and heartrending 5-piece band from Denver, called Summer Salt. ( you will fall in love)

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