On Sunday evening (a few days before the kickoff of the 2014 event), we gathered together at a bar close to the office to share a few drinks. Although the get-together was an impromptu one, turnout from the SXSW Interactive staff was surprisingly high. Then again, most of us had installed a new social media app a few days earlier -- and this app allowed us to communicate quickly and efficiently with each other to overcome unexpected circumstances such as this one.
As more staffers gradually filled the room, we told more stories and shared more remembrances of the last 18 months. We laughed at the more goofy remembrances (and there were plenty of those). The laughs grew in volume as the first round of drinks eventually transitioned into the second round. The more stories that we shared, the more people began to smile -- and more of us reminded each other that we need to get together like this more often.
The night was unseasonably cold for Austin in early March, with temperatures hovering around the freezing mark. But the bar where we chose to meet featured a roaring fire which helped provide lots of warmth. Also keeping us warm were frequent hugs between staff members, another demonstration of how enriching and life-affirming it can be to relax with friends. My staff has put in some extremely long hours over the last few months preparing for the big event. Getting together to simply be together on Sunday night was special.
The circumstances of Sunday night's gathering, however, were unfortunate. Earlier in the day, the unthinkable had happened, as one of our team members had suffered a fatal heart attack. Matthew Crump joined SXSW in the fall of 2012. With almost two decades of experience working in the robust Austin gaming scene, he was the right fit to help SXSW Gaming continue to grow. During his year and a half of service, this growth has only increased in velocity (in part because of Matthew's guidance). Moreover, he was the lead organizer for one of the new additions for 2014 -- the SXSW Gaming Awards.
Five days later, the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival has begun in full force. People are attending hundreds of sessions about all kinds of topics related to creativity and technology. Even more importantly, people who don't always have a chance to socialize with each other are getting together face-to-face to trade stories, laugh and remember all the things that have happened in their lives since the last time they shared each other's company.
So the tragic irony of our impromptu get-together on Sunday night was that it served as somewhat of a preview of the giant celebration of connection that is SXSW. As much as this event has been fortunate to grow over the last five years, meaningful one-on-one connections are still at the heart of everything we do. The technology and the apps and the new releases are a big part of SXSW Interactive -- but ultimately it is the people who make Austin such a special place to be in March.
If you are Austin for SXSW 2014, reach out and connect with someone new in celebration of the life and spirt of Matthew Crump. If you can't make it to this year's event, share a hug with someone special in his honor.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and SXSW, in conjunction with their annual festival (March 7-16, 2014, in Austin, TX.). To see all the posts in the series, click here; for more information on SXSW Music, Film and Interactive, click here.