My father told me not to be a journalist.
He told me I'd work long hours, never make any money and experience hopelessness in general. And he was completely right. Sometimes being a journalist is miserable.
Fear not journalism students. There is hope. A land exists where journalists are treated to complimentary adult beverages, concert tickets are free and we get to move to the front of the line. The best part is that PR folks (aka 'the dark side') wait on us hand and foot.
It's called a press pass.
First an admission: I do not get paid to write for Huffington Post. So anything I receive in return -- be it publicity or free beer -- is the only compensation I get for time invested. At Austin City Limits Festival this past weekend I was rewarded handsomely.
It started a month before the festival when I began receiving emails from publicists about bands. As a struggling unknown journalist I was used to getting shunned by bands. I emailed Foster the People four times to request an interview and never heard back. Now bands were contacting me to request interviews. All because I had an ACL press pass. The tables had turned.
The press area at the fest was conveniently located next to the Google+ stage and was outfitted with enough tables, chairs and power outlets to keep an army of reporters content. Lunch and dinner was served at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. and provided by local restaurants Hecho en Mexico, The Belmont and Red House Pizza. Snacks and bottled water were available all day. My favorite was the orange rosemary pecans made by Hail Merry. Bud Light was available sporadically throughout the day and Tito's Vodka hosted happy hour at 5 p.m. each day of the festival. Jack Daniels was serving whiskey drinks all day. Organizers were well aware that the way to get to a reporter is with booze and food. The press area quickly became a journalist refugee camp.
Members of the press were also given the VIP treatment at the Xbox Music Lounge where BMF Media put on a mini festival of their own. Big Boi, Hollywood Holt, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Theophilus London and other notable musicians all stopped by. Some performed live, others spun DJ sets and all of them mingled with guests. Beer was provided by Asahi, a Japanese company that imports its beer to the USA by way of Canada. A room was filled with televisions and Xboxes so anybody who wasn't into music could play Gears of War 3. Myspace provided spa treatments such as haircuts and massages as well as a complimentary tattoo artist. At one point I overheard somebody say that were headed to the festival as soon as their friend finished their haircut. It did not feel like real life.
But I digress, ACL is about the music. One can only eat and drink so much.
We saw so many good shows during the festival. Reptar, Yellow Ostrich and little hurricane were top performers. Journalists are not given any special privileges inside festival grounds so we had to stand our ground and fight to the front just like everybody else. But I did enjoy the interactions I had with festivalgoers who asked how I got a media pass. There was the bro dude at Fool's Gold on Friday, then the long-haired guy who shared his beer with us Friday night at Kanye, the new friends we made at Iron and Wine on Saturday and the hipster girl at Broken Social Scene on Sunday. Hi everybody! Thanks for reading my stuff, I hope you enjoy it.
The highlight of the weekend was getting to see Arcade Fire perform on ACL Live at the Moody Theater. We met our media contact at the entrance and she quickly whisked us away to a private elevator ride to the "Jack and Jim Gallery" which is a showcase of Jim Marshall's iconic music photography. Marshall snapped the legendary picture of Johnny Cash flipping off the camera at San Quentin Prison and the photo of Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar so he has serious credentials and the exhibit is beautifully curated. From there we were escorted to the stage and advised on where to sit for the best view. Midway through Arcade Fire's set we were taken backstage to see the control room where the Director was conducting camera operators like Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer's Apprentice. He's been doing it for 30 years but it was still impressive to see him planning five shots ahead and barking directions at cameramen. All the while we could feel the bass from the stage below us. Back in our seats Arcade Fire picked up the pace. Win Butler went into the crowd for "Month of May" and "Rebellion." Will Butler yanked a false tree from the backdrop during "Tunnels," played his drum with it and even threw it high up in the air a few times before kindly putting it back where it belonged. As the encore came to a close I couldn't help but think about how lucky we are to be alive and get to experience something such as this.
If you've taken this as a humblebrag then I'm sorry, I simply hoped to brighten the future for undergrads currently slaving away at school newspapers and I could think of no better way to encourage them. I'd also like to thank all the PR folks for their hospitality. And for making me happy to have a journalism degree for once in my life.
Follow Mark R. Collins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Markswords