Having attended Austin's annual SXSW (South by Southwest Festival) for more than a decade, I'm either getting older which naturally has to be true, or the event has gotten far too large for anyone with boundless energy to take in. I'd say in 2012, I suffered from a little of both.
Brands have been jumping on board for awhile now, but this year, they seemed to be greeting me at every turn, whether it was a tent set up in a parking lot, a massive booth on the trade show floor or handing something out on a street corner as I was passing by. They also sponsored a number of the parties, of which I managed to take in about half as I did last year but that still equates to about four a night.
For those not familiar with the event, I've been writing about various independent films including this year's winners, the party versus professional scene this year, as well as of course, culture, arts and food reviews in and around the event, since I have a strong interest in both.
As always, there were hundreds of startups with new products and services, mobile apps dying for an audience, and musicians taking main and off-the-beaten-path stages around town.
What I love about the event more than anything else is two-fold: the fact that it converges the best of Interactive, Web 2.0 and social media with independent films and musicians all in one place over a two week-ish period in the middle of March. The second thing is its international diversity, which is a huge draw for this 'cultural cat.'
I spend a lot of time on the road and have lived in quite a few countries, which means that I have pals around the globe. I manage to see people in Austin who fly in from South Africa, England, Ireland, Scotland, Israel, Kenya, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South America. Where else can you take in a massive English breakfast in the morning with the Brits, listen to Colombian tunes at mid-day, have french toast, strawberries and natural Maple Syrup with the Canadians at their booth, eat chicken and veggies with the Chinese for a late afternoon snack, and end the evening dancing with a guy from Jamaica down the main drag?
Ireland had the largest number of startups they've ever had this year (30), which included both technology and film. (see write-up on some of them here). East of England had performances by Morning Parade, Spycatcher, Bitches and New Cassettes and a full blown English breakfast where a number of their companies showed up for questions. New music from Wales featured performances by Skindred and the Canadians had a barbeque with various musicians performing: Library Voices, Whitehorse, Said the Whale, Zeus, Rich Aucoin, and The Sheepdogs.
Pop Montreal, Envol et Macadam, Sirius XM, Scene 1425 and D-Tox Rockfest played as part of the Planet Quebec group and Taiwan had performances at Soho Lounge on the main drag. The Kiwis had a party, sponsored by the New Zealand Music Commission and they even threw in some Spy Valley wines for tasting. The Scots played at Latitude, and the Irish also had a "full" breakfast at BD Rileys, with performances by Foy Vance, Lisa O'Neill, Patrick Kelleher & His Cold Dead Hands, Wonder Villains, Squarehead, General Fiasco, Cashier No 9, And So I Watch You From Afar, and The Minutes.
The Aussies threw a barbeque to celebrate its 10th year at SXSW, and Sounds Australia and Stage Mothers took over Maggie Mae's on St. Patrick's Day (there were a few events I attended at Maggie Mae's by the way, including a Dutch party with lots of great beer - a popular venue).
Sounds From Spain took over a tent in Brush Square Park, where they also served paella, gazpacho, sangria and Spanish beer and wine. Performances included: Bigott, Furguson, Guadalupe Plata, L.A. Quique Gonzalez, Vetusta Morla and Za!
Spinlet All Africa Showcase was full of energy. (my earlier write-up here). They had musicians and acts from Sierra Leone, Kenya, South Africa, Congo, Nigeria and Ghana, with the most number of acts being from Nigeria and Ghana. (not surprising given the amazing musicians that I've heard come out of West Africa over the years.
I chatted with Jasmine Leng of iDA Singapore for awhile, who mentioned that they had nine companies from Singapore over for the event including Brandtology, Expressinmusic, Gushcloud, Mobilewalla, Gametize, Protégé Production, Zopim, 2359Media and Business.me.
And that wasn't all of course, but it gives you an idea of how many choices you're faced with on a minute-by-minute basis. While we're talking international, the brands came with their wagons and while some of these may be American, they obviously have global exposure.
Nokia had a fascinating outside tent, where you had to walk down a carpet with fake snow falling around you from a blower they had set up at the entrance.
Inside the tent, they went out of their way to make it hip, modern, young and full of anything and everything which equated to "Innovation."
Pepsico had a lounge where they highlighted the intersection of analog and digital. Doritos decided to bring new products for consumers to sample over two full days where they brought in various musical acts. AT&T was pitching people to 'test-drive' the Samsung Galaxy Note and Samsung was there in full force as well, as they profiled their "smart wall" and talked to people about their products and services.
Microsoft also had a lounge again this year as did Dell, and Pandora had a DMX party to push Pandora for Business. Chevrolet was back this year as was the marketing agency they use for "drives." Dozens of Chevies were running around, completely branded on all sides as they escorted people from one venue to another.
They even had convertibles for people to test drive (flashy orange was the one that stuck out and damn, I didn't get a photo). #CatchaChevy was the hashtag push and with limited taxis, particularly the first few days when it rained and the temperatures reached a wopping 44 degrees, they were in popular demand.
Try to take in all of the above, while seeing sessions (dozens of them in various locations on the hour...and they weren't all at the Austin Convention Center). Marry the sessions with films and Red Carpet Events scattered throughout the city and music acts which started half way through and you can see how it's impossible to do it all.
Luckily there were many options and despite how large the event has become, the schedule remains well organized, both online and on their SXSW Go app which is easily downloadable on your iPhone.
The key is to pace yourself so you don't get sick, and while I recommend taking in some of Austin's fabulous barbecue, eat some salads and healthier choices in between.
Refer to my piece on How to Stay Healthy in Austin During SXSW -- it includes a number of vegetarian and healthy restaurant and cafe options throughout the city, as well as international cuisine choices which have veggie options as well.