SXSW: Wrap Up

I made it into Austin around 7 p.m. on Wednesday and left around 7 a.m. Saturday. During that 60 hours I saw 32 bands (well, 30 bands and Jay Reatard three times), slept 8 hours, drank too much beer and not enough water, ate too much late-night pizza from Stony's Mobile Pizza, and had a really great time. [If it was so great then we're docking you for that 8 hours of sleep. -- Ed.] I'll post some leftovers for you this week, but first some overall observations.

Yeah, it's corporate, but what isn't?
This being my first SXSW experience I can't compare to how it was during the "good ol' days." Corporate sponsorship is everywhere, of course. It was kind of funny to see the Homosexuals perform at a WFMU showcase - it doesn't get much more DIY, independent than that - with a huge banner listing tons of sponsors, including Miller Lite. But do we really expect that much old-school integrity from the rock underground these days? I mean, you had Deerhunter, Vampire Weekend and Grizzly Bear featured in the New York Times' Spring Men's Fashion special section a few weeks ago. The word "indie" means nothing anymore, just like when "alternative" stopped meaning anything around 1996 or so.

It's completely overwhelming, but in a good way.
At any point during the day there are going to be at least five or six bands - maybe up to a dozen - that you wish you could be seeing. It's an embarrassment of riches. It's evident that despite all the downward business trends in the industry, there's still plenty of great music to be heard. The layout makes it easy to try to hop from one venue to another; many streets are blocked off, making it sort of like a rock-and-roll boardwalk. Except no rides, no cotton candy, no families with multiple strollers. Just music, beer and people with ridiculous sunglasses

The day parties alone make for a great festival.
The nighttime band showcases were almost an afterthought compared to the unofficial daytime parties. One major plus was that these shows weren't necessarily confined to the indoor venues in the downtown area, allowing concertgoers to enjoy some outdoor rock-and-roll in a pleasant climate. And you were more likely to find free beer at the afternoon parties. With some good planning it was possible to see pretty much every band you wanted to see without paying a dollar, let alone a few hundred dollars to buy a badge. This can't be something that festival organizers can be too thrilled about.

Panels? Uh...
Besides the Lou Reed keynote speech, which at 10:30 a.m. wasn't competing with any shows, there wasn't a single panel I considered attending. I didn't even look at the list. It seemed pretty simple to me - why sit in a room listening to people talk about music when I could just go hear some music?

Sorry I didn't get to see Bo Bice.
I was really trying to make it work. He was playing at 1 a.m. on Wednesday night and I thought I'd be able to catch at least half of his set after R.E.M. finished. But Stipe and Co. went until about 1:40 and the venue hosting Bice was 0.7 miles away according to Google Maps (came in very handy for those first 12 hours until I got situated) and it just wasn't happening. Hey, at least I went to see Hanson.

By David Malitz |  March 17, 2008; 1:21 AM ET SXSW
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I went to SXSW last year, and i have to disagree. It was very hard to see the bands I wanted, because I didn't have a badge. As for the daytime parties, beer would usually run out in an hour. But it's still a fun experience.

Posted by: DC girl | March 17, 2008 2:54 PM

Given that beer was such a big thing which brand beers go with which bands?

Posted by: Jim | March 17, 2008 3:02 PM

As far as corporate sponsorship goes, it's very hard to be mad at WFMU in particular. I remember when Upsala College closed in the mid-90s and WMFU decided to stay alive and kicking. Nowadays, they have tons of pledge drives, a la NPR and the like. So, it's pretty evident that they really need money to keep going. And if selling a few banners keeps them around, i'm sure we're all willing to pay that minor price. They're one of the only music conduits that probably makes nothing off the just goes right back into keeping the station on the air in general.

And, of course, it's easy to forgive them at all costs because...well...they're the best radio station in the history of the world...

Posted by: Ben W. | March 17, 2008 4:15 PM

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