So what is South By Southwest? It's a two-week conference that's equal parts interactive/digital, music and film. But mostly, it's a party.
Week 2 is all about music, with something on the order of 2,000 musicians traveling to Austin, the heart and capital of Texas, transforming what's already a hotbed of 800,000 hipster souls into what seems like the world's largest block party. It feels like there are hundreds of thousands of people spread out over, what?, 50 square blocks, with music blasting out of venues and fans boiling up in the teeming streets.
Thursday was a quiet day for San Diego bands, which will break out in force on Friday at Requiemme Management's showcase at the Jackalope – sponsored, in part, by Bar Pink and local high-end headphone makers Munitio – with sets by Okapi Sun, the Creepy Creeps, Hills Like Elephants, El Vez and the Tijuana Panthers. The big shows Friday, of course, are Green Day and Depeche Mode, but the hottest ticket of the weekend has gotta be Prince on Saturday. Sadly, we have been unable to establish a San Diego connection with His Purple Majesty.
There are hundreds of venues at SxSW to pick from every day and night, none so tightly packed as those on 6th, with the absolute epicenter at the intersection of San Jacinto, where it's not enough that there are bands blasting out of open windows and storefronts, there's a drummer busking on the corner, finishing his beats to huge applause and then begging the crowd, “Does anybody have a drumstick?”
Tucked among the music venues is the odd restaurant, selling slices out a window, or food carts belching mouth-watering smoke. If you're a performer, there's a pair of “Artists Villages,” fenced-off zones where you can eat and drink for free. Food's not really a priority. It's more like something to do between sets.
It's not that hard to get a free cocktail,for that matter. Many, many of those parties – even the small daytime ones plying patrons with the promise of free beer; mmm, Lone Star – are sponsored by corporate giants, like the Casio party at Haven, where Crystal Method performed on Thursday night. There were different acts every hour all night and a huge VIP area where an open bar kept fans lubricated. As is true at virtually all the shows, this one was free for media, VIPs and those who shelled out hundreds of dollars for a wristband.
Great, right? But that's part of the problem with South By. See, there's soooo many free shows going on at the same time, the room can only be half-full even for an act like Crystal Method – one of whose members, by the way, spends lots of time in SD, since he married a Poway girl.
With fewer musical choices, fans in San Diego flock to that same show by Crystal Method, who easily drew huge crowds when they played last year and 2011.
For a music fan, it feels like a bit of a waste to see talented artists performing for so few fans. That said, the same day, hopefuls lined up around the block for a chance to see the Flaming Lips – for hours and hours, and, in some cases, for nothing; some never got in.
All in all, they're great problems to have for a music fan.