I've been in America for nearly two weeks and honestly, this is the first time my head has had any space to think about what is going on. The last five days in particular have been full, interesting and full of beer.
South by South West (SXSW) is a nerd-fest of the highest order. Internet nerds, film nerds and music nerds gather here every March and try to survive a week of information overload and multiple late-night parties. I’m talking about thousands of nerds - thousands. A tweet flew by as we landed in Austin, Texas from the SXSW official channel saying they’d stuffed 12,000 interactive, 11,000 music and 8,000 film swag bags. This year was the first year that the interactive/internet stream surpassed the numbers of the music stream.
Fox and I arrived in Austin from Vegas after driving the ‘scenic route’ (I missed a turnoff and added over an hour to our trip) from San Francisco. We both agreed that, while we’re pleased we visited Las Vegas, it’s not our kind of town. I believe we did it proud though, stayed at a seedy hotel (not on purpose) and attending a cheesy show (American’s version of King Arthur’s Court) but I know I’ll not be going back again unless I really have to. I did achieve my goal of shooting a gun there, so that was great. I failed to see the Grand Canyon - but when I come back to do that, I’ll stay somewhere else - maybe add Los Alamos into the mix to make it a truly awesome trip.
The landscape of Nevada is gorgeous and I'm so pleased we got to drive through it. The purples, blues and golden ochre of the desert is just gorgeous. Cresting hills on the ribbon of highway, dipping down into massive basins of rocky desert, rising up into amazing mountains layered with millions of years of history, I found quite breathtaking. The size of the place is indescribable. I am not sure I would have believed the scale had I not had my own eyes in the front of my head.
We arrived in Austin, Texas on Tuesday evening to begin the point of the whole trip: SXSW. We had booked the Austin Hilton which was directly opposite the Austin Conference Centre’s main doors, was a great idea. No rushing about in the morning or catching shuttle buses, and my bed was never far away from where I was which, as the week wore on, proved a great bonus.
The days are filled with panels, talks, book readings, swimming through crowds and queuing. With such vast conference numbers, queuing becomes a way of life. You queue for coffee, you queue for food and queue for some of the panels and workshops.
With five 1 hour sessions per day, I decided on which I would see by who was speaking rather than what they were speaking about. I got to see and hear many people I’ve admired and followed online - Ryan Irelan, Greg Storey, Austin Kleon, Jim Coudal - I’m such a nerd-groupie. I got to speak with Mike Rohde who I’ve been following for ages on Flickr. His sketch-notes are mouthwatering and he was such a nice guy. The absolute highlight, in a week of highlights was seeing Ze Frank. He’s tall, handsome and seemingly comfortable in his own skin - though I think to be extremely creative, as Ze is, needs a large dose of self doubt and bouts of depression (or is that just me?). He held us all in the palm of his hand during his session titled Living the Creative Life. He was at his best fielding questions from the audience - showcasing his quick wit and goofy side while being completely charming.
photo by Alex Design
After each day of speakers, there were the parties. Hosted by such companies as Frog Design, The Barbarian Group, Microsoft, Adobe, RackSpace, Happy Cog and Twitter, just to name a few - these were tremendous fun and a great way to meet people while having the kind of fun only booze can buy.
As you know, I'm getting old, so I couldn’t manage five days of panels followed by five days of parties - I had to bail and opt for a decent meal and an early night on the Monday night. I also needed a nana-nap during the Sunday.
photo by Alex Design
But all and all, the stories of the SXSW parties are pretty accurate, and to do the conference (festival?) justice, the immersive technique of saying “Yes!” to everything is highly recommended.