Last week, I had the pleasure of spending seven days in Austin, Texas. Not only was it great being in Austin, but it was also a pretty popular time to be there. South by Southwest (or SXSW) is the interactive, film, music, and comedy festival that completely takes over the city for almost two full weeks. As part of the completion of my interdisciplinary degree at Columbia College, I was able to attend the festival as part of the AEMMP Digital Distribution & Promotions Practicum course. For my project in class, I was able to incorporate something I was planning on doing down there, anyway. I got to write about all of the bands (good and bad) that I was able to catch, and it was published over on Atwood Magazine. If you’re interested in the music portion of my experience, click on the day-header for those ramblings. This post will serve more in the nitty-gritty of the trip, and what you won’t find on a publication. Thus, “What You Didn’t Read about SXSW Already”
First, I’d like to invite you to put this playlist on while you peruse this blog post, or go about your day. It’s my SXSW music I loved the most:
Or, “the day that overtook the mid north/northeastern part of the U.S. by storm… literally.” This was the start of the blizzard that shut down most of the airports in the country, and over 1,600 flights got canceled (or something like that?). My flight was originally due out of MDW at 8:30am, but was canceled the night before. Luckily, I was able to get on a 6am flight and still make it to Austin before the storm hit. But, that meant that I had to get up around 3am. The day after my first 20-miler. In all honesty, it’s a miracle that I made it down there in one piece and as smoothly as I did.
Almost immediately after landing, I got to re-connect with one of my favorite people — one of my fellow Delta Diamonds, Brianne. She hosted me for the first night in Austin, and we (along with her fiancé), ate at iHop, picked up my badge, and went to an outlet mall in Round Rock.
After that, I was able to attend an Act-A-Thon hosted by Bob Garfield and Steven Rosenbaum, which was actually really cool and probably a highlight of the trip I don’t talk enough about. Basically, it was a really sparsely-attended event that had us break into groups of about five or six people, and we picked issues to tackle. After some discussion, my group selected the preschool to prison pipeline, and how we could attempt to solve the issue. Both Rosenbaum and Garfield were impressed with our discussion and attempts of “solving” the issue, and it was really cool to collaborate in a different way than I’m used to with a diverse group of people from around the USA (plus, a member from Canada!).
Then it was finally time to take in music. You can read about the rest of that in the link above.
After the last show, Brianne and Juan picked me back up outside of the capitol. We spent probably about an hour wandering around outside the well-lit capitol building, which apparently is an “Austin tradition” for locals. There was a guy playing with a dog there too, and we were able to play and make small talk with the pet-owner for a bit, too. It was a really calming way to wrap up the first day, and I don’t think I’ve slept as hard as I did that first night on the collapsable futon since then. First day, and I was already exhausted? Oh boy…
Day Two — Tuesday, March 14th
A very groggy start, probably because even though I slept really hard, I only grabbed about five or six hours when I really needed about 16. But, I got the article started at Brianne’s, wrapped it up in a Starbucks, and made my way over for a live Podcast taping stage. I caught a few different shows — including an interview with Edward Snowden as part of the Intercepted podcast, I saw part of Wrongful Conviction and caught a sneak peek to Season 2 of Alice Isn’t Dead… and then, the event I was there for, The Dinner Party Download. I actually got to write a little bit about it for Atwood, so be sure to give that link above a read. In addition to the musical performance, the special guests also included Sasheer Zamata (of SNL fame), and Jeffrey Cranor (co-creator of Welcome to Night Vale and one of the people I accidentally shared an elevator with on the ride up). I stayed for a little bit of the Mortified podcast, too — enough to subscribe to the series at least, because I had to dash out to catch some other music.
Again, read above. It was a great day for some music.
In the middle of the music, I got to take a break and reunite with one my favorite people (another Spirit family member), Jack. We went to Gourdoughs (which is another Austin thing) and grabbed a late lunch/early dinner. All I have to say is I had the most amazing chicken sandwich on a DONUT. See photo below.
More music. Then a trip back out to Round Rock for another Austin specialty, Kerbey Lane Cafe. It was a big family reunion including Brianne/Juan, Jack, and Gabi (plus her friend from Mandarins, which is another drum corps). We had some really great queso (too expensive though??), and talked a lot about band. Kerbey’s is open for 24 hours, so we took full advantage of that and wound up staying past 2am — but it was so wonderful. The exhausted I felt was the kind that leaves you warm and happy inside, the kind that only comes from having good food in good company and filling it all in with conversation that brings back the best memories. Even though I only got about three or four hours of sleep that night, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Waking up on the University of Texas [Austin] campus was nice, since the festival activities weren’t too far away. I walked about halfway to where I needed to get (walking takes up most of your time at SXSW) before settling into a Starbucks for breakfast/coffee and getting the article written up and sent off. Then it was another 20-25 minute walk to Stubb’s Historic Inn, where I’d spend the rest of the daytime. You can read about it in the link up top, but what isn’t mentioned in the Atwood piece is this was basically the only time I really drank at all during SXSW. It wasn’t enough for me to become completely useless, (i.e., enough to still take notes/photos and nowhere near needing help getting back to the hotel), but it was enough to say that I did drink. Hosted by my one of my favorite breweries, Lagunitas, and Independence Brewing, I took full advantage of the free beers. But I also got to see some really great music, (and had a lot of really awesome conversations with other music-appreciators), so be sure to check that out above.
Finally, the rest of the Columbia kids coming to SXSW arrived, and we were able to check into our hotels. Lucky for me, my next show was really close to the hotel. So the rest of the night was spent taking in more music. Again, check that out above. To fill in some space, I had one of the most amazing grilled cheese sandwiches from a food truck I’ll ever consume, and I did have a little bit of BBQ at the NPR showcase. Finally, checking more “Austin” things off the list.
Finally, my first run after the 20-miler. I woke up pretty early to get some miles in before the festival-goers overtook the city, and explored a different part of Austin. The trail along the lake was full of dogs and other runners, (who, to my surprise, all had pretty updated shoes on. The Fit Specialist inside me has never been so satisfied). It was also so crazy humid; I’ve never been to Texas at a time where it was so painfully humid, but I’m thankful it’s not usually so stupid humid over the summer. Remind me of that when I’m complaining about the dry Texas heat in July.
This time, I got the article knocked out before heading out for the day, then it was a mad dash to Starbucks (again) to refuel my empty stomach, wake my brain up, and then panel time. We got a sneak peek at some music coming out in 2017, discussed it from a consumer and programmer point of view, and I even ran into some classmates while there. I wound up spending a little bit of time with them, hitting up the AEMMP event at Bat Bar, and finally got to try a donut from Voodoo donuts. The wait was worth it. I mean, look at this thing.
Another cool thing that happened today that had nothing to do with SXSW was that a project I’ve been working on for Atwood for awhile was kicked off — a new column entitled “Time Machine.” So, if you’re so obliged, check that out here.
Again, more more more music. Read above.
What you won’t read in Atwood that is music-related was that I also doubled up on shows for the first time on day four. After Kate Nash at the Presbyterian church, Communist Daughter and Jeremy Messersmith took the stage (in that order). Of course I stayed for both of those Minnesota bands — and chatted with both after their shows. It was pretty cool to get to thank both of these acts for the work they do, and chat in a haze of “it’s past 2am and I’ve been at shows for the last seven hours straight.”
One of the biggest moments of the trip also happened on this evening. The walk back to our hotel was pretty lengthy, especially coming from one of the more northern-points of the festival. While walking back, it all kind of hit me: I had seen so many bands that I not only had been looking forward to seeing for so long, but that I’ve spent so much time listening to in solitary. I realized how much I had been loving everything happening that week, how much genuine fun I was having — even though I was starting to hit the point of exhaustion where I needed to sleep for a full day; even though I was technically “working” for more hours than I could count; even though I was by myself/not with anyone I knew most of the time… I realized how much I wanted to do stuff like this for real.
Before I left for SXSW, I was offered admission to DePaul’s Journalism graduate program along with a small scholarship right off the bat. I’m pretty sure I’ve said something here before too, but a little over a month ago, I was also offered admission to Loyola’s Digital Communication & Storytelling program. Not only did I have an option between two programs, but I wasn’t even sure if grad school would be the right way for me to go. In the time I was walking back to the hotel that night, I realized that grad school would probably be a great option. It would offer me the opportunity to grow with writing and probably get better a lot faster than I have been lately. Not only did I decide on going to grad school, but I also figured it would be best to attend DePaul… (not having to explain two degrees would be nice, plus, the money offer and slightly more affordable attendance cost put them pretty far ahead). And who says that nothing good happens after 2am?
Really not much to report outside of what you’ll find over at Atwood for Friday. It was a crazy day; but I did discover a Thai place (that I ended up eating at again on Saturday) which was really filling and delicious. So much wonderful music. It took awhile to write the articles for the rest of the week, since not only did I feel like I was repeating myself so much how I described the acts, but there was so much to write about. Anyway, read about it up top.
I did run into some old “co-workers” on sixth street, though, which was crazy.
One thing I do want to emphasize is Sara Watkins. That’s all.
Kicked off the day with another run. Not quite as humid, but the mix of probably dehydration/exhaustion made it a tough six-mile push. Again; worth it to see so many dogs and smart runners.
The final day of music also had a simultaneous slow, sleepy start. I didn’t worry about getting the article filed before heading out for the day, took my time at breakfast, and figured out how to spend the last day of taking in as much music as possible. Ultimately, I decided that most of the day would be best-spent trailing New York soul-pop group, Lawrence. After communicating via Twitter, by the second show, I jumped when they called me out during the mic-check at the second show, and received a wave with a thumbs-up before the third show. Afterwards, I met up with two of the band members and they thanked me for coming to all three shows — I asked a couple burning questions (new album/will that new single be out sometime/thank you), then took back off to take in the rest of the last night of the festival.
But seriously, Lawrence put on a great show and I’m not disappointed nor do I regret it at all that I spent the last precious day of music consumption in Austin hanging out with a band I already wrote about. If you get a chance, see their show. Just do it.
Another late night, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I wrapped it all up at Cheer Up Charlie’s with Har Mar Superstar. He put on another absolutely wonderful show which I didn’t take notes for, and belted the words to every song right along with him, dancing/jamming as best I could in the crazy-packed crowd. Totally worth it.
Day Seven — Sunday, March 19th
Unlike most attendees, I wasn’t hung over at all during SXSW (definitely because I only drank once), but Sunday brought a weird type of hung-over that I haven’t experienced in a very long time. Something I like to call “fun-hungover,” or a little post-fest depression. In which, the very fun thing (festival) is now over, and you’re not sure what to do next. I packed everything up at the hotel, checked out, and trekked back up downtown to hole up in a Starbucks for a few hours and get cranking on some articles.
Then, Jack got back into town. We had a scare with gas, went to the Tervis store, missed a few exits, and finally decided to eat. The decision after a brief discussion landed on Magnolia cafe, where we both had some really delicious burgers (I inhaled it since I was starving), and then went back to the UT campus. He had a meeting, I got some work done (kind of), and then we grabbed ice cream at Amy’s Ice Cream. Absolutely delicious milkshake which, again, I inhaled out of hunger. We drove around for awhile again, swung by his parents’ house (where I met his mom and dog!), and then spent some time just talking about the magic of drum corps and having a generally deep heart-to-heart conversation; something we really haven’t gotten to do since a late-night bus ride through St. Louis.
Cue up another night of a really short, but hard, sleep.
Back home — Monday, March 20th
Caught an early flight back to MDW, slept more on the plane than I did on Jack’s couch, and finished up the last article for Atwood’s SXSW coverage once I got home.
I’m actually writing this on the Sunday after getting back (this week has been crazy between school catch-up and working… even though it’s spring break?), but I think that’s okay. I had so many wonderful moments on the trip to Austin, and I’m so glad I was able to get all of the work in before it that I was. I feel like I accomplished something, I’ve got six tangible portfolio pieces after that week spent getting hardly any sleep and spacing out meals far too much.
But, the real reason I’m writing this post today is because none of this would have been possible without the support and opening-of-doors that happened. First, shouts to the Atwood Admin staff, for letting me write down all of the art I took in and publishing it over on the magazine’s website. It was pretty cool to have a real answer when people asked me countless times what I was doing taking notes at a show. Second, thanks to Justin Sinkovich and AEMPP Records/Columbia College Chicago for organizing this class. I know it’s come a long way in the last few years, and I’m glad I was able to be a part of it in this iteration. Thirdly, but probably most importantly, thanks to my grandparents, Mel & Nancy Kooda. The last time I saw/will ever see my grandma was over this past Christmas, right around the time I was going through a lot fiscally and emotionally. Her Christmas gift and graduation gift to me was this trip. Without her, I would not have been able to put in the necessary work to get the most out or the trip; I might not have even gone on the trip, and I might not have been able to walk with this portion of my degree completed. I am so endlessly thankful for her support that I’ve received all of my life, and it breaks my heart that I won’t be able to share any of this experience with her. But, I’d be lying if I said that a big reason why I worked so hard leading up to the trip (especially after February 8th), why I took in as much as I could and didn’t opt to sleep past 9am like, ever, was because I could feel her presence, and I wanted to make her proud, even though I won’t be able to physically talk to her about the experience anymore. Thank you, grandma, for your endless support even now and for leading me to believe I can do anything. I miss you more than I can even articulate now — maybe I’ll be able to after I take more classes and hopefully obtain this Master’s degree. It’s all been for you: every word.
Thanks for sticking through this week of craziness, faithful followers. It’s impossible to believe that graduation is coming up so quickly, as is my last summer of drum corps. Stay with us, 2017 is going to keep being quite the ride; I’m sure.