flashback: SXSW 2012 – part one

I’ve been looking back at some old photos, being terribly nostalgic and missing people from back home, so I’m going to do a couple of posts about past travel trips starting with Meghan and I’s adventures at South by Southwest in Texas in 2012.

It all began officially in 2007 when we both started as contributors to a music website called Push to Fire (now sadly deceased). Fast forward five years and Meghan was the Editor and I was a senior contributor, and we were lucky enough to use this as an excuse to go to one of the biggest festivals in America: South by Southwest (SXSW). SXSW is a mix of Interactive (technology), Film and Music and is usually the platform for indie bands and films, as well as new apps seeking funding. Twitter is one of the biggest examples of a SXSW success story.

Obviously we went for the music side of things, which is roughly the last week of the festival. The whole city of Austin becomes the festival’s playground, and everything is about the music. The streets are blocked off for pedestrians (and horse riders) only. Every second building is a pub with a band playing, as well as bands playing in the streets. Impromptu stages pop up wherever there is a spare bit of ground, and hawkers thrust postcards for upcoming gigs and demo CD’s at you from all directions.

But I’ll start at the beginning, shall I? At the time I was living in Sydney with my two best friends, Meghan and Richard, and one fuckwit who shall remain nameless. Richard drove us to the airport and, after a disaster with trying to pay for a coffee at Gloria Jeans with US dollars, we settled in for the first leg of our journey to San Francisco. The flight itself was ok, halfway through after several whiskeys I managed to spill a full cup of Jack Daniels and Coke onto my lap, which meant I spent the rest of the flight with paper towel stuffed wet jeans and reeking of alcohol. Classy.

12 hours later we arrived in San Francisco and experienced our first taste of America during our 3 hour layover. My first mistake was not realising that the strict liquid restrictions on international flights also applied to US domestic flights, meaning I had to throw out the unopened mid-sized bottle of whiskey I had purchased in Sydney. The guard very kindly suggested that I could neck the bottle before going back through security, so as not to waste it, but I figured that probably wasn’t the best look so I declined and sadly threw it away.

Americans really are quite a lovely people, when they’re not being Donald Trump of course. We had some chilli and some much needed coffee, then tried and failed to call our hotel to confirm our arrival. A nice man seeing our predicament with the pay phones very kindly offered us his cell phone to use which I did. He and his friend then invited us for a coffee, but as we were exhausted we said no, which is something I regret now – he had been very nice, the least I could’ve done was buy him a drink. But anyway that’s how things go. We then went off to a corner and tried to get some rest.

Next we caught one of those tiny planes to Austin, the ones that are only two by two seats across and have the propellers on each wing. Immediately you could tell it was only people going to SXSW – the level of black leather wearing, guitar toting humans increased by about 300%.

We finally arrived in Austin late at night, maybe around 8/9pm as all the shops at the airport were closed. I still remember walking through the airport, there were ‘Keep Austin Weird’ shirts and accessories everywhere, as well as cardboard cut outs of country music singers and huge sculptures of guitars dotted around baggage claim. It had been surprisingly cold that night as we joined the long line waiting for cabs. When we finally got one, about one hour later, I remember chuckling to myself as we passed neon lit strip clubs by the side of the highway – I had honestly thought they were only in the movies.

Despite being further out of town than we realised, our hotel was actually quite nice. We had a two floor open plan apartment with two bathrooms – me downstairs and Meghan up. I even had a built-in wardrobe, and the place was a luxury compared to our limited, but still nice, living arrangements back home. It was in a small block of hotels and restaurants, so we had a couple of highway food chains nearby – seafood restaurant Pappadeaux’s and Tex Mex chain Chili’s. My introduction to Texan food began, and to this day I can’t remember how many quesadillas and margaritas I had on that trip. It was totally worth it. I still remember how amazing the fresh bread was at Pappadeaux’s, the crazy over-happy wait staff and that cocktail I had that was literally the size of my head. After checking in we crashed for about 10 hours.

As you can see above, Meghan documented the trip in an amusing cartoon form if you want to check it out.

Our first official day in Austin started quite late, because jet lag. Deciding to be thrifty, we wandered through a questionable neighbourhood to find the bus into town. Unfortunately because I’m an idiot and American’s drive on the wrong side of the road, we accidentally got on the bus heading back towards the airport (despite confirming with the bus driver that he was in fact heading downtown). After about 40 minutes we realised our mistake and changed to the right bus and finally got into town. It took fucking ages, I think the bus stopped about 50 times, so we swore off public transport for the rest of the trip.

The first stop was the beautiful Texas Capitol building, then we wandered up and down the main street. The city of Austin prides itself on being left of centre – even the city motto is ‘Keep Austin Weird’ and it definitely does. Places like the Museum of the Weird are dotted along the main street, full of tacky and touristy ‘weirdness’ like giant lizards, props from horror films and a huge interactive version of King Kong (as you can see below). The museum was surprisingly quiet when we arrived and we were shown around by the owner.

Because we had arrived slightly early for the music section of the festival, the streets were pretty quiet – the street parties hadn’t quite started yet because it was still the tech and film side of things. This turned out to be a good thing, because when we checked out the convention centre to get our badges and see all the exhibits, it wasn’t too packed so we could move around easily and didn’t have to line up for ages.

We had a couple of drinks, loving the great exchange rate at the time, had a photo with a random bartender because he was really excited we were Australian, then we took our jetlagged selves back to the hotel to watch old movies and MASH reruns.

That’s enough for today, keep your eyes peeled for Part Two…

(As you can tell my friend Meghan is a ridiculously talented artist, you can follow her work on Instagram or check out her Etsy store).


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