I have been looking forward to writing this specific article for a long time. A lot of the previews, panel coverage and interviews this project has allowed me to do has also forced me to write more as a journalist and less like a blogger. In this article, I get to go back to my comfort zone and write about SXSW and the SXTXState project from my own point-of-view. Hopefully you followed along with our coverage both leading up to and during SXSW, but if not you can get started by reading all the articles I have written here: Jordan Cooper SXTXState.
The SXTXState project was the primary reason I applied to attend graduate school at Texas State University. I have to give credit to my wife for doing the research and finding out about the Mass Communications program at Texas State, and for digging deeper to see the Digital Media tract would also allow me the opportunity to apply for an extraordinary class that revolved around attending and covering SXSW for the university. I worked hard to not only get in to the program, but make good grades and take the right courses to improve my chances of getting picked to participate in the project. Since being selected last Fall, I have been anxiously awaiting SXSW to begin.
I attended my first SXSW by accident in 2002. By chance, I ended up staying at the Omni downtown during the middle of the festival, and as a 14 year old saw my first SXSW concert with Better Than Ezra opening for Jonny Lang at Stubbs BBQ. I was immediately hooked with both the city and the atmosphere that surrounded this seemingly laid-back festival, at least casual enough to let a curly headed kid with braces like myself get in to see a show at a famous venue. Since moving to Austin in 2010, I have worked at trade shows during the conference, and continued attending music events, but had never had an official badge that allowed me access to all the interesting panels that are held during the week. Thanks to SXTXState, I finally got to experience the full conference over the past 9 days.
As you may have seen, leading up to the conference, current members of the SXTXState project interviewed former students as part of our TBT series. It was great to get a sense of what they took away from SXSW, and being a part of it has made all their advice hit home even more. Similar to the way I have heard people describe New York City, there is a certain type of energy around Austin when SXSW is being held. The large crowds are so diverse, all wearing their badges as a source of pride and passing out business cards like it was currency. From the moment I sat down on the morning of March 10th, there was never a moment where I couldn’t have an interesting conversation with a complete stranger. Everyone is there to share ideas, learn, network, and consume as many of the options that are available through the programming at the conference.
There were mayors and senators (and even a former Vice President), WWE wrestling superstars, social media gurus, actors, musicians, and students such as myself. You could go surfing in downtown Austin, play with puppies at the trade show, or go to another world using new VR technology. At night, there were networking parties and concerts with both up and coming artists as well as old favorites who have been playing the festival as long as I have been attending it. It was overwhelming at times, exhausting almost all of the time, but still there is something so appealing.
An example of this would be a recap of a day I experienced at SXSW. I began the day seeing a panel that included Justin Ellis of ESPN The Magazine, a panel I previewed which can read here: Rise of the Niche Sport Magazine. After attending the panel and speaking with panelists, I walked from the Marriott to Easy Tiger where there was a live podcast being taped that included former NBA player Caron Butler, actor and podcast legend Michael Rapaport, and none of than the famous Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson himself. As I watched the live taping while drinking a beer, I eventually was fortunate enough to get to ask Dr. Tyson a question (embarrassingly I went with a sports and science related question about when Space Jam will become a reality in regards to the lifelike planets recently discovered in a neighboring galaxy). From there I walked across the street and found myself at a music showcase sponsored by Pandora where I saw a band I had never heard before called (I can’t make this up) “Rainbow Kitten Surprise” who played an absolutely electric set. Later I would bump into some friends I had not seen in years. All of this is in no way a strange day by SXSW standards.
Yes, there is the traffic to deal with. There is lots of time spent waiting in lines. Inevitably you are going to miss something(s) you really wanted to go to. You are going to spend more money than you thought you would, even though you had heard grandiose tales of how everything is free. But if you can fight off the urge to complain and just push through, you will ultimately be rewarded with some meaningful panels, some once-in-a-lifetime event, and usually some good photos to post on your social media account. I think people flock to SXSW because there is that undeniable sense that if you stop learning you stop living. I haven’t stopped either yet, but after 10 days of SXSW, I think I have at least earned a nap.