In Austin, the stretch of 6th Street between Red River and Congress is the pulsing heart of the South By Southwest (SXSW) music festival. On average Friday and Saturday nights, this part of the street is closed to traffic as University of Texas students roam the pavement, crowd into the endless bars and clubs, and ogle each other. During SXSW, a swarm of indie rock kids and the journalists who mock them roam the pavement, crowd into the endless bars and clubs, and ogle the bands. 1300 bands and thousands of music fans, the majority of whom look as if they’ve stepped directly from Start! or The Pill, their perfectly imperfect looks untarnished or even made better by the bad nights of sleep or irregular eating patterns they’ve endured for the past three days.
It’s hard to say what is tougher for 6th Street to endure: the weekly partying of college kids or the steady trample of music fans, who leave a stream of discarded flyers, plastic cups, and other unwanted swag in their wake as they cris-cross the city to cross off selections from their must-see lists.
The buzz on the street is first about badges and wristbands, and then about who is playing next and what lines are so long that we shouldn’t bother. Friends learn to compromise or split up (albeit amicably), and everyone wonders what people did at this thing before text messaging. Meanwhile, we run into old friends or make new ones, and each brings another tip on what to see next. It’s overwhelming to the point that we suddenly remark to each other, “you know, we should probably eat something before it gets too late.”
In experiencing SXSW, it’s possible to never pay for a drink before 7 p.m. and obtain enough swag to have a steady supply of CDs to listen to, a shirt and shoes to wear, and a cozy to keep your beer cold long after the lights have come up, the festival over, and we’re sitting back at home, already developing a strategy for next year.