Forget meeting people at the SXSW parties. People watching is the best way to experience all the different personalities SXSW brings to Austin.
There was a soft, hungover buzz in the air when I began watching my fellow festival-goers today. The city stirred back to life after yet another night of company-sponsored parties and after parties. Crushed Monster and Red Bull cans lined the sidewalks like breadcrumbs back to Sixth Street. I watched bleary-eyed twenty-somethings in suits stagger from their hotel rooms and toward the Convention Center.
You can tell a lot about these people. Despite their partying, they have the self-determination to get themselves out of bed the next morning. These are the movers and shakers of my generation. They burn the candle from both ends. Interactive technology is a new and powerful market to capture, so only the smartest and most dedicated people can handle the lifestyle.
The quiet hum of the morning slowly grew into a roar as people flooded into the streets and toward their exhibitions, venues, and screenings. Local musicians sang and strummed their guitars for passersby.
Here are the artists of my generation. Many of them are near penniless. I spoke to four young men who spent the last of their money getting to the festival. Austin has always been a haven for free spirits. Its mild weather and groovy energy makes it an easy place for street musicians to settle down.
Something like fifty-thousand people descend on Downtown during this time of year. It is hard for all these visitors to cope with Austin’s infamous weirdness.
I watched two New Yorkers try to hail a cab for ten minutes before giving up. They waved and whistled as best as they could, but the taxis refused to stop. It’s just one of Austin’s quirks – we are one of the few large and extremely popular cities where taxicabs are practically unhailable. I think the New Yorkers made their appointment though, because they hopped into a pedicad, which are hailable here, and were pedaled to their destination.
Everything is just a bit different in Austin. A bit weirder. I feel bad for people like the New Yorkers I watched. Just when they get used to the way things operate here, the festival is over and they have to leave.
As I wandered the downtown blocks, I stopped to enjoy the magic of award-winning magician Marcus Eddie. Standing on an open street corner for the world to see, he started his performance by saying:
“You know that trick where the magician connects two metal rings together? Well I don’t have the budget for that.”
After this intro, Marcus Eddie asked me for a dollar. It made me think that he was either a really lame magician or a really clever beggar. Soon, however, I found out that I couldn’t have been more wrong either way.
After asking me for my dollar, Marcus Eddie strung two rubber bands through his fingers and asked me to loop my dollar around the bottom rubber band. I did this and he made my dollar pass through every step of the rubber band ladder… as I held onto it! It was much more impressive than any ring trick I have ever seen.
It is good to see that the craft of street magic is still alive. People like Marcus Eddie make SXSW more than a collection of independent shows. Walking from event to event is an experience in itself!
The SXSW festival attracts entertainers and entrepreneurs from every walk of life. Every one of them has a different SXSW story to bring home with them. The casual people watcher like myself can make an entire day of eavesdropping. If you get the chance, take a walk around Downtown in the morning and early afternoon. South-by is a great chance to experience many different types of people.
Austinot Dusty asks:
What is your favorite SXSW 2012 story so far?
(Photos are property of Gary J. Wood, Michael Connell, and Haleigh Burger, respectively.)