Travel Tales

SXSW: the Good, the Bad, the BBQ

In 2009, I was working full-time at a tech company building some serious client-facing experience and learning the digital marketing ropes while I toiled away at the Indy Film Fest on nights and weekends. Sometime late that year, it occurred to me that I could take advantage of the company’s conference policy – employees on my team could attend one career-centered conference a year – while bolstering my film festival cred at the same time. The magic event? That grown-up Spring Break that descends on Austin each March, SXSW.

So it was that I attended my first SX (read: South By) in 2010, dedicating the first part of my week to the Interactive conference, then taking a few vacation days to stick around on my own dime and see as many films as I could. Many of those would find their way into future editions of the Indy Film Fest and its year-round programming. I attended on double duty for three years, after which my life sort of exploded (see: every post on this blog since it started) and I left SXSW behind.

Fast forward to 2016 when I proposed another trip back to weird and wonderful Austin on behalf of my current company, and they agreed. So off I went and, like riding a bike, attending SXSW hasn’t changed much in four years. Though it was far from a perfect trip, it managed to exceed expectations yet again; the food is still amazing, the movies are still a blast and the people are still the best thing about the whole deal. Read on for the lowdown on the good, the bad and the food (which also includes the beer. Obvs).

My trip started off on a less-than-great foot when I was boarding my plane and still had not heard from my AirBNB host with details on how to access her place or secure shelter for myself for the next three days (the Bad). In a mild panic, I called the dedicated SX AirBNB support team and was put up in a hotel for the night, claiming one of I imagine several rooms they had on standby for just such occasions (the Good).

I lost half of the next day in sorting out the AirBNB mess (which I will say is a unique experience for me; on the whole, my interactions with the company and hosts has been nothing but stellar and smooth), as I wasn’t comfortable staying in a place where the host basically forgot I was going to be (the Bad). I managed to do the sorting over a few beers with a good friend from my Indy Film Fest days who was also in town (the Good, and also the Food).

After that crazy day and a few work meetings, I treated myself to a screening of Sing Street, the latest from the filmmaker who did Once and Begin Again. Totally harmless and totally wonderful (the Good) – highly recommend. Afterwards, I found a text on my phone from a guy I’d met in a shared Uber. Turned out we had a mutual friend, so I was able to meet them and others for a late film (the Bad) and a round of drinks and great conversation on a restaurant balcony overlooking downtown Austin (the Good, and the Food).

By Saturday I had my SX legs firmly under me and I was ready to take the day by storm. Schedule mapped out, meetings confirmed and insanely gorgeous weather to top it off. Sure enough, that day and the next turned landed firmly in the Good column. I made it out to a crawfish boil (the Food!) complete with great work connections, and though the films didn’t pass muster (the Bad), I managed enough great conversations and reconnections to make up for it (the Good).

My last full day at the festival, I had one objective: to see a film (and have a meal) at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. A staple of SXSW, it’s more a cinephile’s dream than a movie theater, with a character all its own and in-theater dining done right. Since I’d been to the festival last, the strip mall where the theater had been located was completely razed and redeveloped, complete with a new Alamo Drafthouse. Thankfully, the new space retained its charm and character and though the film I caught there wasn’t a keeper (the Bad), it was fantastic just to be there again…for the first time (the Good AND the Food).

Even with the hiccups of crazy lodging and less-than-stellar films, my very fast trip to Austin for the first time in a few years was still very worthwhile. I made new connections and sparked existing ones anew; I drank fantastic craft beer and ate well. At the end of the day, can you ask for much more than that?