My very first experience at South By Southwest really put into perspective just how vast this event truly is, and the extent to which it consumes the entire city of Austin, TX. I’m not going to pretend that I saw even 5% of the outrageously cool things that happened last week. I ended each day exponentially more tired than I was the previous day, and still I probably only saw about 0.05% of what SXSW had to offer.
However, even though I missed dozens of events that I really, really wanted to see, I was still able to attend some incredibly kick-ass events that made my week at SXSW something I will never, ever forget. I saw artists I’ve been trying to see for years and plenty of acts I’ve never even heard of, but have a suspicion we will be seeing plenty of in the coming years. I saw former-politicians, stand up comics, music industry legends, and plenty of horribly misguided rappers handing out business cards with up to four (4!) QR codes on the back.
Instead of attempting to wrap up the entire event into one neat little article or pretending I attended a bunch of events I really didn’t, I’m just going to write about the three full days I actually spent on the ground in Austin, and highlight the many wonderful events I was able to physically attend!
Thursday, March 14th – Day 1
After spending the entire day on Wednesday driving down to Texas (Pro Tip: Fly instead!) we got some rest and prepared for our first full day at SXSW. The majority of the late morning/early afternoon was filled with conferences, presentations, meetings, and all the boring stuff you really don’t want to read about. Instead, let’s just talk about the Ticketmaster Music Showcase that took place at Stubb’s BBQ that night!
With a lineup that any respectable music festival would be proud of hosting, Ticketmaster pulled out all the stops for their premier showcase at SXSW 2019. The night, kicking off promptly at 8:00 PM, included performances by Lizzo, King Princess, Car Seat Headrest, Cherry Glazerr, and Durand Jones & The Indications.
The line to get in extended almost an entire city block by the time I showed up at 6:30, but having missed the opportunity to see Lizzo perform in the Twin Cities multiple times, I was prepared to do whatever it took to make sure I didn’t miss her again. I happily waited in line and chatted with fellow SXSW attendees, including a wonderful man from Iowa (What’s up, Les?) about how great it is to be away from the Midwest cold!
Although I was mostly there to see Lizzo and was equally blown away by her performance, the most surprising part of this showcase was how amazing Durand Jones & the Indications were. As Les told me during the show, he had seen them perform a little over a year ago and was equally shocked at how much their live show had changed over that time, and how incredible their performance was at Stubb’s.
I was lucky enough to see Cherry Glazerr perform at Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis about two weeks before seeing them down in Austin last week, so their performance was familiar but equally as enjoyable as it was in Minnesota.
Car Seat Headrest & King Princess, two artists who I was fairly familiar with but was seeing for the first time, also put on delightful performances, even if a few setup delays cut Car Seat Headrest’s set a little bit short. King Princess was also flying high off Alicia Keys mentioning her during her acceptance speech at the 2019 iHeartRadio Music Awards just hours before, which her mom promptly notified her of minutes before the show. So the night’s performance was dedicated back to Alicia, which aroused much jubilation from the crowd.
The undeniable highlight of the night was, of course, Lizzo. As soon as she stepped out on stage, decked out in a glittery red, white, and blue jacket with “Texas” across the back, and a bright red cowboy hat, the crowd absolutely erupted. For a little over an hour and fifteen minutes she absolutely owned the stage, strutting back and forth and expertly executing the tightly choreographed dance moves that accompany her other-worldly voice.
Even if her music doesn’t get you excited (it should!) it’s hard to deny her impact on the music industry. Putting body positivity at the forefront of every performance, she takes every opportunity to reaffirm to the crowd that they are beautiful just the way they are and don’t need to change for anyone but themselves. I can’t imagine there was a more impressive performance during the entire SXSW Music Festival, and I would be willing to bet a good sum of money on that.
Friday, March 15th – Day 2
We didn’t get back to our Airbnb until almost 3:00 AM, so I was a little bit of a mess on Friday morning. Due to that, I, unfortunately, missed a late-morning keynote with Adam Horovitz & Michael Diamond of Beastie Boys, which was a bummer, but I was able to make it to an early-afternoon keynote with former Speaker of the House of Representative, John Boehner.
Many of you are likely unaware of what John Boehner has been doing since his time as Speaker of the House ended, and that includes me, so this keynote was a bit surprising to me. In 2018 Boehner joined the board of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis corporation led by Kevin Murphy, to promote the medical use of cannabis and advocate for federal de-scheduling of the drug. In 2019 Boehner was named chair of the National Cannabis Roundtable, a cannabis lobbying organization.
The keynote was a conversation between John Boehner, Kevin Murphy, and CNBC’s Tim Seymour to discuss the likely paths to national legalization and the challenges and opportunities America’s fastest growing industry faces today. The conversation was riveting, and it was quite the experience to watch someone with the political career such as Boehner’s address the crowd.
At one point during the keynote, a woman in the crowd felt the need to share her opinions on Boehner’s sometimes… spotty voting record when it came to policy change during his time in office. After a few tense moments, and some reassuring words from host Tim Seymour on behaving properly during the event, Boehner took the opportunity to address the crowd and state his case.
He told stories of working with veterans and watching the impact medical cannabis has on reducing their symptoms of suffering from PTSD, among other things. He spoke about the countless American citizens that have shared their stories with him, from suffering from seizure disorders, chronic pain, and the fallouts of their battles with cancer.
He said that, although he has never tried the substance, and though he believes cannabis should be rescheduled so it can be enjoyed recreationally as well, his focus throughout this entire process has been on the proven medical benefits that cannabis has for millions of American citizens who suffer every single day. He is fighting for them, and will continue to do so, until, as he says, “the Federal Government finally gets it’s shit together!”
The remainder of Friday was relatively low-key. I caught a few random showcases along Austin’s 6th St, but ended up calling it an early night to rest up for a busy Saturday. I also had to check out the world-famous Whataburger on my way back to our house. And, yes, it was delicious!
Saturday, March 16th – Day 3
My day on Saturday began with a private showing of a film titled Trip Of Compassion, directed by Gil Karni. The film was being presented by American author/entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, who called the film “The Most Compelling Movie I’ve Seen In The Last Year.” An excerpt from the films IMDb page reads;
“Thousands of PTSD victims live in Israel, which in recent years has been promoting an innovative treatment, namely psycho-active substances, known as psychedelic drugs. The film documents PTSD victims undergoing MDMA treatment at Beer Yaacov psychiatric hospital over several years. We return with them to the site of the trauma, to the life before and the long and complex road to leaving the bleeding wounds behind and returning to life.”
The movie follows three individuals and their journey from traumatic experiences all the way through their MDMA therapy sessions and how their lives have changed afterward. I don’t want to dive too deep into the film, simply because I think anyone who is interested in learning more about psychedelic therapy should seek this film out and watch for themselves, but I will say it was an extremely powerful experience and offered an incredibly in-depth look at this groundbreaking science I suspect will become more and more common over the coming years.
After attending the film showing, I jumped into the sardine-can known as the 550 MetroRail Red Line and made my way back to Downtown. Saturday was the big day for the SXSW Gaming Festival to take over the Austin Convention Center, so once I arrived downtown a large portion of my time was spent checking out the sights and sounds.
Probably one of the coolest events I was able to attend was the Halo Championship Series: SXSW Invitational that took place over the weekend. I, like many other people my age, played tons of Halo growing up. While it never became an obsession for me, I certainly poured much more time into games similar to it when I was growing up.
— Halo Esports #HCS (@HCS) March 17, 2019
Watching these legitimately professional athletes compete against each other, pulling off things I could never even dream of doing in a video game, was quite an eye-opening experience. I think to fully realize the scale that eSports has grown to over the last few years, you need to attend one of their live events. You immediately understand the legitimacy of the entire industry right after walking through the doors.
After taking one last trip to what ended up being my favorite food truck in the entire world, aptly named “BBQ Heaven,” to grab yet another brisket sandwich, I made my way over to the Stateside Theater for a recording of the absolutely hilarious Doug Loves Movies podcast, hosted by Doug Benson.
Funnily enough, one of the guests on his panel for the recording was Minnesota-native Sean Tillmann, better known as Har Mar Superstar. Comedian Doug Mellard and Austin-based author and filmmaker Owen Egerton also joined in on the fun, taking turns cracking jokes and competing in a few trivia games, although they didn’t end up being very competitive with Har Mar Superstar mopping the floor with Doug & Owen, winning a lucky fan in the front row a generous bag of goodies all four men on stage put together with random things they likely found in their cars.
After the podcast recording wrapped up, it was onto my final event of SXSW 2019, Minneapolis-based Green Room Music Source’s official SXSW showcase at The Velveeta Room! The showcase featured some of Green Room’s most impressive acts, including St. Paul’s Maudlin, Nashville’s Wild Ponies, and New York’s Sawyer Fredericks. The main act I wanted to catch during this showcase, though, was Minneapolis’s own, The Shackletons.
Their SXSW bio reads: “The Shackletons are a rock band out of the Twin Cities writing and playing songs rooted in the rich influence of the “Minnesota Sound.” The band consists of Colin Campbell (vocals/guitar), his older brother, Cameron (Bass), and younger brother Evan (Drums/miscellaneous screaming). Living a double life as both a knee-buckling indie rock band as well as a stomp your-foot-through-the-floor blues band, The Shackletons have been generating buzz throughout the Twin Cities and Midwest.”
Somehow, I’ve consistently missed seeing these guys perform around the Twin Cities for almost two years, so it was my duty to finally put an end to that over 1,000 miles from home. Immediately after they stepped out on stage, it became clear that all of my waiting was absolutely worth it.
It’s difficult to put your finger on exactly what genre The Shackletons fall into, and that is absolutely not a bad thing. Simply put, these guys just kick ass. They blazed through their set, taking no prisoners and playing whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. Multiple times I thought all four of them were going to fall through the floor from jumping up and down on a stage built for stand-up comedy, but I’m pretty sure none of them even noticed.
One of the highlights of the performance was their cover of a song from a band that is quite popular in their home town of Minneapolis, The Replacements. Saying the same thing they did when they wrapped up their set with “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver, “We have no business playing this song!”
During both performances, the entire crowd sang along to every word, with Colin leading them as a 30+ year veteran in this industry would. The poise and stage presence every member of this band holds would have been the most impressive part of the setlist, but that cover of “Country Roads” was just so damn good…
And that’s it! The week was over and we jumped into the car for the sixteen-hour drive back home. It’s hard for me to wrap up my first time in Austin for SXSW in words, especially a neat little paragraph at the end of this story.
It was special, and I’m grateful to everyone at SXSW who deemed a humble little blog based out of Minnesota important enough to attend. Hopefully, my career continues to take me down to Austin for this wonderful event, but even if I never make it back again, I’ll always remember this week with a smile across my face.