SXSW is the ultimate immersive learning experience, but I didn’t expect to start learning things on the bus to the convention center. I learned that SXSW has a new Internet presence: SXSW On; available on Roku, YouTube, and SXSW.com. The service provides live feeds from the conference of keynotes and music, highlights of previous conferences and original programming.
On the first day, after a “How to Get the Most out of SXSW” speech by festival CEO Hugh Forrest, I crossed the street from the Convention Center to Brush Park for The BBQ Crash Course. I had to skip the Al Gore Keynote for this, but as one of my table mates pointed out, Al Gore was not offering the best barbecue in Texas and free beer (my favorite: St. Arnold’s from Houston.) My table mates exemplified one of the great aspects of the SXSW experience. They were all from foreign countries – Germany, England, Japan, and Seattle (Trust me; Seattle is a foreign country).
Shuttle buses take you from the outlying, more economical hotels to the convention center. I always sat up front when I could. The drivers had great stories and they often listened to mine in return. Life is often more interesting in the trenches than up in the ivory towers.
But should you subject yourself to the shuttles in the first place? First, let me be clear, SXSW volunteers and workers are amazing, dedicated, and enthusiastic. But sometimes, the vagaries of big city traffic, weather, and mechanical breakdowns overcome the best of intentions. I was at SXSW for nine days. I spent about 15 hours waiting for shuttle buses. It will cost you twice as much to stay in a hotel in walking distance to the convention center, but, depending on how tight your schedule is, it might be worth it to you.
Think you know everything about McDonald’s? At SXSW, even Ronald McD gets creative. The McDonald’s tent provides free food all day and live music. The day I visited singer/songwriter Gracie Schram was making music, and making a difference. The Kansas 16-year-old has been using her musical talents since she was ten in order to raise money for orphans in Africa and Haiti. So far, she has raised over $40,000.
SXSW consists of over 3000 events, including 150 movies. I didn’t quite make it to all of them. The incredible variety allows attendees to craft an itinerary for education, discovery or just plain fun. Activities range from serious sessions about crafting your company’s brand to the opportunity to sit in the convention center and play with Legos.
The opportunity to network is a major benefit of SXSW. Networking takes place everywhere. Standing in line to see a movie, you’ll never know who is standing next to you until you say “Hi.” Seminars, lounges, and special events also provide ways to meet people. I talked with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk till Dawn, Spy Kids), actress Lucy Lawless (Xena, Spartacus), and producer Andrew Myer (The Breakfast Club, Fried Green Tomatoes), and I wasn’t even trying that hard. There are also events for people who are seriously looking for work.
Like at most conventions/festivals, vendors like to give you free stuff. I turned down a lot of t-shirts. I have more than I’ll ever need. But, I bought one, because to me it captures the essence of SXSW. Emblazoned on the shirt was a quote from Albert Einstein: “Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
I couldn’t sum up SXSW any better.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00KYL80LQ,B0007DA3VG,B00UCZUP3K,B00RJXKUSS,1935806718]