How One Austinite Learned to Stop Being a Cynic and Love SXSW (Sort of)
You might have seen it on Buzzfeed.
An article called “Here’s what Austinites really think about South by Southwest.”
"Utter madness," they called it. "Crazy." "Thrilling."
I was suspicious.
The people all looked like they were fresh out of college. Did they even live here? Real Austinites, you know, who've been here a few years, like to grumble about South by Southwest.
"It's too big!" they say. "It's too commercial!" "It destroys downtown!"
I guess I’m one of those people.
So I read that Buzzfeed article and snarkily ask on Twitter:
I include the photo of someone named Natalia, who was allegedly from Austin, from the Buzzfeed article (f-word obscured here):
A few people reply on Twitter, joining me in my snark. I even challenge the writer to get out of downtown and then ask locals how they feel about South by Southwest. Ha! That'll show 'em.
And then a new voice chimes in:
It was the woman from the photo.
Now, I feel like a jerk. A troll. Who was I to question how “Austin” she is? (Turns out she's been here longer than I have.)
But more than that, am I so committed to grumbling about South by Southwest that I single out some innocent person who loves it?
I needed to apologize. But also, I needed to know why she still loves it. Maybe I, too, could overcome the cynicism and learn to love SXSW.
So yesterday, I went to meet her.
I meet Natalia Ciolko at Fader Fort on 5th Street.
First, an apology. Thank goodness she wasn't actually offended. So there we are. Baking in the sun. The line at Fader Fort is huge. Natalia has been going to South by Southwest for 10 years.
“Why do you love it so much?" I ask.
"Well, it’s a staycation. At a beautiful time of year," Natalia tells me. "Usually the weather’s great. And there’s a lot of people that I’ve maybe interacted with on Twitter, who will travel from L.A. or San Francisco or New York to Austin and you meet great people everywhere you go."
"So why do you think so many people – specifically locals – get down on it?" I persist.
"Truthfully, I was at JuiceLand today, and there was not a single person in line," she says. "My favorite restaurants have had no wait – which is unheard of in Austin ever. So I find if you stay out of downtown, you actually have a great time this week.”
“I mean, people have been complaining about this for decade, but do you think it’s changed in the time that you’ve been going?" I press.
"No," she says plainly. "I don’t think it’s any different. Brands...music...it’s been that.”
OK, so maybe I just get over it and have fun. How do I do that?
“Just try to do one South by Southwest event per day," Natalia advises. "Don’t try to make it to multiple parties – you won’t eventually get into any of them. If you focus on one, you wait in line, invest 30 minutes – you can spend the whole day there.”
I think I got it. Maybe it’s a pain – the traffic, crowds. But it’s a party, right?
Oh wait, not today. I have get back to work.
Next year. Maybe I'll have fun next year.