March 22 2011 12:00 AM

Thoughts on SXSW as I wait for the van to get fixed

Raul, who runs the house venue I went to
Music editor Peter Holslin is currently stranded in Arizona with Maren Parusel. Yesterday, the band's tour van broke down on the way back from South by Southwest, the annual film and music festival. Make sure to pick up next week's issue of San Diego CityBeat for a full report on SXSW, but here's some more thoughts.

A tow truck just pulled us into a Ford dealership in Casa Grande, Ariz., a dusty little town that is composed almost entirely of chain stores. The band, manager Mario Escovedo and I are sitting in the waiting room as some mechanics work on the busted van. Hopefully, it'll get fixed and we'll be able to pull out today or tonight. But we've clearly got plenty of time to kill so I'm catching up on SXSW coverage, listening to the new album by San Diego blues-rockers Little Hurricane and mulling over my experiences over the past week. 

This was my first year attending SXSW. What I saw was total madness. Hipsters as far as the eye can see. Pizza and bratwurst stands on every street corner. Wayfarer sunglasses of all colors. The madness was inescapable. Well past 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, the final day of the festival, you couldn't find a fast food restaurant within a five mile radius of downtown that wasn't packed with festival-goers and performers. 

This year, SXSW was the biggest it's ever been. Considering all the festival's disasters--logisticaltechnical and P.R.-related--some critics wonder whether SXSW has gotten too big. "Speaking as an Austinite who's been going to these things for 14 years, whether as a journalist, performing artist, or just a fan, I'll always remember SXSW 2011 as a sort of tipping point," Sean O'Neal wrote in The A.V. Club. "But as to where it can possibly go from here, I don't think even those in charge know right now." 

Unsurprisingly, there was a fair share of SXSW-bashing--even from performers. Before their now-infamous performance at the Fat Wreck Chords showcase, Screeching Weasel frontman Ben Weasel tweeted: "Gearing up to play the most depressing show of my life in the most joyless, soulless, shameful excuse of a music event in modern history." At the official Billboard showcase on Saturday night, rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All walked off stage after playing for 15 minutes. "Fuck Billboard," ringleader Tyler, the Creator told the crowd, many of whom had paid $20 to get in to see them. "I don't even read that shit." 

My biggest complaint was that the festival is so big, so sprawling, and so busy that simply choosing what to do can be a frustrating experience. But I don't hold it against the festival: Veterans say that you just can't plan for SXSW. Even if you do make up an itinerary, you'll invariably ditch it. 

On Friday, I got sidetracked about half a dozen times, but I always ended up somewhere interesting. I wandered into Emo's just as Canadia's Braids started playing, and their beguiling set was one of the week's highlights. Later, I took a taxi to a small party in the weed-strewn back yard of a dilapidated house venue in east Austin, where I watched a couple touring bands and hung out up with my friends in The Binary Marketing Show, a Brooklyn band. Then I went back downtown to check out some showcases. Much later, members of the San Diego band Gun Runner and I wound up in the swimming pool of a million-dollar mansion--the home of the daughter of a famous movie star. The next day, I rode into town in the back of Gun Runner's pickup truck. Like I said, total madness. 

Well, the mechanics are still working on the van. From what I hear, the van will be ready in an hour. I'd better check in with the band. San Diego or bust!


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