E/E

DAY EIGHT: SXSW

Day One of SXSW!! We wake in Austin, make breakfast, kiss Lio goodbye for the morning, fly outside, zip downtown, get a free bike cart ride (the term “pedicab” is not something I will probably ever actually say) and are let off by our nice peddler Jacob at the Convention Center – the hub of all that is Sx. After some startled milling about, we sign in, get bands slapped fairly unceremoniously onto our wrists (VOID IF SEVERED, TAPED, STRETCHED, OR NOT SNUG ON WRIST), and race with our boots/sandals to Proof Advertising a handful of blocks away. I’d been eyeing a panel on tapes and zines, as I’m in the eye of the creative storm of kindling up a zine project when we get home. I thought the panel would be some cool inspiration to garnish fresh ideas, and to be united with fellow zine makers. Well, it was and it wasn’t. On the plus side, it was a blast reminiscing about late-night trips to Kinko’s and self distribution, but on the minus side, I’m still making those late-night trips, and still self-distributing… it seemed like more of a “zine makers who have been put out to pasture” workshop. It didn’t seem like many or any of the people in attendance were still involved in zine ‘culture’ or the lifestyles/mentalities that accompany it. I don’t think those things are synonymous with youth, nor mutually exclusive with age – I’m 30, and I hope I never stop making zines and running them off and handing them out while we travel. A lot of the panel was geared toward something like ‘how to bring the essence of zine culture into my present-day business’ which seemed silly. Incorporating DIY tactics into a for-profit business is a delicate affair. I don’t mean to rip on this too hard, because everyone was super nice and smart and kind and we had a lot of fun laughing and zinging ideas around. I took 6 pages of notes that I will definitely turn into some kind of article. I just wish it would have focused more on the movement still happening under everybody’s nose, instead of ‘the way things were/the good old days.’

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After the panel, we jumped onto the sidewalk and scared the shit out of Conor, who we saw walking on the sidewalk and loomed behind. We all got street dogs and headed over to the Convention Center to recharge and plan the rest of the day.

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Hawk and I stepped inside the Center’s Sx Trade Show around noon, amazed at the hundreds of booths full of technological advances and free branded t-shirts. We proceeded to make the rounds, literally, traveling up and down every single row, entering contests, getting what people kept referring to as “swag,” drinking large amounts of free beer, joking with booth attendants, eating great snacks, and chatting up dozens and dozens of people gathered to share their music and news from all over the world. It was such a highlight of our journey thus far – sort of like a weird date, roaming around together, enjoying each other’s company and the company of all of these hundreds of ideas and the brains that thought them up.

I had also been eyeing a Neil Young lecture/Q&A on his new hi-def sound system, Pono. About an hour prior to Mr. Young’s appearance, Hawk and I drifted toward the huge ballroom where it would be held. We approached the ballroom and were immediately turned away with the remark that “This event isn’t for artists.” Huh? Neil Young is giving a talk on a new sound system that will help music consumers hear the full quality of recorded music, and… musicians can’t attend? Nope. Only badge holders – the big guns who had shelled out upwards $1k and far beyond that amount to attend Sx.

This news, to my ovulating, day-buzzed self, was taken pretty fucking hard. I can’t see Neil Young? Neil Young is the only thing I care about! Haha. I stood there in disbelief for what felt like awhile, my brain scrambling to connect the synapses that could help me to explain to this mean dude at the door what a seat at this proverbial table meant to a gal like me. But, he didn’t care.

Hawk started walking around asking people if they were “done with their badges” (the festival had just begun) to try to make me laugh and get my mind off of the present dilemma. It reminded me of when I was on tour with It’s True! in 2010 – Hawk and I, a new couple, spent a blissful three weeks together in love, finally landing back in Colorado. It was our last night together, and we were broke and devastated that he’d be returning to Omaha, and were plotting our reunion, but not without tears. Without a cent to our name, Hawk began asking people on the street for spare change, explaining to passer-by that this was our last night together for awhile… and we wanted to get drunk. (I know, real noble of us.) Well, that was met with mixed reactions, and we returned to the venue, more downhearted than ever. Hawk got a look on his face that said, “We are going to do this.” He kissed me on the cheek, told me to stay planted with our pals outside, and went into the bar. He emerged a few minutes later, grinning, with about 15 shots of tequila in individual shot glasses, all balanced on top of each other. It was a pretty uplifting moment. He does have a way.

So after asking people if we could have their badges, followed by wondering aloud if we could hijack a couple green volunteer shirts for a few hours, paired with aimless, sad wandering in a tiny circle near the entrance of the ballroom, Hawk said, “Let’s go talk to someone else, see if they’ll let us in.” So we went to another entrance, and asked a very sweet, stoner-y young man and a gentle, loving grandmother type if we could have entrance. They apologized profusely, said it didn’t make sense to them, either, that musicians weren’t allowed in, and shook their heads with empathy.

And that’s when I started to cry. It was a turn to Hawk, a bury in his chest, and a release of tears. The traveling, the hot sun, the running around, hormones, and the lack of getting to see Neil Young (a huge part of the reason we’d chosen wristbands instead of the artist payout for our performance at Sx) had compiled to bear witness to my ruin. I couldn’t help it. I just cried. Neil Young, I felt, is such an iconic role model for me, was put into my ears in utero, I was born and raised, I have it all on worn second-generation vinyl, yadda yadda. Yeah, I’ve seen him in concert, yeah, I flew out to Bridge School for three years in a row in my late teens, yeah, he has already had an impact beyond what any other artist may ever have in my life… and knowing Neil Young was in the building and knowing I wouldn’t be able to be a part of it was just not computing.

“We can talk to the manager,” the kindly hippie man suggested.

“Okay,” I nodded. They called the manager over. Without looking at us, she dismissed us, said, “No, no,” as if we were beetles, and sauntered off.

“Can we just sneak in?” Hawk asked.

“That’s what I was thinking,” said the stoner-y man.

“Yes,” said the Granny, nodding enthusiastically with dazzling eyes.

“Just don’t do it right now,” said the dude – “They’re all watching.”

So I picked up an Austin Chronicle, pretended to read it, held it to my chest where a badge would’ve been, waited for The Signal – then, with a nod and a head jerk and a wink in the opposite direction, and a whisper, “Now, now!” We were off. I smiled at the Granny; she showered her smile back at me; and we put our heads down and fucking bee-lined for the front of the room, looking for empty seats. Sixth row, squeezing in… we sat down. I quickly put on one of our free t-shirts and a jacket, and zipped it up, to hide my artist band. I was wearing a super loud dress and didn’t want to be spotted as a stowaway. Hawk hung his murse around his neck so you couldn’t tell he wasn’t wearing a giant lanyard. And we sweated out the last thirty minutes of a presentation by the Mayor of Chicago, trying to seem engaged, but not too engaged; busy, but not too busy; uplifted, but not desperate. Volunteers swarmed up and down the rows, checking badges, looking at everyone’s necks. My teary face dried and I counted the minutes, hoping we weren’t too obvious, like a crew with a fake mustache and nose. We still had 20 minutes not to be found out, and I both wrote and pretended to write and kept writing just to fill the time and seem oblique. God bless the people who let us in…. ten minutes left.

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Then it happened. We did it. It was the best, of course. Thanks, Neil. He said he liked listening to music loud – I thought, “More barn!” remembering the infamous punch line of a tale I’d grown up on, of Neil listening to an album master out in the middle of a lake on a rowboat, wherein a huge barn and another structure had been made into speakers – I thought, damn, Neil Young is just such a legend. I grew up on his legacy of a combination of not giving a shit and giving all the shit in the world. And I thank him for that. He is such a badass, paving the way for other badasses, dealing with major labels, making so many records, starting so young, after all this time, working on so many incredible projects over the years, and now Pono. I thought it was rather odd that the room was not equally filled with musicians. They weren’t allowed. Something about the irony of that stings.

You can listen to some of his presentation here:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/allsongs/2014/03/12/289435279/hear-neil-young-explain-his-pono-music-player-at-sxsw

On the way out of ballroom, I went up to the Granny, gave her a big squeeze, and said, “Thanks for making my South by Southwest.”

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