Ahhhh, SXSW, what an experience. For years I never went because I didn’t think it would be something I would enjoy. I’m not a huge party person. I rarely drink. As much as I love music, it’s not very often that a live show impresses me, particularly in Hip Hop. Also, for years I would also throw out the excuse that it always falls on or near my B-day so I didn’t want to be out there for that…which is a statement without merit because I generally don’t do anything for my B-day anyway. So, in essence I was really just hating…ha.
I went down in last 2011 and to my surprise it was one my favorite music related trips I had ever taken. It was easily among my favorite music conference experiences I have had in many years (not counting ones I have been involved with like Scribble Jam and Soundset. I’m obviously biased there). It is really only rivaled by my experiences at events like Rock Steady & Zulu Nation Anniversaries… This year at SXSW was more of the same and that is a great thing.
Flew out in early evening with Eric Larson of Nevermind Gallery in St Paul*. While in the security line we run into Plain Ole Bill who is on the same flight as us to Austin and back, so we get to kick it.
When we touchdown in Austin my Cuz, Calvin (Mr Fitness) Barber & his wife, Andrea, scoop us up. We head over to South Congress for some much needed eatings at Magnolia Café (great spot for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike). Since we are in the neighborhood I have to make a stop over at the South Congress Food Truck lair and visit the good people at Hey Cupcake. They have added a new flavor, John Lemon, which is pretty fantastic. Let me just admit now that I did visit the Hey Cupcake truck every single day I was in Austin, including twice on my last day…yes, I know…I have a cupcake obsession. Then we do a quick drive thru downtown and then back to his spot to hang out and kick it until the early morn. The SXSW action starts early tomorrow…
After a few hours sleep it’s up and at ‘em. We head over to our hotel to get checked in and then straight to the convention center to retrieve our SXSW badges and all that good stuff. Then we walk over to Jo’s Coffee on W 2nd Street, which has a nice breakfast and lunch menu. We are a tad late for the breakfast, but that’s all fine and dandy because they have a mighty tasty BBQ Seitan sandwich that does quite right by me.
From there it’s time to explore downtown and get into full SXSW mode, which is all about connecting with people for me. That’s the mission I stay on for most of the trip out here, but more on that later.
My main reason for being out there was to conduct my panel; Industry Survival Skill: Maximizing Income As A Hip Hop Artist. They panel went great! All my panelists did an excellent job and hit all the points that reflected why I personally selected them; Brother Ali, J Bird, Dessa, Skyzoo, and Eric Larson, much love and appreciation to all of you! There was a nice crowd of people in attendance and afterwards many of them came up to thank me for hosting the panel and cited it as a very important and insightful part of their trip. I appreciate everyone who came out for the panel as well! Plus, I was hit up all week by people we were unable to make it because they didn’t have a badge or wristband. Overall, it was a complete success. Although, I have to admit there is one thing that is bugging me. Part of the problem with doing these panels is time constraints. It’s hard to cover such an important and expansive topic, with so many different peoples opinions involved and be able to touch on everything. I had to cut a few things in order to fit in some questions from the crowed, which I felt were an essential part of the discussion. However, in hindsight I should NOT have omitted the option of Licensing, that’s a huge one, but it just got lost in the moment of time running out. I was going to try to sneak it in, but saw the SXSW staff giving me the “Please stop the panel” look because they had another panel coming in next…ha. I did record the full panel and I think it came out good enough to post it online in full so I’m working to get that ready and up later this week. I’ll also work on a separate piece about Licensing options for artists and blog about that soon!
Today was dedicated to exploring Austin a bit off the SXSW grid. My homegirl, Keavy, moved from Minneapolis to Austin late last year and offered to be my tour guide for the day. I crewed up with her and her peoples around lunchtime and we kicked it until about 3 AM…all day action. We hit up Curra’s Grill for lunch. It’s a Mexican spot that has an impressive amount of selections for vegetarians and vegans. Then we walked around South Congress, which is just a couple miles, at most, from Downtown, but is off the SXSW grid, yet there is still plenty of action going on.
Then we head to the opposite side of town to go to Toy Joy, which is a cool little toy shop and I was able to pick up some more Marvel Comics magnets to add to my fridge collection. However, the main motivation for being here is what they have tucked away in the back room…a full-blown juice and ice cream shop. To my endless delight they have a wide selection of Vegan Milkshakes**. I partake in a classic Strawberry, while Keavyops for the more adventures Chocolate Lavender. Both are fantastic!
From there, the next 12 hours or so are a non-stop mission all over the place. We explore all sorts of music genres and events; Pop Rock, Hardrock, Death Metal, Punk Rock, Bluegrass, A Rave (we get finger lights which are awesome and a source of fun for the evening), Reggae, and who knows what else… It was a very versatile day. Thanx to Keavy and her posse for rolling with me all day!
Since I was off the grid yesterday, today I stayed completely in the middle of the action. I primarily roamed up and down 6th street and down the side streets to connect with people. Plain Ole Bill and myself did make a quick escape to walk a couple miles over to Mr Natural for some food. It’s an all-vegetarian spot that is super good. We both ate as much as we humanly good then got a little more. I had to leave with a partial Pineapple Empanada in my bag to nibble on later and trust me, I did.
A definite trip highlight was catching up with Kwasar of The Distortionists. I did a review on his Dallas based crew earlier in the week HERE. We connected for an interview to fill in the blanks to his career. He has an amazing story! It goes so deep we only covered one part of his career with a follow up interview to soon come. Working on the interview edit, so expect to see that live in the very near future!
Later in the night I ran into some of my MPLS peoples and we kicked it at the Side Bar for a while talking about all sorts of ridiculousness and then I continued my strolling of the streets and meeting of the peoples until about 3 AM. From there it was time to head straight to the hotel to grab my bags and off to the airport. Plain Ole Bill, Eric and myself keep ourselves awake with an assortment of conversation until lift off and three hours later we touched down back in the Twin Cities.
After walking those 10+ miles a day and having zero sleep the night before and not much the last 3 days I was sore and exhausted. I took a nap for a few hours and then went to get a nice deep tissue massage which magically snapped my body back into working order, but also drained me to the point of near unconsciousness, so I got myself home about 9 PM and thought I’d catch another nap then go out somewhere for the evening...I woke up from that “nap” about 9 AM on Saturday and was like “Whoa, where did the last twelve hours go?” and that was about all I thought before I went back to sleep for another few hours. I don’t even remember when I have slept that long before…it’s been a long time, but I seriously needed it.
For me, my primary mission down there is to connect with people…all sort of people. At SXSW, I get to connect with many of my friends that I have connected with over the past 20 years in the music business, who I never get to see otherwise for the most part. I get to finally meet artists who I have only traded emails, Facebook statuses or phone calls with for years. I get to meet people who know me for my work on any variety of projects or places; Rhymesayers, Redefinition Radio, Scribble Jam, RedefineHipHop, Time Travel Radio, etc… Plus I get to meet brand new people as well! In all cases, it’s great to connect with people, so that is what I focus on for most of this trip. I spend my days walking around Austin, TX just meeting and talking to people. I probably easily walked 10+ miles a day, hitting various sections of town to meet new people, check out different venues and of course discover great food! That in mind, I actually saw very little music. I caught a few bits and pieces of some things that were cool. I was definitely glad to finally catch Brother Ali with his live band. They tore it down no doubt. They are able to effectively recreate his sonic foundations and create a balance of maintaining the endearing familiarity, yet breathing in some new life simultaneously. Without even trying, I ran into a couple Doomtree shows, as they were rocking everywhere. Also, caught Murs, Prof and couple others live in action. I had a few other performances that I really wanted to see, but nothing worked out as planned. I learned, again this year, that the planning thing doesn’t work for me. I get to easily caught up talking with people, that I never make it to the shows on time. Next year I’m not even going to try…ha. If I catch some great shows, that’s perfect, but I’ll focus on the task of connecting with people.
I plan to do a blog post next year before SXSW that is a “Prepare for SXSW” guide for people, but as a quick preliminary here is this.
SXSW is a great experience for so many reasons. Of course, there is the very rare experience of being able to see so many performing artists from all around the world, covering nearly every genre, and an unimaginable range of options. That should be more than enough reason to go if you are a fan.
If you are an artist or in the music business then, of course, there are options for performing and/or panels. If you can’t get on an official SXSW showcase, which can be challenging, then there are plenty of opportunities for unofficial showcases if you hustle and have your communication game on lock in advance. Beyond that, the networking you can do down there is virtually limitless. Not just with other artists, but there are representatives down there from every blog, magazine, radio stations, booking agencies, managers, venues, record labels, etc… Basically, just about anyone you would need to meet to help you further your career is all in one place, centered on main street and they are all wearing a name badge most likely. If you are on your A-Game and have a good personality, product, and presentation, you will be able to make some moves for yourself.
The challenging debate is whether or not to take on the expense of a wristband or SXSW Badge. I will say that in terms of getting into the more popular shows it can be pretty essential or recommended, at the very least, to get a badge. However, there is plenty of going on that you can get into that is free, just happening in the street, or that you can just pay at the door. I know plenty of people who go down without a badge or wristband and have a great and productive time. Plus there is plenty of great food everywhere in Austin, including a great Food Truck Culture. Even Vegans and Vegetarians are strongly represented. Walking around I found Tofu Tacos (Chilantro Food Truck) and Vegan Tamales at an unknown Food Truck (The Sweet Potato Pecan Vegan Tamale was pretty bonkers!).
I saw so many people and it all happened so quickly that I could never shout out everyone, but off the top here’s who comes to mind; Gensu Dean, Oddisee, Apollo Brown, Boog Brown, Dillion, JayBee (Oklahoma), Tony Baines, Dan Charnas, Soul Kahn, Peanut Butter Wolf, probably just about all the Stones Throw staff, Ninja Tune staff, Jessica from Co-Sign Promotions, Busdriver, Aceyalone, Open Mike Eagle, J Natural, DJ Stef, DJ Diana, DJ Serge, Domino (Heiro), Jel, Jeremy Volk, Prawpit, Joey Silva, Onry Ozzborn, Scooter, Zavala, Cal Not Porn, Rare Groove, Llama Beats, Silent Knight, KtheI???, Kwasar of the Distortionists and his family and so many more. As for as Twin Cities people, I’m not even going to try… Every time I blinked I ran into a Twin Cities person, they were everywhere. I’m pretty sure that in that week I saw more MPLS people that I recognized in Austin then I would generally see when I’m home. Special shout out to Matt Sonzala and Bobby Nall of SXSW who helped my panel become a reality for two years in a row now and worked crazy hard and tirelessly to keep this event functioning smooth, along with the rest of their team! Looking forward to returning in 2013...
Just for a glimpse of the action there, here are some of the shows I decided NOT to see or couldn’t make it to for whatever reason. Some of which were last minute additions; Jay Z, Nas, EPMD, Raekwon, Mobb Deep, GZA, RZA, 50 Cent (performing all of “Get Rich Or Die Trying”), Blackalicious, Latryx, Lee Fields, Adrian Younge, and the list goes on and on and on, it kept on…
*Nevermind Gallery: If you are not up on them, get educated. They are a cool art gallery downtown St Paul who work with local artists and give them some great opportunities. They also specializing in helping musicians get together tour merchandise, so whether you are a musician, visual artists, or fan, Nevermind Galley is a connection you need in your life.
**Vegan Milkshakes: I have been incorrectly and slightly unfairly representing the Twin Cities in the Vegan Milkshake race. I kept saying there wasn’t really anywhere to get them, but one or two places, but that isn’t completely true. The real issue is there isn’t a place I know of here that has a wide range of options. For example, I don’t know of anywhere to get a Strawberry or Blueberry Vegan Shake in the Twin Cities. Hopefully, someone will tell me I’m wrong and point me in the right direction. However, you can find tasty Vegan Shakes in limited flavorings here:
1)Tao Natural Foods (I prefer the Orange Dreamsicle)
If you know more, help a brother out…
Written By Kevin Beacham
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