A big howdy from Austin, Texas and SXSW 2014. And, WOW. Just, WOW. With 78,000+ confirmed registrants and 285,000+ folks rumored to have come into Austin for South by Southwest 2014, it’s easy to see how South By (its nickname) has become the quintessential place to be for rockers, musicians, artists, actors, techies, coders, lap-top wizards, educators, leaders, financiers, filmmakers, and fans—to name but a few invested parties. Now in its 27th year of inception, #SXSW has become a global phenomena; unique in its live-music lineup and audacious in combining hot-Hollywood talent with sophisticated, edgy, artistic, up-and-comers, alongside the indie-elite and freshly-plucked unknowns in the fields of music (#sxswmusic), film (#sxswfilm), interactive (#sxswi), education (#sxswedu), and eco-environmental (#sxsweco)—SXSW has made it. They’ve got street-cred, and they’re officially all grown up. SXSW 2014 was no exception to just how wide their belt buckles have become. Can anyone say, “More barbecue?”
So, what is SXSW, besides growing? Well, in case you’ve been hiding out under a rock, or keeping busy getting things done and haven’t heard about the conference, SXSW started twenty-seven years ago in Austin, TX and was founded by Roland Swenson, Louis Black, Nick Barbaro, and Lewis Meyers with a sole aim to showcase independent (“indie”) music talent from local and regional artists, when almost overnight, SXSW became the go-to, be-at music festival sought out and attended by not only local and regional acts, but artists across the globe. In subsequent years, SXSW expanded to not only include the music festival and conference, but multi-media, film, interactive, education, and environmental portions as well. The really cool news is that anyone can submit to perform at SXSW, or apply to showcase their entrepreneurial and business talents through the trade show, speaker, panel, or sponsorship opportunities—that’s what makes the SXSW conference truly special, homegrown.
“South by Southwest (SXSW) is a set of film, interactive, and music festivals and conferences
that take place early every year (usually in March) in Austin, Texas, United States. It began in 1987, and has continued to grow in size every year. In 2011, the conference lasted for 10 days, with SXSW Interactive lasting for five, Music for six, and Film running concurrently for nine days.” – Wikipedia
As a former volunteer for SXSW in 1992 (stage manager featuring international bands) while going to college at The University of Texas at Austin, then subsequently relocating to Los Angeles to work in the big-bad music business (Sony Music) and startup entrepreneur world (Saucy-Wear) for 15 years, and visiting Austin for general SXSW (and family, San Antonio is my home), plus performing at an “unofficial showcase” during SXSW for “Invasion of the GoGirls” in 2010, blogging about the entertainment and tech scene (Hollyisco.com) during SXSW in 2011, throwing an “unofficial” SXSW event myself (TechTainment.co) during SXSW 2013, to performing again this year during SXSW 2014 with GoGirls, and permanently relocating back to Austin in 2012, I have witnessed firsthand how SXSW has burgeoned into a blossoming and thriving conference—beautifully, from the ground up.
While some folks might feel that SXSW has become a corporatized-conglomerate catering to big brands, big celebrities, and big business (i.e. SXSW has become a sellout / #SXSWSUX), and that the city of Austin itself is busting at the seams and therefore loosing its charm (with thousands of people a month moving to Austin + eight construction cranes on the downtown skyline today), my viewpoint is that the corporatizing, growth, and effervescent-fever of SXSW and Austin, TX is thriving—a renewed breath of fresh air because SXSW continues to createopportunity for those willing to take the pedicab ride. #PediCab. To me, opportunity is charm.
“Austin took the top spot for the third year in a row on
Forbes’ list of America’s 20 Fastest Growing Cities [2012 and 2013].
The Capital City is an economic powerhouse thanks to the
51,000-student University of Texas at Austin, a bevy of Silicon Hills
startups and the presence of mega corporations
like Whole Foods Market Inc., and Dell Inc.” – Austin Business Journal
SXSW naysayers and local “Austinites” need to remember that a matter of five-to-six years ago, we (the general public) had an economic market crash in 2008, there was rising unemployment, there were pension losses, a housing market bubble then a burst, along with increased bankruptcies and foreclosures, so when something positive is happening in our market today—as in the economic boon, artistic endeavors, entrepreneurial spirit, and influx of jobs and careers into the Austin metroplex (the stretch of land from Dell in Round Rock, TX to RackSpace in San Antonio, TX; otherwise known as Silicon Hills)—brought on largely because of SXSW, I’m thankful and super positive about the growth and the future of rock-n-roll, technologies, education, business, and the arts that South By nourishes.
“I just want the audience to leave with a sense of a love for music, a love for live music, that is at the heart
of this [SXSW] festival.” – Lady Gaga on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” [Live from Austin during SXSW 2014]
Oh sure, there are always problems with growth—namely logistics, like where in the world do we fit everybody when our two-lane arteries get clogged—and certainly no event is ever without its fair share of issues, or mishaps, but problems also stimulate the need for results and resolve, and problems keep us productive and progressing. As well, there have consistently been complaints from artists (music, film, business) who submit to perform or present at SXSW and who don’t get picked to showcase their wares, but that’s also par for the course when there is so much amazing talent in our world today. The caliber of showcased music and business acumen that rain on Austin during SXSW is incredible, and there is only so much room. But don’t “hate on” SXSW, as while there is a certain amount of politics and monies involved in the pick process, that’s the case in any field. It’s part of the game of life. With that said, the “unofficial” events during SXSW have grown tremendously over the past decade, and in some ways, the unofficial events are the ones to attend—you don’t need a badge or a wristband—so there is truly opportunity for artists, even if you don’t get picked specifically for an official SXSW showcase. Seek out the opportunities: #sxswunofficial and #JustShowUp!
Let’s take a quick look at just some of the cool, productive, and progressive happenings at SXSW 2014. Yes, the truth of the matter is, there is so much happening (officially + unofficially) during SXSW that it’s impossible to be in all places, at all times, and experience 100% of everything at once, but here’s a pretty-sweet cornfed overview of the SXSW 2014 events in Austin:
From the Hollywood-famous: musicians and artists, like Lady Gaga (who appeared on“Jimmy Kimmel Live” (Live from Austin, TX) performed at Stubbs, and did a keynote conversational-interview with John Noris), Justin Bieber (who did an impromptu performance of his hit song, “As Long As You Love Me,” at beer and sausage house, Bangers, on Rainey Street for an “SB Projects” showcase that his manager, Scooter Braun, was putting on, plus the Biebs got dunked into a basket on the Longhorn court)—to iTunes Festival bands and musicians like Coldplay, Imagine Dragons, Soundgarden (“nostalgia night”), Keith Urban, Willie Nelson, and Pitbull—to SXSW performances by Kanye West, Jay-Z, Snoop-Dog, Spandau Ballet, and Grammay-award winning DJ/Producer, Skrillex, who all graced the stage—to performances by comedic icons like Bill Cosby, Jimmy Kimmel (who relocated “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to Austin, TX for a week during SXSW), and Seth Meyers—to Investor/TV celebs like Mark Cuban (who spoke with an audience of entrepreneurs about Bitcoin and why texts should become Cyber Dust), Gene Simmons (who was in town for his son’s movie premiere)—to actors and directors present for SXSW Film who walked the red carpet in Austin for their movie premiers, like Michael Pena, Rosario Dawson, Diego Luna, and America Ferrara (premiere of “Cesar Chavez”), to Ethan Hawke and Writer/Director, Richard Linklater (premiere of “Boyhood), to John Leguizamo and Director/Actor, Jon Favreau (premiere “Chef”), to Kristen Bell (premiere “Veronica Mars”), and phew, I’m out of breath. These are just to name a few! As well, newly engaged celebs Amber Heard (who starred in the Longhorn-alum and Texas-native, Robert Rodriguez‘ film, “Machete Kills”) and Johnny Depp (who got up on stage and jammed with Willie Nelson at Rodeo Austin) seemed to show up just for fun and pleasure, and posed for photographers on the red carpet at the Texas Film Awards at Austin Studios.
To the local and global up-in-comers at “The Future of Music”: While attending “The Future of Music” [unofficial] showcase Saturday night, March 15—presented by local Austin organization Eye in the Sky Collective at Shiner’s Saloon—there were tons of smiling faces and an uber-happy crowd for The Bright Light Social Hour, an Austin-Texas based, American rock band, who performed in seven SXSW 2014 related events. The Bright Light Social Hour also performed at theAustin City Limits Music Festival last October, and recently opened for Aerosmith in Quebec.
“The Bright Light Social Hour is an American rock band from Austin, Texas. Born out of a university art-rock collective, the band first gained attention in Austin from their incendiary live performances and innovative vision of rock and roll. Melding southern rock, hard dance, psychedelic blues, and deep soul, their debut full-length album led to heightening critical acclaim, national touring, and a rare sweep of six awards at the SXSW 2011 Austin Music Awards, including Band of the Year, Album of the Year, and Song of the Year.” – Bio / The Bright Light Social Hour
Also on “The Future of Music” bill was local “Austinite” and singing-siren Emily Bell. You’ll love her! Check her out at EmilyBell.com.
“Watching Emily Bell roll a South By Southwest crowd under her thumb within minutes of taking the stage,
it’s evident she’s full of both sophisticated soul and strutting rock ’n’ roll. Raised in musical theater,
tutored by seasoned R&B stars and degreed in rock, Bell is that rare performer who pours
energy and passion all over the stage—and makes it look effortless.” - EmilyBell.com.
Emily Bell @ SXSW 2014
“The fiddle has been addicted to Ruby Jane since she was 2 years old. She was the youngest ever invited fiddler on the Grand Ole Opry. She has toured and performed with Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Big and Rich, Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Blues Traveler, Mark O’Connor, Asleep at the Wheel, and many more. Born in Texas, raised in Mississippi, and now in Austin, Ruby Jane has fronted her own band and toured for years. Recent performances include Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits Festival, and SXSW. She writes and sings her songs in a voice that resonates with compelling emotion.” – RubyJane.org
Plus these super-hot-sounding bands, Sol Cat, Hydra Melody, and New York City Queens, completely rocked the night out at “The Future of Music” showcase, too.
Girls with guitars at SXSW 2014: If you haven’t heard of Texas-native and one of Austin’s best kept honkey-tonkin’ chicks that rock, Rosie Flores, then what’cha waiting for, come on down and check her out! She’s a local icon, and Rosie Flores was one of the featured artists for the BloodShot Records (Chicago-based label) official SXSW 2014 showcase.
VIDEO: Rosie Flores & Alejandro Escovedo | “Velvet Guitar” | Moody Theater | Austin, TX
With no relation to Rosie Flores, two other Flores girls that rocked the scene at SXSW 2014 were Zoe Flores and Molly Flores, a young, Texas-based rock-punk duo who perform as StarFlight Rocks. And boy, did they ever rock their “Invasion of the GoGirls“ showcase at Austin Java, Friday, March 14. What’s super magical about these girls? They’re only 13 and 14 years old, they write their own music, they dazzle on stage, and they’re out there doing it—they #JustShowUp! Oh yes, and they also covered Nirvana’s “Teen Spirit” and Zoe is endorsed by Daisy Rock Girl Guitars. Super rad! I can see their talent on the cover of Rolling Stone one day.
“Zoe Flores (age 14), is endorsed by Daisy Rock Girl Guitars®. Zoe is the lead singer, songwriter, guitarist and has been known to rock the bass a time or two. Molly Flores (age 13) is the drummer, songwriter, percussionist and she picked up the Drums when she was 10 years old. Influenced by her Drummer dad, Molly plays the drums in her middle school band by day and plays gigs with her sister in the evening. The love of music runs deep in our family and we plan on having as much FUN sharing our passion with the world.” – StarFlightRocks.com
“Zoe epitomizes the reason I started Daisy Rock Girl Guitars. Finding a guitar that she could play and totally rock out on was a challenge for her since she has a smaller stature. We love that she found us and that we found her. Zoe and StarFlight will rock your world!” – Tish Ciravolo, Founder and President of Daisy Rock Girl Guitars.
“We dedicate this to all the girls that have the guts to go out and rock.” – Zoe Flores
GoGirlsMusic.com is the oldest and largest online community of indie women musicians. Our mission is to promote, support and empower indie women in music. – Madalyn Sklar, Fearless Leader of GoGirlsMusic.com
VIDEO: StarFlight Rocks covering Panic! At The Disco’s “Miss Jackson”:
Another #GirlWitihGuitar at SXSW 2014? Lydia Loveless is a guitar-slinging singing dynamite and an emotionally-catchy songwriter who was also part of the BloodShot Records official showcase for SXSW 2014. Lydia’s music combines classic country, honky-tonk, and punk, and Rolling Stone and Spin named Lydia “a new artist you need to know in 2014.” Her music will reel you in and keep you hooked!
“Sounds like Loretta Lynn and Patti Smith slamming shots at a
Midwestern dive bar while cowboys and punks brawl out back…an aching,
lusty set of twang and sneer wrapped in electric guitar swagger.” – Rolling Stone
To the sizzling techies: What can I say, the interactive, tech, gaming, gadget, and startup scene at SXSW 2014 included a stellar lineup of innovative companies, and SXSW Interactive now draws 30,000+ registrants alone, making it more than music and film. From the “Startup Crawl” (hosted by Austin’s incubator, Capital Factory), to the kickoff party with “Umbel + Vox Media Company Featuring Local Natives” to the “VIP Entrepreneur Lounge” at Fogo de Chao (sponsored by Roi Koi and hosted by Nielsen), to the “Screenburn Arcade,” to the Exhibitors inside the Austin Convention Center, to even a Keynote by Chelsea Clinton, and so much more, SXSW Interactive was bustling with excitement, in spite of some rain.
There was Shaquille O’Neal talking about wearable tech, and there were live interviews from the back of an Uber SUV (UberLIVE), which was not only super creative, but CreativeLive (a Seattle-based online education startup) hit on a hot concept when they partnered with Uber (an app that connects you with a driver at the tap of a button and sponsor of SXSW 2014) to interview CEO’s and Founders, like Kevin Rose who founded Digg, in town for SXSW Interactive.
As an early-stage investor (XYZ2Y.com) in Umbel, I got to attend the VIP portion of the “Umbel + Vox Media Company Featuring Local Natives” party at The Moody Theater (where “Austin City Limits” is filmed) and it was jam-packed with convention attendees and fans. Umbel is an Austin-based startup on their way up-and-up and the SXSW 2014 kickoff party was bomb-tastic. Umbel partners with online publishers and empowers them to collect their own audience data through social authentication and cross-references that data with additional offline and online data sources, which allows publishers to truly know their audience and communicate more effectively with. The Local Natives are an indie-rock band based in Silver Lake (Los Angeles), California who sounded amazing in The Moody Theater. Here’s a few pictures I snapped from the opening bash:
Emerging trends from SXSW 2014: CNN Tech spotted and reported on five trends at this years SXSW conference:
1. No new Twitter
SXSW Interactive broke Twitter in 2007 and since Twitter’s debut at South By in 2007, Twitter has amassed over 645,000,000 users, and many folks came to South By in subsequent years in search of “the next big tech win,” which in a sense created a frenzied Interactive conference the past few years, but SXSW Interactive 2014 felt more manageable and toned-up.
2. Crossroads for privacy
Assume you don’t have any—privacy that is. In other words, don’t post anything you wouldn’t want the whole world to see. Really. NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, and WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange both beamed in and made a remote appearance at South By 2014, with Snowden reportedly from Russia (where he had fled) and Assange from an embassy in London:
“Both called on tech-savvy attendees in Austin to create products that help Web users hide their activity from prying eyes. ’South by Southwest and the tech community, the people in the room in Austin, they’re the folks who can fix this,’ Snowden said. ‘There’s a political response that needs to occur, but there’s also a tech response that needs to occur.’” – CNNTech.com
3. Gadgets galore
In most recent years past, SXSW Interactive was flooded with new app companies, like Foursquare and GroupMe, plus lots of fresh, innovative ideas, concepts, and websites, but #SXSWi 2014 saw an influx of shiny, blinking gadgets and hardware, like a virtual reality headset (Oculus Rift), 3D printers, and wireless home living. Though, two app companies that stood out this year were Tinder, a hot new dating app—which the geeks on their Spring Break at South By loved—and Splash, which powered a ton of events and parties (along with Eventbrite).
4. Wearable tech
This constitutes any kind of clothing, or device that connects you digitally to the real world, or even your own body, like fitness trackers (Spree Fitness Headband, Garvin Vivofit), solar panel clothing that can recharge your cell phone in two hours (Wearable Solar), a wristband that authenticates users through their cardiac rhythm thereby eliminating the need to remember passwords (Nymi), and even an augmented reality motorcycle helmet (Skully). Yes, folks were walking around wearing Google Glass, too.
5. Foreign flair
In a nutshell, Austin became an international melting pot for 10+ days during SXSW 2014:
“People from a record 74 countries attended South by Southwest Interactive this week, up from 55 last year. … The influx of international visitors reflects the growth of the global startup scene. Facebook’s recent $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp, the messaging service, heralds what’s likely to be a recurring theme. As digital markets mature in the United States, the tech world will be increasingly looking at services, like WhatsApp, that have huge numbers of overseas users.” – CNN Tech
The selfie—hotter than ever: Another notable trend at SXSW 2014 was just how popular “the selfie” remained, as evidenced by Rolling Stone’s Maria Nunez as she snapped a selfie withJustin Bieber in the background doing his impromptu performance at Bangers, and Nicolas Cage as he snapped selfies with fans on the red carpet.
In wrap-up: Also at SXSW 2014…there were panels, panels, and more panels, famous authors, politicians, keynotes, interviews, barbecue, beer, food trailers, The Continental Club, Stubbs, Huts, South Congress (SoCo), Shiner, Lone Star, Deep Eddy’s Vodka, tequila, 6th Street, startups, accelerator pitches, music, bands, guitars, amps, t-shirts, short skirts, cowboy boots, chefs, fashion, gadgets, Tex-Mex, foodies, foods of all kinds, movies, documentaries, actors, directors, screenwriters…and last, but not least, this year SXSW also saw their own “The Official 2014 SXSW Interactive Cookbook.”
It’s all these things, people, places, and more that make Austin, TX and SXSW something #GREAT.
“I have had a really great time. I have been going out every single night and seeing as much music as I can,” she said. The thing I have missed the most is going out and seeing live music. … The best thing for me to witness here is watching these little bands on small stages.” – Lady Gaga
Phew. I think that’s a wrap. See you next year!
Kathleen Blackwell | KathleenBlackwell.com | @KatBlackwell
Music industry veteran and tech enthusiast, Kathleen Blackwell is a Texan-born Recording Artist, Songwriter, Fashion Designer, Tech-Entertainment Blog Writer, and Angel Investor with XYZ2Y Ventures based in Austin, TX—presently working with wickedly-cool startups in the TechTainment (entertainment + technology) space & performing at local joints. After spending nearly 15 years in Los Angeles (yep, Hollywood), working in various facets of the music and entertainment industry (Sony BMG Music | Indie Artist), and on entrepreneurial endeavors to include taking her Saucy-Wear brand of designer aprons from concept to national retail—Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, and Neiman Marcus, to name a few — Blackwell recently relocated back to the hippest city in America— Austin, TX—”Live Music Capital of the World” and notorious for their “Keep Austin Weird” slogan.