SXSW ‘O’ the Times

How Prince, Justin Timberlake, the Flaming Lips, and a giant Doritos vending machine changed Austin's annual music festival—and how they didn't.
Wed March 20, 2013 9:15 am
John Sciulli for Samsung

Prince was as good a symbol—no not that symbol—as anyone for SXSW 2013.

His appearance at La Zona Rosa on the last night of the festival had the potential to be anti-climactic, if not an out-and-out fiasco. Late start, long lines, corporate sponsor, vibeless venue, average fans shut out. Most hilariously, a show that was intended to promote the Samsung Galaxy began with an announcement that there’d be no video or photography, “including phones” (judge for yourself how well that worked). But once you got past all the irritants, what happened on the stage was all that mattered. And this basic formula—put up with a bunch of aggravation, end up with a musical experience that can only happen during SXSW—held true for me at every turn.

Everybody’s SXSW is an individual experience, the veritable blind men and the elephant. Even if you see 100 bands—absolutely possible in the age of 20-minute day shows, given that there is music 15 hours a day for five full days—that’s probably no more than 2% of what the event has to offer, counting both official showcase artists (well over 2000) and the unofficial sets. Depending on your patience, taste, level of access (badge, wristband, willingness to give marketers your email, nothing) and inebriation, you could have a SXSW that was entirely garage bands, hip-hop, electronic pop, alt-rock nostalgia, or alt-country geezers (anything with “alt” in front of it is well past middle-age at this point). You could spend all of your time on a couple of blocks of grimy Red River without a badge or wristband, run the RSVP gauntlet of the Fader Fort or Viceland to see some of the week’s buzziest acts or, yes, brave the tweet-powered Doritos Bold Stage.

My own

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