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See related: How I Survived SXSW: Film and Interactive

How I Survived SXSW: The Music

circusmashimuswelcomA welcome to SXSW and the Circus Mashimus Lounge during the interactive portion of South by Southwest.

It’s a given that I love living in Texas, but I feel especially fortunate to live in Austin. That’s not a slam on any other city. It’s just a city that’s a great fit for my personality and my varied interests. So, with my genuine pride in the Capital City, I get excited and kick into “hostess” mode whenever a big event like South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film and interactive conference and festival draws in lots of out-of-town guests. I want to make sure they feel welcome and enjoy this beautiful place I call home. I want them to go home and talk, with affection, about their experiences.

This year, the 25th anniversary of this stellar event, was no different and I jumped in, feet first, to experience SXSW with our guests, as well – upwards of 30,000 attendees.

I want to share some of those experiences (and some of the photos I took) with you here and in a follow up blog posts, but let me first tell you – this place was packed. Maybe too much for the locals, but that’s something the City of Austin and SXSW organizers can sort out. For now, I focus on numbers and what those tourism dollars mean for Austin, and Texas. SXSW is Austin’s Super Bowl for the music, film and interactive set.

In 2010, SXSW injected more than $113 million into the Austin economy. That included booking more than 8,800 reservations totally 39,000-plus room nights from people coming in from all across the globe. The numbers for this year, though not officially in yet, may well exceed expectations and last year’s figures. It was touted as the biggest yet, and it certainly seemed that way.

livefromsxswLive from SXSW! Media outlets from across the globe covered SXSW events, which often included a glowing spotlight on the city itself.

That translates into a lot of music moohla, film finances and interactive ingots. OK. That was cheesy, I know! :) But in these economic times, that sort of boost to the system is welcomed with wide open arms!

And SXSW officials say the media coverage – all that free press covering world premiere movies, new bands, high-profile panelists and the invigorating scene – totaled in value of nearly $15 million.

Everywhere I turned there were news crews capturing the essence of it all with man-on-the-street interviews – most were clearly not local crews. From all the media outlets and worldwide bloggers I encountered to lunching at the makeshift CNN SXSW Grill, I can tell you the world had its eyes on Austin.

On top of that, the sheer volume of creative offerings helps strengthen the city’s brand identity, which goes a long way in securing future tourism dollars.

cnngrillMax's Wine Dive restaurant was transformed into the CNN Grill SXSW. Operations continued, with guests receiving free food, drink and live music.

The New York Times says, “South by Southwest now has three vibrant legs – music, film and Web – that come together to create a stool that is the envy of every other American city.”

The Chicago Sun Times says, “From its humble beginning in the Texas capital, South by Southwest has grown to become the worldwide music industry’s biggest and most influential gathering.”

I feel so proud to live in this incredibly creative city, the Live Music Capital of the World. And in whatever non-Texan accent I overheard–– whether from the East Coast or Down Under –– word on the street was always about how awesome Austin is. Deep inside, I gloat. To myself I say, “Yes, and when it’s all over, you have to go home … I AM home.” How lucky is that?!

Get a sampling at www.sxsw.com and consider a visit.

TIPS FOR SXSW

If you decide to go to SXSW next year, I offer these tips that will help increase your enjoyment factor.

Book lodging early: Hotel rooms, especially those with the best rates, go quickly. So book as early as possible. Since the bulk of activities happen downtown, you’ll want to be close as possible for the convenience factor of having everything nearby, a resting spot in walking distance and to avoid the challenges of finding parking daily.

Plan your schedule.Closer to the event, check SXSW.com for additions and updates to the schedule. Take all the heads up you can get because by the time you receive your registration packet with your pocket guides and such, the wheels are already spinning pretty quickly. Still, study that schedule as soon as you get it. The worst thing is to miss something important to you because you didn’t see it on the schedule.

Pace yourself. If you decide to SXSW 2012, remember to select a few things that are must-see/do for you and then allow the rest to be icing on the cake. You’ll be happier and stress-free. Also, be willing to go to a screening or performances alone. With so many choices, the odds of conflicting interests with friends are possible. If you really want to see something, don’t compromise that because a friend wants to see something else. You’ll have fewer regrets. Besides, there’s plenty of time to be social with an impossible amount of SXSW parties, and even a softball game, happening every single day/night.

Move to the Front of the Line.Why didn’t I encounter lines like most everybody else? Should I let the cat out of the bag?

SXSW has a fabulous SXXpress pass for any movie or music venue. They hand these out at 10 a.m. daily. It’s actually no secret because the information is printed in the registrant’s guides, but they seemed to be virtually unclaimed during the music portion of the conference. These free passes are like a “front of the line” carte blanche that works in conjunction with your badge. So, at movies and music venues, where three lines are queued up in order of badge holders (priority entry), wristbands and then single ticket holders, SXXPress pass holders are bumped to the front of the line ahead of badge holders. For the more popular shows, badge holders alone may fill a venue to capacity, so it would behoove you to get a pass because it’s basically guaranteed entry. These passes aren’t necessary for less hyped-up events, but if it’s something you definitely want to see, consider it insurance. I believe they give out 10 percent of capacity in express passes. During the film portion, most express passes were distributed by 10:30 a.m. … or sooner for the more popular screenings. Lines for the passes started at 9 a.m., typically. For the music portion, well…10 a.m. proved to be too early for that lot. I, however, remained among the few who continued to take advantage of it during the music portion, and it paid off. I rolled out of bed, went for the express pass, and crawled back into bed. Simple. On several occasions, the badge line went around the building/block and I was able to walk right in, including an evening at Stubb’s when the venue was at capacity by 8 p.m. (when I showed up) for people hoping to see Duran Duran at 12:30 a.m. I did have to wait about 20 minutes, but when the fire marshal cleared more to go in, I along with only 5 other express badge holders in our own separate line) were the first to get in and I saw Duran Duran from front and center.

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By Dale Weisman

trey-jeep1A down-to-earth “rock star” of the Big Bend has passed away.

John Frank “Trey” Woodward III died on March 5, 2011, at the young age of 54. While cancer claimed his body, Trey’s gentle spirit lives on at the Woodward Ranch, a rugged mecca for rock collectors and outdoors enthusiasts.

For decades, the Woodward Ranch has promoted itself as the world’s only known source of red plume agate, coveted by agate aficionados and lapidarists. A 3,000-acre spread 16 miles south of Alpine, the Woodward is indeed one of the nation’s premier agate-collecting spots. More than 60 kinds of other colorful agates and gemstones, from opal to labradorite, occur naturally in the ranch’s rugged volcanic outcroppings.

“The real treasure found at Woodward Ranch was Trey. The agates and gems were just a bonus,” said Trey’s wife, Jan Woodward, when I contacted her after Trey’s passing.

Jan added, “Trey had a magic way of making people feel so welcome, and he was bent on sharing the beauty of this part of the world with others. A lot of people haven’t ever been off of a sidewalk, and Trey just wanted them to see the land, the sky, the cows and rocks. He was so humble and quiet. And yet he was responsible for getting many people interested in rock collecting and geology and all the facets of what you can do with rocks. The Woodward Ranch has such a long heritage of rock collecting and lapidary, and Trey carried on the tradition that his father and grandfather started there.”

I met Trey for the first time 11 years ago while researching a Texas Highways article on the mountains of West Texas. Clad in worn jeans, a khaki shirt, scuffed boots and a battered cowboy hat, Trey looked like the quintessential Big Bend cattleman. He had cookie-duster mustache, a gravelly voice, a firm handshake and a welcoming smile that instantly won me over.

Trey was the third-generation Woodward to operate the ranch. Originally homesteaded in 1884, the Woodward is one of the few working ranches in Texas open to the public, a place where visitors can roam the hinterlands freely gathering rocks and fond memories alike.

“We want visitors to go away with a deeper understanding of wildlife, a deeper appreciation for rocks,” said Trey during our first interview in March 2000. “Rock hunting is like Easter egg hunting. You can bring your family out here and have a wonderful time.”

“Sometimes people coming out to the ranch from Dallas or Houston seem like refugees from the cities,” added Trey. “I’ve also lived in some of those places, and I know what it’s like to be confined and never look out and see open spaces. This is also a working cattle ranch and has been for a hundred years. For people whose children have never seen cattle, it’s a treat.”

I returned to the Woodward in 2002 while researching a Texas Highways article on Alpine and spent more time with Trey, learning about the ranch’s and rock-hounding heritage.

Trey Woodward with petrified wood at Needle Peak. Trey Woodward with petrified wood at Needle Peak.

“Even in the 1930s my granddad wondered what was in those rocks he was kicking around, and he got a rock saw and started working with them,” recalled Trey. “My dad John Frank Woodward Junior got interested in the rocks and the geology here. He was a geology major at Sul Ross [originally Sul Ross State Normal College, later renamed Sul Ross State University] and found out that this was the only place in the world where you can find red plume agates. They have to be cut in a certain way. My father and Ross Maxwell mapped more than 10,000 square miles of West Texas, from El Paso to Wink to Del Rio. That experience gave him an idea of the geology, how to work with rocks and where the agate is.

“My granddad started the agate ranch. When I was young we were building all the stuff at the house. We would cut, grind and polish rocks, and then college kids came down and helped us. I ran the ranch when I was 11-12 years old until age 25. My dad did the paperwork, but I ran the ranch. Then I moved away for 20 years, and my brother and sister ran the ranch for a while. I moved back in 1996, and my wife and I have made a go out of it.”

Trey showed me the ranch’s best agate-hunting beds, coaxing his old pick-up truck up and down steep ranch roads with panoramic views of Eagle Peak, the ranch’s signature promontory, dwarfed by the Cienega, Cathedral and Elephant mountains on the horizon. We stopped along spring-fed Calamity Creek, a lush oasis with oak-shaded campsites and a hunter’s cabin within a stone’s throw of the purling creek, which according to Trey never runs dry.

The last time I saw Trey was in May 2009 while researching an article on rock hounding for Texas Highways. My traveling companion Susi Bachman and I meet with Trey and Jan for a Tex-Mex dinner at La Casita in Alpine. We chatted about agates while devouring heaping plates of nachos and enchiladas. Between bites, Trey described how agates form over tens of millions of years in water-filled cavities inside volcanic rocks through a crystallization process. The nondescript agate nodules, called “biscuits,” dot the ranch’s hillsides. Slice one open with a rock saw, and you’ll find more colors than a Big Bend rainbow and an infinite variety of patterns.

Susi and I spent the night at the ranch in a lovely new guest cabin near Calamity Creek. We rose before dawn to meet Trey and hit the road at first light. Our destination: Trey’s Needle Peak acreage in south Brewster County. Bordering Big Bend National Park, Needle Peak abounds with green moss and pom-pom agates, pseudomorphs, petrified wood and fossils.

“Everyone I bring to Needle Peak says they love the ride down there the most,” said Trey, trailering an ‘86 Jeep behind his pickup for our four-wheeling sojourn. We left the pavement behind between Terlingua and Lajitas, offloaded the Jeep and took off down a muddy creek leading to Trey’s remote property. “Hold on!” Trey yelled over the roar of the revving V-8 engine. The Jeep’s fat tires spun in the slippery creek bed, splattering us with clumps of mud while Trey laughed like an overgrown kid, clearly in his element: mud and more mud.

We parked at the base of Needle Peak and hiked uphill through cacti, thorny brush and scree. “The best agate I’ve found is just below the peak,” said Trey. “It’s rough going up there.”

We stopped for a breather while ascending a steep ridge and savored expansive views of the desert badlands and nearby Santa Elena Canyon. “This is like home to me,” said Trey resting on a boulder. “It’s beautiful down here. Everything is quiet. It’s just you and the Lord.”

After several hours of rock hunting, we headed down the mountain, traversing a treacherous, talus-choked ravine. Trey spotted two basketball-size chunks of petrified wood. With my daypack already bulging with agates, I photographed the rocks and left them behind.

trey-fireplaceThat afternoon, Susi and I joined Trey and Jan at their Woodward Ranch home and rock shop, admiring their enormous collection of agates and gemstones, many still in a raw uncut state, some sliced and polished, many for sale and some only for show. A must-see: a conglomeration of rare and beautiful rock specimens surrounds the Woodward’s fireplace.

We sat outside at a picnic table, sipped tall glasses of sweetened ice tea and reflected on the Needle Peak adventure and life at the ranch. Trey said something that evening that resonated and stayed with me over the years: “We are keepers of the stuff. You don’t really own the rocks. You’re a temporary keeper because they outlast you.”

While the rocks indeed have outlasted Trey, his legacy endures at the Woodward Ranch. “Trey cared about the land,” said Jan. “He was such a steward of the land and a kind soul.”

Trey’s family and friends will celebrate his life at the Woodward Ranch around noon on April 30, and the public is welcome to join the gathering. Visit www.woodwardranch.com to view an eloquent video tribute to Trey Woodward.

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I had dinner last week with Dallas friends who had read about Austin’s ever-burgeoning trailer-food trend. “Was this going on elsewhere?’ they wondered. And had I explored many of the trailers’ offerings? From what I understand, I told them, it’s primarily an Austin thing–at least in the sense that no where else has such numbers or diversity. Take your pick around town—we have everything from chocolate-covered bananas and cherry-stuffed donuts to Cuban sandwiches and vegan chili.

And while I’ve enjoyed samplings from a handful of Austin’s trailers, I’ve barely made a dent. Just this past week, though, I met friends on the outside patio of Shangri-La, an unassuming cocktail bar on East Sixth Street, a few blocks east of I-35. After a drink, our group cruised across the street for takeout dinner from a group of trailer-restaurants that have joined together as “The East Side Drive-In.” (We could have dined on picnic tables scattered across the property, but instead we brought our dinner back to Shangri-La.) A few of us savored burgers and cheesesteaks; my husband had a BLT dressed up with basil from a trailer called “Pig Vicious,” and I made a culinary score with a walnut-and-cranberry-studded tuna melt, made all the more unusual with a fried egg. Delicious all around.

Coming up on November 6 from 11 to 8, many of Austin’s trailers (and there are at least 50 around town these days) will participate in the first annual Gypsy Picnic Trailer Food Festival, held on Auditorium Shores. Admission is free. Live music by Junior Brown, Guy Clark, Jr., and others will set the mood, and you can sample portions of various trailer treats for $3 or less. Check out the Web site at www.gypsypicnic.com, and if you go, tell us which tasty bits you like best.

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With the impending launch of Space Shuttle Discovery’s last voyage (and end of the Shuttle program in early 2011), it was about time that I finally explored Space Center Houston, if only for a couple of hours during a short visit to Bay Area Houston last week.

skylab-trainer-cropWhile I didn’t have time for the in-depth NASA Tram Tour or Level 9 Tour, I was able to focus my attention on several areas of the complex: Starship Gallery, which follows the progression of the Space Race from the 1960s through Skylab, complete with some of the actual capsules and equipment; the Astronaut Gallery, a dazzling collection of spacesuits worn by men and women in space; the massive-beyond-words Saturn V spacecraft housed at Rocket Park, and even took in a “Meet the Astronaut” talk given by Michael J. Bloomfield of Shuttle Atlantis and Endeavor missions.

The vivid timelines that accompany the Starship Gallery and the Saturn V rocket brought back memories of seeing Apollo launches on (mostly black & white) televisions in elementary school. Peering into the Mercury capsule in the space-simulated display and imagining myself in that tiny crawl space gave me a claustrophobic chill. I also touched a moon rock and saw how moon artifacts were processed and analyzed. In the Astronaut Gallery, I marveled at the contrast between the enormous “Michelin Man” bubble suit worn during the early days of the Gemini program, and the sleek blue jumpsuit worn on the Shuttle mission by Sally Ride.

Next time you find yourself in the Bay area, don’t discount a trip to NASA for lack of time. You’ll be amazed at how much "space" can be compacted into two hours.

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The January issue of Texas Highways includes a feature about the oddball attractions of sophisticated Houston. As a native Houstonian, I enjoy recalling those quirky sites. Of course, I'm living in Austin now, where, luckily, there's no dearth of "quirky" here.

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