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Written by Lois M. Rodriguez

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Across the globe, when talk of music festivals come up, two Texas events always make the list - spring's South by Southwest and fall's Austin City Limits Music Festival, both in Austin – the Live Music Capital of the World. Austin's Fun, Fun, Fun Fest, in November, is also starting to rise to similar ranks.

See related: How I Survived SXSW: Film and Interactive

How I Survived SXSW: The Basics

duran2crowd-good...and the crowd goes wild!

How to survive the Music portion of South by Southwest. Easy. Expect midnight or 1 a.m. headliners, lots of SXSW parties and little sleep.

In my previous installment, I highly recommend the SXSW’s express pass for bigger venues/band names. It’s worth it. Definitely. But realizing bands are playing into the wee hours of the morning followed by all the after parties that don’t end until 6 a.m., 10 a.m. is virtually the crack of dawn. But, if you can swing it, wake up long enough to get it then return to your Zzzzs.

As with the film schedule, the choices are phenomenal. Pick the bands you want to see most, and let the rest be icing on the cake.

Unlike the film portion, there aren’t discussions or Q&A with the bands at the shows, but you can see plenty of panel discussions, keynote addresses at the Convention Center, as well as interviews at the IFC Crossroads House. Bob Geldof and Yoko Ono (talking, not singing) were among the highlights.

cnn-grill-band1There's music everywhere, including this live band at the makeshift CNN Grill SXSW.

Still, the music portion presents the perfect opportunity to explore and experience so many new, up-and-coming bands. Take full advantage.

I did a lot of that and was pleasantly surprised on many occasions. Sometimes, I found the particular music I stumbled upon was not necessarily my style, but I always appreciate the creative education … and people watching.

duran8Duran Duran perform at Stubb's.

Admittedly, I couldn’t help but indulge in the familiar. Music snobs might chide me for going the mainstream route, but I enjoyed nurturing my ‘80s roots while watching The Bangles or Duran Duran. I saw them both from front and center. That wouldn’t have happened “back in the day.” Thanks SXSW.

I also hoped, as part of this whole SXSW experience, to take in two of the consistently big parties – Perez Hilton’s Night in Austin and Rachel Ray’s Feedback Party. Lots shared their personal opinion about each of these “celebrities”, but my interest was not in them, rather the energy around the parties they throw and the people and performers who show up. I managed to score badges for both.

perez-hiltonsignThere was talk of a surprise guest at the Perez party – Lady Gaga. Brittney Spears. P. Diddy. No surprise guest showed up, but it was a heck of a party with great music. People with RSVP wristbands started waiting in line at 3 p.m. for open doors at 6. Probably not necessary, as I saw people walking in throughout the evening. Also, if you have a badge, guess what? You don’t need a wristband. Though it’s technically not put on by SXSW, they used the same entry system for the party – badges over wristbands. If you’re badgeless, you’ll have to RSVP for those wristbands, and know that they accept tons more RSVPs than they allow in, and wristband distribution ended about 5 p.m. – All gone.

Kanye West hosted a party that night, too. Again, more RSVPs than available tickets.

While I enjoyed my evening at the Perez Hilton Party, this also was the evening of the biggest moon in ages. I heard it was a gorgeous sight to see. My badgeless buddies enjoyed the view from Auditorium Shores, where the City of Austin hosts a free concert as a thank you to locals who, in essence, give up their city for SXSW. They found the show via listings at www.sxsw.com/free. Between the closing performance by Bright Eyes and the beautiful moon, I hear the night was amazing.

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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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See related: How I Survived SXSW: Music

How I Survived SXSW: The Basics

How did I survive, SXSW? It wasn’t easy, but I did … and it was a fun journey. This is meant to give an overview of what to expect for those who have never attended SXSW before. I recommend the experience – even if just once. I’m also glad to answer any other questions you might have about navigating it.

lounge1Liz Phair on the IFC Crossroads stage. Those not fitting in the small studio watch from screens throughout the cozy lounge.

On Day One, while still shuffling through my newly retrieved SXSW registration packet to see what’s what/where and getting set for the week, I head to the IFC (International Film Channel) Crossroads House nestled against the Driskill Hotel. IFC aired daily interviews with film stars and musical talent, and hosted live performances, so a must-have is the free IFC wristband. It allows for a lucky few SXSW attendees to make up the live audience in a lounge setting where it was always happy hour.

This was definitely going to be a hotspot, because for me, it’s not just about seeing the movies or hearing the music, but getting to see and hear from the people behind the scenes.

The IFC Crossroads House had guests including Conan O’Brien, Rosario Dawson, Danny DeVito, Emmylou Harris, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, Pee Wee Herman, Jason Ritter, Rainn Wilson, Brittney Snow, Soliel Moon Frye, Eliza Dushku and more. To see some of those interviews, visit http://www.ifc.com/sxsw. Consider making this part of your SXSW experience.

rosariocarladriskilldavito1Actors Danny DaVito, Rosario Dawson and Carla Gugino enter the IFC Crossroads House.

With less than one hour of SXSW 2011 under my belt, I encounter my first (and *last – see tips below) long line, here, at the IFC site. While making a mental game plan, I paced away from the line and moved just around the immediate corner of the building. What a fun surprise. I run right into actors Rosario Dawson, Danny DaVito and Carla Gugino, who everyone is waiting in line to see. They’re coming in the side door – Rosario is all smiles and Danny is signing autographs for the crowd of 5 that happened upon them as well. They were in town to talk about their film “Girl Walks into a Bar,” the first feature length film produced exclusively for the Internet … and its free. While I haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet, this encounter set the stage for the film portion and many celebrity encounters, panel discussions and Q&A sessions.

There are three types of SXSW film attendees, I discovered – those who take in only the world premiere films that already have big stars and a distribution deal (or are close to it); those who see the other film gems hoping for a distribution deal but may never see the light of day again; and those (like me) who really enjoy the underdog film but also enjoy the hoopla of the Red Carpet, and watching a film in my hometown with the big name actors and directors in attendance.

paul-cast-qa3Mottola, left, along with actors Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Kristen Wiig from the comedy, “Paul” answer questions after a SXSW screening at the Paramount Theater.

paulaudiencemaskDirector Greg Mottolla's staged keepsake of the SXSW screening of his comedy "Paul". Masks of the alien Paul were handed out to the audience for his requested, out-of-this-world photo op.

SXSW affords attendees the rare opportunity to watch a film and then have immediate access to the cast and crew for a Q&A session. I sat in on a few of these screenings for world premiere films at the lovely Paramount Theater like "Source Code" with Jake Gyllenhall, "Paul" with Kristen Wiig, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (of "Sean of the Dead"), "Super" with Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page, and "The Beaver" with Jodi Foster and Mel Gibson. All key actors (minus Mel Gibson) were present, watching the film with the audience and sticking around afterwards for the questions. I got to meet several, face-to-face, including Conan O'Brien, too. But talking one-on-one with Kristen Wiig was a real treat. She's hilarious - definitely my favorite Saturday Night Live cast member. She's down-to-earth and nice to boot!

jodiqa-154u5Jodi Foster attends SXSW to screen and discuss her film "The Beaver" in which she directs and co-stars with Mel Gibson.

For the record, Jodi says she would have cast Gibson in the role, again, regardless of his negative publicity of late.

Tourists on the Austin Duck Tours got a real treat when they stopped to observe the buzz in front of The Paramount. They just happened to stop when Jake Gyllenhall was doing Red Carpet interviews for "Source Code." They had a front row seat for that, and you could tell, by the squeals of excitement on the bus, that they’ll likely not forget that tour.

I also enjoyed a slew of other less visible films including one of my faves – "Bag of Hammers", starring Jason Ritter, son of the late John Ritter. He’s super talented and the film deserves wider distribution. We shall see.

Also on my roster of films was "Matter of Taste", a fascinating documentary about one of New York’s top chefs Paul Liebrandt. My friend, Rachel Mills, is a producer for the HBO-backed documentary that had its world premiere here. I was excited for her and the project. The after party at Eddie V’s had haute hors d’oeuvres and a rare chance for me to get some sustenance. Between bouncing from venue to venue at breakneck speed sometimes, there was little time for food. I call it the SXSW diet. Lots of walking/running across town and no time to eat. The beauty of it is that there IS plenty of time to eat, if you choose. I just chose to take in as many panel discussions and films that I could, instead. There’s plenty of time to rest, too, if that’s what’s important to you. A friend called me after Day One saying she was skipping the next evening’s premiere – she was already tired. Good for her. Not for me! But you definitely need to know what your limits are, and heed them. Pace your stamina to carry you through your time at SXSW.

sxsw2011_filmgridThis portion of the film grid – between 4 p.m. and midnight on Saturday, March 12 – represents only a small fraction of the film screenings held throughout an eight-day period.

Taking it all in required much stamina because while some nights went long with films (the Kristen Wiig double-feature of "Paul" and "Bridesmaids", didn’t finish until about 2:30 a.m.) my mornings/afternoons were also booked with Interactive panels that addressed so many crucial areas of new media – the way technology changes the way we report and receive news and information. Was I tired? Heck yeah, but I was also feeling charged by it all, too.

In fact, I saw a documentary about Kevin Clash, the man (and voice) behind Elmo, the ticklish Sesame Street celebrity. It was only by chance that I saw it. I went in treating it as a time killer in between two nearby interactive panel sessions I was sitting in on. The location was suitable for simply getting off my weary feet. But the documentary was wonderful … and I admit to shedding a tear or two – mostly for joy. I don’t think we ever lose our giddy love of the Sesame Street puppets we knew as children. But, it also was a very real story with life lessons and all.

I want your opinions, but first ...

In the December issue of Texas Highways, I explored a few places that serve some sweet pies - the kind that warms your heart in a way few foods can.

Clearly unable to eat my way across Texas one slice at a time, there are some places that deserve mention that were not.

For example, I received a few nice letters from readers willing to share. Rhonda Cagle of Glen Rose shared that she and her friend Jean Ford run the Pie Peddlers there. She says her pies are 100 percent homemade and absolutely delicious. I can't wait to try it, myself.

I also received a letter from Ann Arbor, Mich. from a doctor who recalled stopping at Frank's in Schulenberg, year after year, for their pies. His favorite, he says, was the coconut cream pie with "meringue at least six inches high that took me back 50 years." (Frank's: 11 North Kessler Ave. (979) 743-3555.)

Where do YOU go for your favorite slice of pie? Please share so that we can explore these places, too. email this Share on Facebook Like this at Facebook! twitter Add this anywhere

I’m not sure I understand the competition to come up with the next best fried thing, and I’m not here to judge (I’m responsible for my extra poundage – no one else), but every year, when the State Fair of Texas announces its list of fried food finalists, my ears perk up. I am excited to know what’s being tossed into the vat next.

cornydogcontest"Corny" dogs, like these shown during an eating contest, make a regular appearance on State Fair of Texas concession menus. (Photo courtesy State Fair of Texas)

They never disappoint, at least not in terms of generating a buzz. So in case you didn’t get the memo, let me share the menu.

This year, you’ll get ID’d if you order items like Deep-Fried Frozen Margarita or Fried Beer. Like the Fried Coke or Fried Butter before them, that just seems to defy some scientific law, but I’ll admit I’m ready for the lines to open up for a frozen margarita. While waiting in line, I’ll ponder the difference between “fried” and “deep-fried.”

The Deep-Fried Frozen Margarita is born of the goodness of two things – margarita ingredients and funnel cake batter. They are mixed together, fried, dusted with a lemon-lime mixture and served in a salt-rimmed glass. While probably not as refreshing as the real thing, it sounds pretty good to me.

The Fried Beer is a beer-filled pretzel pocket. I’m not a fan of beer, so someone else will have to vouch for this later. I hear the beer really does pour out when you take a bite.

Again, don’t forget your ID. You will get carded for these – even though, I’m pretty sure the alcohol disappears somewhere in the frying process.

As a bona fide lemon addict, I’ll need to order the Fried Lemonade, a baked lemon-flavored pastry that is then fried and glazed with a mix of lemonade, powdered sugar and lemon zest. I’ll probably seek out fresh lemonade to wash this down with, and be in citrus heaven.

For chocolate lovers, there is, of course, Fried Chocolate, a white chocolate candy bar and a cherry are stuffed inside a brownie, dipped in chocolate cake batter, deep fried and topped off with powdered sugar, a cherry sauce and chocolate whipped cream. I might have called it Fried Cherry Cordial, but alas, once again they did not call for my opinion. *insert audible gasp here* Just kidding. :) Well see, though, if that shows up on the menu next year. Remember, you heard it here first! Ha! Oh boy, do I have all kinds of GREAT ideas for next year!

There also is the Deep-Fried S’mores Pop Tart, which is pretty self-explanatory. A s’mores flavored Pop Tart is battered, fried and then topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. I’d like to put this to the test with my friend Kate who lights up her fire pit at home as often as she can to feed her s’mores cravings.

For something more savory, traditional and Texan, they’re promising Texas Fried Frito Pie. Not sure how, but they are apparently able to hold together the chili, cheese and Fritos long enough to fry it. It’s a mystery to me, but the item made it as a finalist, so it can be done. Amazing what a little human will and ingenuity can achieve. Speaking of: Look for Texas Fried Caviar –– fried and seasoned black-eyed peas. Whodathunkit? Someone thought of it.

And finally, for you health nuts … oh, wait … nevermind. This salad is fried, too. Fernie’s Fried Club Salad is a spinach wrap stuffed with the goodness of diced ham, chicken, shredded lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cheese and bacon. Sounds good, but wait, I’m not finished. It’s fried, topped with deep-fried sour dough croutons on a stick and then served on a bed of lettuce. Well, at least you can still say you had the “salad,” if anyone asks.

So there you have it. Don’t try them all in one sitting, or it’ll be “groan” appétit instead of bon appétit. Pace yourself. You’ll have 20-something days to get it all in. The State Fair of Texas runs from Sept. 24-Oct. 17.

Winter wonderlands are hardly cliché in Texas.

Snow-covered steps to the Texas Travel Information Center in Denison. Submitted by Center Supervisor Robbie Dudley.Snow-covered steps to the Texas Travel Information Center in Denison. Submitted by Center Supervisor Robbie Dudley.

That’s why drivers freak out when the flurries start to fall. We don’t know how to drive (or walk!) in icy or snowy conditions. Northerners like to laugh when us southerners become incapacitated by the weather, but that’s like a teen laughing at a baby for not walking more gracefully. They get a LOT more practice with it than we do, so for us, it’s still new.

But despite all that taunting, we have something they don’t when it comes to snow –– a child-like awe when even the slightest flake falls. It’s still magical to us. Or at least more magical.

This week, friends across the state had the chance to experience the snow. Texas Department of Transportation’s Travel Services Section has 12 travel information centers at various entry points across the state. Our friends at the Texarkana, Waskom and Denison travel information centers shared some of their snow photos and stories, so I thought I’d share.

Chilly day at the Texas Travel Information Center in Texarkana. Submitted by Linda Vaughan.Chilly day at the Texas Travel Information Center in Texarkana. Submitted by Linda Vaughan.

Waskom travel counselors made use of the ice melt they had on hand and made their own shovels (not like snow shovels are easy to find in Texas!).

“Most travelers enjoyed the snow and someone made a snowman on our grounds,” says Waskom travel counselor Donna Watson.

Even in our glee, we understand that snow comes with some inconveniences, too.

Waskom Travel Information Center Supervisor Melissa Wilson says, “Some of my employees didn't have electricity at their homes. They had to fix their ‘Texas hair’ at the center.”

Wilson added, “We've had several Winter Texans say they left their homes, up north, to come to Texas, so they could get away from the snow.” One Winter Texan said, “It must have followed them from Pennsylvania."

For that, we’re (sort of) grateful.

Snowy day at the Texas Travel Information Center in Waskom. Photo by Melissa Wilson. Snowy day at the Texas Travel Information Center in Waskom. Photo by Melissa Wilson.

By the way, if you have not visited a Texas Travel Information Center, please make a point to stop by. They are informational havens –– with sophisticated, and locally-inspired architectural designs –– that serve the traveling public. The travel information centers also just happen to be staffed by some of Texas’ best ambassadors.

You can find a list of Texas Travel Information Centers here.

The cold front blew through and some of our Texas friends found themselves with snow ... a pleasure or a curse, depending on Waskom travel counselors made use of their ice melt supplies and made their own shovel (not like snow shovels are easy to find in Texas!).

Most travelers enjoyed the snow and someone made a snowman on our grounds," says Donna Watson.

Looking to put an little extra love in that card? Consider sending your sweetheart a valentine postmarked and stamped from Valentine (Texas, that is). More than a dozen post offices across the United States - including Valentine, Texas - offer special postmarks for the lovely occasion, to help impress your loved ones. This special touch is easy as pie to achieve, and the effort could yield priceless benefits.

Everything's big in Texas, in fact, Texas is so big, it's gone global  ;) Or so it's been pointed out in a Facebook thread that started with "Good morning, Texas!"

New Mexico and Australia chimed in - "What about us?!" To which we replied with the simple truth: "If you love Texas, you ARE Texas."  That good morning goes a long way. That's how Texas rolls.:)

So now, I'm curious where, in the world, are you if you're not living in Texas now?  Did you use to live here? Just wish you could live here? What is it you love so much about it?

Share, please.

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.

Since I moved from Houston and an office smack dab in the middle of the city's incredible Theater District, I have to admit that I've been woefully neglectful of taking in as much live theater. I mean to, and I do miss going as often as I did. Lately, I've been getting back into the swing of things. I've seen a couple of touring musicals ("Wicked" and "Mama Mia"), enjoyed readings by the legendary Maya Angelou and the hilarious writer David Sedaris, as well as some local performances.

I forget, until I'm there, how important and good it feels to witness the art of live performance; of people entertaining people, sharing and communicating in music, dance, words, comedy and movement. This kind of creative expression, I believe, is inherent to our humanity. There's nothing like it. The best thing is, no matter where you are, big city or small town, there are plenty of opportunities to take in a show.

It would do us good to get back to being better audiences; in major performance halls, restored historic theaters, community halls and in wide open spaces under the great Texas sky.

So when you travel, or stay home, consider live performances as one of the options when asking, "So, what should we do today?"

What performance/venue would you suggest for your neck of the woods?

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