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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.

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Littlefield spent a fortune renovating the Driskill Hotel before selling it at a loss eight years later. Today, it's one of Austin's most elegant hotels. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)

Austin boasts several Littlefield-related structures, notably The Driskill Hotel, at 604 Brazos Street; the Littlefield House, at 24th Street and Whitis Avenue (on the University of Texas campus), and the Littlefield Building, at 106 E. 6th Street.

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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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I'm hardly a wine connoisseur, during blind tastings in the past, I've invariably preferred the least expensive wines, but when friends suggested we meet Sunday afternoon for drinks at Crù, a wine bar in Austin's Domain shopping center, I was up for the experience. I figured at the very least it would offer a quiet place to talk. I've grown tired of trying to communicate, much less connect, in noisy restaurants and clubs.

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Well, it's officially summer in Austin. The calendar begs to differ, I know, but I have my own criteria. One, I've already been attacked by chiggers as I lounged in my front yard, watching a lizard sun himself on the enormous arms of the agave I've dubbed Big Momma. Also, I just enjoyed the season's first michelada, a frosty mix of beer, lime juice, Worcester sauce, and Tabasco, a thirst-quenching libation I discovered several years ago at El Chile on Manor Road, Austin's burgeoning eastside restaurant row. And finally, last night, I took the season's first dip in Austin's Barton Springs pool as the descending sun sent glittery shimmers across the water's surface. In a quintessentially weird and wonderful moment, I witnessed both a group baptism and a topless woman bounding down the hill as people tried not to stare. I adore Barton Springs in winter (when I bring a big robe and a thermos of hot tea), but I especially adore it in summer, when I could spend all day swimming and lolling about on a broad blanket on the hillside, partially shaded by pecan trees, entertained by chattering squirrels, and watching the comings and goings of a broad sample of humanity. There are hand-holding high-schoolers in skimpy bikinis and floppy summer hats; sinewy, gray-haired men with broad shoulders and tiny Speedos; children with doughy knees in ruffled suits and heart-shaped sunglasses; Mystic-tanned college kids dangling from plastic floats on the deep end, squeezing the last bit of sunshine from their days. And on that note, I'm going to the pool.

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By Rae Nadler-OlenickNestled in the shadow of Austin’s Mount Bonnell—so snugly tucked away behind stone walls that visitors to the Austin Museum of Art-Laguna Gloria next door often overlook it—lies Mayfield Park and Preserve, a 23-acre oasis of urban tranquility steeped in natural beauty and historic lore. Showy peacocks, serene lily ponds, stately trees, and bright, lovingly landscaped flower beds, set against a restored 19th-Century country cottage, all charm the eye of the beholder in this enchanted spot. Beyond the enclosed two acres of home and garden space, three miles of nature trails wend their leisurely way through oak and juniper woodlands down to Barrow Brook Cove, an inlet of Lake Austin.

Published in TRAVEL

Bruce Wayne has nothing on Austin’s 1.5-million-strong population of Mexican free-tailed bats. Talk about overcoming obstacles! In the 1980s, shortly after setting up house in the cozy crevices of the Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin’s bat colony found itself the target of a vicious anti-bat petition.

Published in TRAVEL

TH090620

The tornado struck with scant warning at sunset, leaving a bevy of onlookers breathless—and the local bug population decimated. Pouring from a limestone cave still warm from the day’s bright sunshine, hundreds... thousands... millions of little critters flew in circles faster and faster, higher and higher—a living whirlwind of furry bodies and rustling wings—before streaming off to the north in search of dinner.

Published in TRAVEL

For a relaxing break from city hustle, venture down the following urban trails…and learn about nature along the way. Regulations vary, but everywhere, follow the hiker's credo: Take only photographs and leave only footprints. Stay on marked trails to prevent erosion. Wear sturdy walking or hiking shoes. Carry insect repellent, sunscreen, and plenty of water, plus a camera and binoculars.

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