OPINION: SXSW: My Very First Time…

by Keya Maeesha

My experience at this year’s South by Southwest festival was…different…to say the least.  A part of me was beyond excited to see so many of the fellow artists I love and was dying to meet. Numerous conversations led me to believe that this festival…this meeting place known to be the mixing of artists’ minds, would produce some sort of fire within me and continue to grow my faith in the music industry.  Understanding that the purpose of this gathering was to discover and build- discover new talent and build with artists for better grasp of their journey so that as a music enthusiast, I may assist in helping them become “more out there”.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to see the performances, because I was. Prior to landing in Austin, I had starred all of the unofficial showcases and a few of the official sets announced on twitter (shout out for JCrillz from Hip Hop is Cool Again and Trifeckta from STL), sent out RSVP emails, and started building with other sites, just so that I could be at the front row of their shows.  It was important for me to be there. I wanted to immerse myself in the culture of the festival so that I could get the full experience.  And my, what an experience I received.

I’ll start by saying that I think my standards are too high. This could be partly due to the fact that many of the people who have attended the festival have created a certain picture in my mind of what it was going to be like. The excitement in their voices when discussing the various shows and artists they get to meet completely intrigued me. Not to mention the level of networking that occurs at such an event like this. New talents are discovered, connections are made, and new music interests are formed as a result of this grandiose festival. There was no doubt in my mind that this would be the year for me to attend. That by any means necessary, I’d be there. Even if it means I couldn’t go out for a month and possible eat butter sandwiches and drink the finest of NYC’s tap water. I was in the place.

With a plethora of events to choose from and different venues, I decided that this year, I’d cover the hip hop shows.  I love all genres of music, don’t get me wrong. But hip hop and I developed such an awesome relationship this last year that I wanted to see how SXSW was going to showcase it.  I had a couple of friends performing at both official and unofficial shows. So with my RSVP emails, SXSW Official program list, and my press wristband in hand, I walked back and forth between the east and west of downtown Austin.  I was able to catch some pretty dope acts, from the Rappers I Know Showcase on Thursday night, The SXMidwest showcase on Friday afternoon, and the PepsiMaxx and Foursquare concert on Saturday evening to name a few. I highlight these events because they were actually my favorites.  It was such an awesome experience to see some of my friends on stage rocking with big time indie acts such as Talib Kweli, Saigon, and Mayor Hawthorne & The County.  Between the music and the energy that was presented between each set, I fell deeper into this love affair I have with hip hop, and began to further appreciate each artist for their craft and their journey.

But like with any love affair, there’s always that something which prevents you taking it to next level.  Perhaps it could have been the timing. This year’s festival took place during St. Patrick’s Day. Now, while to some, this wouldn’t be a problem, just imagine walking down 6th Street in Downtown Austin and constantly bumping into drunkards adorned in their green attire, screaming random belligerences in the street and disturbing some of the street side acts that were performing.  Perhaps it could have been the mainstream atmosphere that resonated in the air.  Do I feel it was on purpose? No. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.  Just in discussion with a few artists who travelled to be showcased in order to get overlooked or bumped from their sets for a mainstream artist who decided to “pop in”, or the hosting of random shows by a mainstream artists that featured NO indie artists, in my opinion, took away from what the festival was all about which is discovering NEW INDIE talent.  Another possible thought could be that there was the appearance of disorganization between the staff and artists and press persons, that people were literally getting frustrated at how things were being run and decided to leave early (I didn’t have this problem, but I know there were a few situations like this).  While these matters may be minute to some, they take away from the fantasy that this festival creates by its name alone.

I appreciate the experience that had, however.  Being that this was my first time, I’m not sure I was able to grasp that feeling that I thought I would receive.  I did, however, make some amazing connections and got to see some awesome performances in the midst of the chaos.  Hopefully next year, now that I’m a little more hip, I’ll go in with more of an open mind and understand that despite the name it carries, it is still run by humans who are all fighting to be great.  To every artist, fellow music blogger, photographer, and music lover that I met thanks for making my first time a memorable. See you next year?