The Best of What #SXSW Has to Offer: Panels, Parties, Music, Brands & Films

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SxswSXSW aka South-by-Southwest, the event that takes a week of my time every year in Austin, Texas, seems to get bigger and bigger every March, not to mention more global.

Refer to my blog write-up on its international diversity here.

For example, Ireland had the most number of start-ups they’ve ever had at SXSW (30 in total representing film and interactive).

Below are the Enterprise Ireland folks with Storyful founder Mark Little.


Singapore, Great Britain, Spain (primarily music), Japan and Canada also tried to make sure attendees knew they were taking this space seriously.

Also in my international blog post, I covered the sheer volume of brands who had tents (Nokia, Microsoft and others), threw parties (HP, Pepsico and others…I lost track) or carted folks around town (Chevy).

On the interactive side, there was so much activity between the dozens and dozens of panels to the after parties, all of which I couldn’t keep up with despite my social media apps buzzing me every ten seconds to tell me what was happening and where. Foursquare remained a popular app for check-ins and to see where your buds were – that said, the private parties were off the grid and frankly, had to be, for the intimacy of the “old SXSW” to prevail, a necessary for those of us who have been going for a decade (or more).

Speaking of Foursquare, they had a private bash where the security was so intense that a friend of mine got ‘bounced’ before he even made it up the stairs despite the fact that he was buds with 80% of the attendees. “Kids” (early 20-something year old geeks, marketers and wanna-bes) seemed to be clamoring to get elbow time with Dennis Crowley and get into events like this all over town and frankly, it was just not worth the fight, even the ones where I was on the VIP list, because VIP list or not, the lines and wall-to-wall rooms were still maddening.

Some late nights, I retreated to The Driskell which has become a little too crowded as well, but at the very least, you’re likely to run into some industry buds who are more in the mood for a quiet drink amidst moose and deer on the wall and antiquated brass and iron statues that mesh the culture of Texas with England somewhere along the way.

The below was taken on my iPhone at some random 3 am hour in the Driskell lobby.

Driskell hotel (1)

Other nights, after the official invitations of music, film and interactive wore me out, taking in a dive bar where you could take in some off-the-beaten path music was the way to go.

TED decided to have a ‘showing’ at SXSW this year (aka TED@SXSW) and blocked off a couple of hours two evenings in a row for speakers in a private room at The Driskell. The line-up included folks like TED Fellow Jose Gomez-Marquez, JP Rangaswami, Ayah Bdeir, Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky), Ping Fu, Baratunde Thurston (who always has me in stiches), Steve Daniels and others.

Film…so many great ones! I wrote about a number of them earlier in the week, which you can scroll through in the Arts/Austin section here. So many worth listing but since I tend to cover things from a global and international perspective, a few call-outs worth noting include: Sunset Strip, The Taiwan Oyster, Bay of All Saints, Eden, The Black Balloon, Trash Dance, Wonder Women and a handful of others. (see the list of winners for 2012 here). Also see our Scottish Films overview here and Israel at SXSW here.

Songster from Mowgli, the first music-creation social fame on Facebook launched at SXSW this year. CEO Marshall Seese, Jr. came to the table with a recording artist background and says their design is with “everyone’s inner rockstar in mind.”

Players follow the compelling storyline of a fledging musician working their way up through the ranks of the music industry. From playing gigs at frat houses and proms, to launching a worldwide arena tour, players can make great music, while allowing their creativity to take them through all levels of the game.

I tweeted up a storm about the on-stage love for Google+ with Vic Gundotra, which was more of an informercial than it was a fireside chat. If he used the word “amazing” one more time, I thought, even the newbies who are eating this up, would have to see through Google’s sugar coating. Hey, I’m a Google+ user, not a prolific one, but I’m on the system and giving them tons of my data and creative energy just like I am to Facebook without a whole lotta benefit (yet).

Vic-Gundotra (6)

I’m not saying what they’re trying to do isn’t useful or great online canvas for photographers to share their work or industry celebs like Guy Kawasaki and Robert Scoble to up their social status without even trying to, but for mainstream folks, it’s just not there yet. (not in this cats humble opinion anyway). Just saying – I had enuf with “amazing this and amazing that” after the first 15 minutes.

Kelly Carlin performed again in a breakout room in the main convention hall and although I’ve seen her before and like her energy (I totally resonated with the 1970s family TV and dysfunctional family of the 1960s jokes), there was something that put me off slightly about her stint and I couldn’t figure it out until near the end.

Kellycomedian (3)

For those of you who don’t know the Carlin name, she’s the daughter of iconoclastic comedian George Carlin. As a one woman show, she uses storytelling, classic video footage, and family memorabilia, to chronicle over forty years of her life with her famous father.

While she’s amusing and gives us countless insights into George, it f-g feels like its all about George. I’m thinking as someone who’s only slightly younger than Kelly and had a lot of the same reference points, what about YOU? I’d love to hear more about YOU!

I walked away still not knowing and it was the second time I saw her perform. I just felt that using her dad as a vehicle for her ‘show’ and ‘persona’ may have perhaps run its course and what I really wanted to hear was her voice without Dad in the background (or at the very least so prevalent) so I could better learn who SHE was as an artist and more importantly, as a person.

Who didn’t have an event? On the music front, B and C listers were all there, Bruce was there, Gary Vee called all wine afficiandos to a so called ‘private’ venue immediately next to another so called ‘private’ party I was at and the line was ten miles long by the time I walked outside. Really? Is that really the way to engage with folks? A great way to get SXSW publicity so from that perspective, stints like that really work, but they’re far from “real” or intimate. I just wanted to say ‘hey’ without a thousand pushes and shoves. For the record.

The XPrize folks also held an event and it was invite only and really felt like “invite only.” Not a publicity ‘stunt’ in any way, everyone I met was top notch and showed up because they had a vested interest or cared about the kinds of things they cared about. Quality conversations where people weren’t looking at their watch or Foursquare check-ins to see where the coolest cats were hanging next next. A welcome relief.

If you’re not famliar with their work, go here: their mission is to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. Below, an XPrize team shot: (I love these guys and btw, Peter Diamandis has a new book out entitled Abundance).

Xprize event (3)

My favorite part of SXSW of course is the randomness of meetings at film and music more than interactive, for at the former, there still seems to be more spontenaity, largely I think because of mutual passions rather than a race for check-ins or being ‘seen’ at the right party and telling the whole world about it on Foursquare, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, yadda yadda yadda.

I’m not saying that politics and social klout doesn’t run rampant in the film and music world, but passion for the ‘art’ still stands tall…..maybe not dominant in Hollywood, but at SXSW.

As for the social bit…of course I tweet at these events. I’m in the biz – who doesn’t, but the feeds at SXSW are so much about where I’m at and who I’m hanging out with than providing value. It’s hard to tell the difference anymore, and sometimes I even get confused by why I do what I do on social media even when my intensions are pure. The addictive nature of it all just ‘ain’t all that healthy’ in my opinion. I have talked about this before but can’t emphasize it enough.


The blogger lounge is on the top floor where it always is, around the corner from the press lounge, which had massages this year. The blogger lounge has occasional ‘acts’ and social media gurus of sorts popping in and out. (a little red badge gets you into it if you’re a blogger).

This was more of a ‘center’ in previous years, but today, less so. It doesn’t mean you can’t still show up and meet up with old buds, converse with folks in the biz you haven’t seen in awhile or folks you still haven’t met, but things are so spread out and there’s so much ‘more’ grabbing our attention that “hanging out” in the blogger lounge seem to be few and far between.

That said, t’was great to catch up albeit short with industry pals like C.C. Chapman, Julien Smith, Liz Strauss, Hugh MacLeod who has a new book out entitled: Freedom is Blogging in your Underwear.

Below: Renee Blodgett, Angel Djambazov, Liz Strauss, Hugh MacLeod

Renee Angel-Djambazov Liz Strauss Hugh MacLeod (3)

Then there are a hundred or so other folks I’ll keep under the radar, except for of course Jeff Pulver & crew who co-hosted a great 140Conf party (if you haven’t been to their events, check ’em out), with the textPlus folks. (never enuf time Mademoiselle Heather Meeker).

Below is a snap from the Nokia Innovation Lab, a massive tent set up a few blocks from the convention center, that housed more than fake snow as you entered.

Nokia booth (6)

While travel wasn’t a big representation at SXSW and I was struggling to find serious foodies, some of the usual suspects were hanging about.  American Airlines had a down-to-earth event with fabulous peeps (closer to town or IN town next time PLEASE :-).

AmericanAirlinesBash (8)To the left (lighting wasn’t great) is American’s head of Mobile products Phil Easter talking about their latest and demoing some nifty stuff on an iPad that we can’t quite talk about yet. Exciting stuff! Other call-outs worth mentioning are Stacey Frantz (corp comm), Dawn Turner (Entertainment Marketing), and Jonathan Pierce & Jon Bird (social media & video), among a handful of others.

Angers France Booth (1)Angiers France came out in force with a very creative booth, full of color, energy and design. (yarn, that is).

The photo to the right has a combination of woven yarn, paint, and wire among other materials.

While the booth was creative and the Canadians fed us French toast, strawberries and homemade maple syrup, the Irish shamrock tattoos that Enterprise Ireland dished out had to be my favorite giveaway. (Sure, I’m biased but it’s the truth). A lot more fun than pens, pads, stickers, drives and balloons.

The Cool Sculping guys who were parading around town for days, tried to demonstrate that ‘getting naked’ can be a positive thing if you own one of their “suits.”

.Cool sculpting (1)

The below very ‘blurry” image of pianist Eric Lewis, a favorite ‘musical’ experience by TEDsters who saw him perform a few years back in Long Beach, was taken at a Mashery Party at Sandra Bullock’s Austin restaurant. The “blurr” gives you an idea of his energy and personality, therefore is untouched. It’s “Eric” in every way. The party was of the classier events held at SXSW this year. Well done Oren!

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Attacked by the Scottish on the show floor? Hardly but it’s hard to resist men in kilts: Me with Ewan Spence and Tam Coyle. (notice the l’il Irish shamock on my hand. Wonder if they did? :-)

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Below dana Boyd with Baratunde Thurston on the Fast Company FLUX Generation panel.

Fast Company Flux Panel (6)

As always, Blumberg Capital held an incredible meet-up for their start-up companies & friends. Flow, drinks, conversation, networking was top notch. Well done to David and his team.


The below is a l’il local bar and street scene music action, albeit blurry…blurry is in some ways more ‘suitable’ for SXSW, despite the fact that I had my Canon 7D and 2 good lenses with me.

Music on the street (11)

Music on the street (2)

Two fun ‘street scenes’ very late at night. Or morning. Or whatever.

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Music on the street (6)

There was also an interesting demo on the show floor of Vinyl Recorder T-560 — analog stereo recording on 5″, 7″, 10″ and 12″. A pricey option but for serious audiofiles, an option? The 7-560 starter set includes a stereo clutterhead fuse, heated diamond stylus, 19″ main unit with RIAA encoder, groove controller and stylus heating regulation mono microscope, a lamp and all cables and adapters. The price? E3,200 (yes, that’s Euros).


The week can be a bit exhausting (okay, very) even when you’re not trying to race from event to event. Below is a taste of just a day and a half and a few of these bands fell off. And, all the film stuff was equally thick hanging around my neck.


As a complete aside and for kicks, refer to my insanely hard-to-follow post on “how to stay healthy” in Austin during SXSW if you have the strength to avoid all the free beer and Texas ribs.

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