Wednesday, March 25, 2009

SXSW 2009, Day 9

After another night of a past-4am bedtime, I slept in again.

First thing, veering back to the Film Festival part of SXSW, we started with a movie at the Paramount -- a 20th anniversary print of "For All Mankind" which documented the Apollo moon landings with 100% NASA footage from all the missions and dialogue from the original film, no narration. It's pretty amazing stuff.
The director was there along with Gene Kranz, Apollo Flight Director. (The "Failure is not an option" guy played by Ed Harris in "Apollo 13"). They took several questions after the film. Mr Kranz is a man with a clear and commanding presence, no question.

After the film we went to Brush Square Park by the convention center again, for a couple free cocktails. I got a free Tito's Handmade Vodka tshirt that I thought looked pretty nice, but I lost it somewhere within an hour or so. Maybe at the cafe in the Hilton across the street, where we went to get a capuccino, while listening to whatever musician that was playing in the lobby there (some singer from New Zealand). You just cannot get away from live music. People are playing everywhere you turn, in lobbies, on the street, everywhere.

At 4:30, M went to see another movie while I went to the Bat Bar to see Echo and the Bunnymen again, at 5pm. This was the shorter live DirectTV set, 10 songs total. They were probably my #1 favorite band back in 84-85 or so, so I was happy to see them a second time.

M and I met back up for dinner at PF Changs, where we at at the bar area so that we could see a little of the NCAA basketball that was on. After dinner, we headed up to Esther's Follies for some of the comedy acts. It was a nice change of pace, and we were able to sit down too. If the schedule was accurate, the comedians I saw were Matt Bearden, Scott Aukerman, and Martha Kelly. But I wanted to see PJ Harvey, so I left for Stubbs BBQ while M stayed at Esther's.

Seeing PJ Harvey was pretty cool. It's hard to describe what she was playing; it was a bit avant-garde and exclusively (or almost) a preview of her new upcoming album. But I left with perhaps 5-10 minutes before she was due to finish so that I could rejoin M at Esther's in time to catch Janeane Garofalo. I arrived in time to see the comedian before Janeane, Todd Barry. He was very funny, and did some SXSW-specific material. (e.g., some jokes around the pervasiveness: "SXSW just makes me hate music. Because. It. Just. Doesn't. Stop. No matter where I go, someone is there playing music." And his imitation of a member of Metallica looking at their tour schedule: "Hmmm...a coliseum, an arena.....wait a minute: a barbecue restaurant? That can't be right. Is this just where we'll be eating before we play? (etc)" Anyway, it was funny in person).
Janeane Garofalo was funny enough, but I wonder if it was just high crowd expectations. The guy before her was much funnier. The place was full, standing room only though.

To end the night, should I see Third Eye Blind or should I see Echo and the Bunnymen a third time? Well, given that EATB were one of my all-time faves, I decided it didn't matter that I'd seen them twice already. I'd see them again, in an even smaller club this time. The downside is that I think they'd let too many people in; it felt like we were really crammed in there. Still, I stayed, and it did get more comfortable after a few songs (since people come-and-go to see different shows, etc). They sounded terrific -- probably the best of their 3 sets. I really enjoyed it, and it was neat to see them in a small room, up close. A great way to end the festival, just past 2am on Saturday night (Sun am).
I don't own any of their four post-reunion albums from after they got back together (1997), but I think I may have to look into those.

Encore: Day 10
OK-- so I actually went back down to the convention center on Sunday. The guitar and record convention was still going on, and I hadn't really looked at it much, so I wanted to see what I could find there. There were an impressive number of guitars of all kinds and prices. The record convention part was a bit disappointing, though, unless you're an vinyl LP collector.
There happened to be one final panel going on, about Stevie Ray Vaughn. Tommy Shannon was there on a panel along with the author of a new bio on Stevie, so I listened to that. Also still going on was Flatstock, the poster art exhibit. Some of the stuff was pretty neat looking but I didn't feel compelled to buy anything. And thus ended SXSW 2009.

SXSW 2009, Day 8

Friday. A bit worn out; I had to sleep in.

First thing I saw was the Proclaimers at 2pm, at the other fake made-for-TV stage in the convention center called the "Lone Star Lounge". (The Bat Bar and the Lone Star Lounge are adjacent TV studio facilities for Direct TV, alternating each hour between which is being televised live and which is being set up for the next band). So, the Proclaimers are two brothers from Scotland -- you'd know a couple of their songs. It was just the two of them, acoustic and they really sounded great! Nice harmonies, catchy tunes, etc. I'm sure M would have liked them too, but she was at a series of dayshows several blocks away at Mother Egan's (acts with a more folky lineup).

I walked up to 6th street for a 3:30 lunch (also having not had breakfast). I was really hungry so I just got some street food (a bratwust).

After this, I had no particular agenda for a while. I played with my camera, taking some time-lapse video walking up 6th street. I also had a cupcake from the "Hey Cupcake!" trailer.

I returned to the convention center, and I went back up to the trade show area to see what was going on. They were doing a Perez Hilton interview, which I ignored. I noticed a girl browsing some of the booths nearby, thinking she looked like the Von Bondies bass player. Then I noticed farther up the aisle that the Von Bondies singer was looking at some equipment. They started walking over to where I was, and I noticed the drummer right there seemingly waiting for the others to catch up. So I asked him if they had any more day shows coming up; he told me they were playing at 6:45pm at Home Slice Pizza and asked if I'd caught any of their other sets (which I had, yesterday). We started talking about their shows and SXSW in general, as the rest of the band gathered. The singer started asking me about how their set had sounded the previous day, and if I knew anything about who this Perez Hilton guy was that people were watching nearby (he hadn't heard of him), what other bands I'd seen, etc. They were super-friendly and we chatted for several minutes. So I asked if they minded me getting a photo, and the drummer took my camera and took a pic of me with the singer. Then they had to get going to get ready for their show.

I walked back on 6th street and called M, as her shows were finishing. We met at 6th and Congress and I told her about my Von Bondies conversation. With no agenda, we decided to walk down to south Congress to eat at Home Slice Pizza and catch part of their set. The pizza was frankly ordinary. The Von Bondies were not to M's taste, so we left shortly after eating (after 3-4 songs) for the walk back up Congress. Since we wanted to see different things, we then went different directions for the evening.

I next went back to the Bat Bar to see Shiny Toy Guns at 8pm. Well....they were entertaining and energetic, but they were too loud. Sure, most of these shows are loud, but there's always the earplug option. But in this case, they were TOO LOUD, even with earplugs. I stayed, but I moved to the back of the room.

The poorly-kept secret of SXSW was a "surprise" set by Metallica at Stubbs at 10pm. I figured I might go take a look, just because it was the big spectacle event of the festival. I had to walk near the Red 7 Patio on the way, so I dropped in to see a couple songs from the Dollyrots. They also seemed too loud. Maybe it's just me. So, time to go and head to Metallica. (This may seem strange after commenting on volume, since surely Metallica would be loud too -- and they were -- but for plain audio volume and the size of the venue, I'd swear Shiny Toy Guns and the Dollyrots were louder than Metallica).

I half expected not to get into Metallica, even with a platinum badge. If they're at capacity already, it doesn't matter what your badge is. Well, it was full but the badge line really didn't look too bad, so I gave it a try. Somehow I got in after about 20 minutes, meaning that a handful of people left the venue shortly before Metallica even started. Anyway, I've never really seen a metal-ish band, so I figured I'd stay for a few songs to check out the spectacle before moving on to something else. But they sounded good and cranked out a lot of energy, the crowd was really into it, etc. I was interested enough to stay for almost an hour. Apparently they were playing a bunch of hits but I only recognized the song "One" -- and only because that's the one on Guitar Hero III.

I left Stubbs BBQ (their venue) for the long walk to the other large-ish venue, the Austin Music Hall, where Devo would be playing at midnight. They were fun and quirky, but to some degree I can't quite shake that Devo is just sort of a novelty gimmick band. Still, they played several of their hits and I was satisfied enough after about 50 minutes to go see if I could catch some of Dinosaur Jr.

After leaving the Austin Music Hall, I walked to the Cedar Street Courtyard, which was overflowing. I could hear Dinosaur Jr playing, but there's no way I would be getting in. I sat on the curb for a bit and listened to a couple songs, then headed to the Smoking Music lounge to see if I could catch the New York Dolls before they finished. I got there in time to see the final 3 songs, including finale "Personality Crisis". David Johansen looked pretty weathered, in a Mick Jagger way. (Some unfamiliar with the New York Dolls may know him only as Buster Poindexter, as in "Hot Hot Hot" from the 1980's).
Closing in on 2am, it was time to head home.

Monday, March 23, 2009

SXSW 2009, Day 7

Slept in a bit; started day with lunch at Le Cafe Crepe (yum), followed by late arrival for the 2pm Quincy Jones keynote speech.
He was really rambling on and on, it seemed. Left after an hour. He was running way over his scheduled time.

Went to the SXSW Block Party at the trade floor, which just meant that several of the vendors had free food and drinks available.

M and I then went to different things; she went to a movie while I headed to the Devo interview panel at 5pm, followed by a 6pm set by the Von Bondies at the made-for-tv-fake-nightclub called the Bat Bar, also in the convention center. The first song didn't sound very good (maybe it was just me), but after that I enjoyed it.

After meeting back up with M, who had eaten dinner during her movie (Alamo Drafthouse Ritz), we dropped back into Le Cafe Crepe where I ate for the second time that day. We then headed on over to Antone's to catch the Doug Sahm tribute by various artists. First up was Jimmie Vaughan, who played 3 or 4 songs. When he left the stage, they began setting up for the next band (The Gourds), and M stayed here while I headed over to Stubbs to catch several acts there, beginning with the Meat Puppets. I was a big fan back in the late 1980's - early 1990's, but hadn't seen them in a long time. I believe this was my 7th time seeing them. They were still fun to see, although I thought the bass was mixed too loudly relative to everything else. :-/

Next up was Gomez, followed by Andrew Bird. Both were enjoyable. Then came Ben Harper & Relentless7. This show was good, but the whole thing was too loud I thought, even with earplugs. I stayed for most of it but left a little early to see if I could catch the end of Gordon Gano's set. I arrived to find him playing for perhaps 25-30 people, and I caught just the last two songs (the closer being his hit from the Violent Femmes, "Blister in the Sun"). As we left filing past the small stage, I asked him if he was doing any other day parties during SXSW, and he said that unfortunately he was not because he had to get to New Orleans for a show the next night.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

SXSW 2009, Day 6

Another day as a laundry list:

Saw film, "45365" (a zip code), a day-in-the-life of a small town rural American city, at the Alamo South Lamar.

Drove downtown to park and check the day parties. Went to see Grant Hart, but he wasn't there where I had seen him listed to be. Dropped by the Sierra Mist tent for, um, ...Sierra Mist Ruby Red! (Careful, the diet and regular cans look too similar). Went up to the Red-Eyed Fly to see the Von Bondies, but they'd had a scheduling shuffle at that party and had already played. Other band was nothing special so I walked over to the Warehouse District, to Fado Irish Pub. Saw the last few songs of Chip Robertson (from Louisiana), had a pint, and listened to 30-40 minute set of The Silos. Then met up with M (wife).

Stopped at one of the parties at Brush Square Park. Had a cookie. More people handing me free granola bars.

Had dinner at PF Chang's. The large group a couple tables over looked like music band types; one guy had a super long grey beard and we wondered if they were in a band. We finished and went outside, and while debating our next move, an Oak Ridge Boys tour bus circled around and these guys came out of the restaurant and got into the bus.

We walked up to Sixth Street and popped into the Driskill to check out the venue there. It was a small room, and a Brazilian guitarist started playing. It sounded good so we stayed and watched for 30 min or so, before heading to the Conv Center to catch the movie "The Yes Men Fix The World" .... in part of it I laughed so hard I cried. (I hadn't heard of the Yes Men; they're a couple guys who play publicity stunts at large corporate events and similar shenanigans).

Then M left to go home while I went up to Emo's to catch Echo and the Bunnymen. There was a big line; I had to wait 20 minutes to get in because it was at capacity (and so, one-in one-out in effect). The band playing just before them was Juliette Lewis' band. When I got in, I saw her last 2 songs. She crowd surfed, too. Finished at 12:25, so they were running late. EATB went on at about 12:55 (instead of the scheduled 12:30). With a 2am stop, they played just over an hour. Great show -- they were one of my fave's back in the 1980's.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

SXSW 2009 Day 5

Quickly, may add detail later:

First, a talk on photojournalism and The Big Picture website, by the guy who curates it.

Then a short stop to hear Susan Weinschenk presenting material from her book on the Neurological web.

Followed this by a lively panel of "internet famous" bloggers, e.g. the owners of passive-agressive notes, I can has cheezeburger, dooce, and stuff white people like.

Lunch: big pizza slice at Ropollos on 6th.

Keynote interview of Chris Anderson, Wired Magazine editor and author of The Long Tail (and upcoming Free).

NPR Music panel.

Panel on using the web for political organization.

Movie at Alamo Ritz (including dinner) -- "Trust Us: This is All Made Up"

Spike Lee movie at the Paramount, "Passing Strange". Spike did Q&A.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

2009 SXSW Day 4

I started in the Hilton across from the ACC for a panel on web aggregation and finding good content (techmeme, readwriteweb, ligit ...). Took a few notes to explore later.
I then walked into the ACC and decided to attend one of the gaming panels -- in particular, one that dealt more with the psychology behind games and how people learn from them. This one was in a large room and I sat near the back, fairly disengaged actually; in fact, during this session I half-listened and half wrote the first blog entry for my activities through day 3.

Next, I went to a documentary film, "MIME", about the plight of animal (pet) rescue from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. It followed the stories of five residents and they found their pets, scattered to shelters across the country, and the trials they went through trying to get them back (in some cases successfully; in some not). It also presented cases where the pets were assumed to be orphaned and were adopted out before the owners had located them, and the new owners who struggled to face giving up the pets they'd adopted -- and in a couple cases forming new friendships and bonds with the original owners. One of the owners who has still not successfully gotten his dog back (though it has been found) was in attendance at the screening and participated in the Q&A with the director and producer. He's having to resort to litigation with the family that adopted the dog. He said that all he wants is his dog back; he doesn't want to sue anybody. Also present was one of the women who adopted a rescue dog and became attached to it, but gave it up to the original owner (an elderly woman) who had on the roof with her dog but was airlifted and forced to leave the dog behind. When the woman later died, she left it back to the adopted family in her will. Eye-watering stuff.

Then, back to Interactive panes. I went to the Kathy Sierra "Making Breakthroughs Happen" talk. This was more of a motivational business talk, nothing specific. But I did learn about the "blog" of "unneccessary" comments and the blog of misusing the word "literally" -- both things that make my skin crawl, so I enjoyed finding these! :)
Then: a panel on using the web for amateur science, and how people can engage in such activities with other enthusiasts. I took notes to follow up later.

Next I went to the registrants tent and met up there with M (my wife). The free beer line was long, so I grabbed a soft drink. But then we went next door to the Sierra Mist tent, where they were serving the new Sierra Mist flavor mixed with vodka and pomegranite juice. It was good. The tent is open 12-7 every day, so if I'm walking past again I may stop in again.

Last was another movie, "Luckey". (That's the guy's name, not a typo). It was just a personal story about a paralyzed man who is an architect/builder of children's play sculptures, and the struggles he and his family go through.

We drove by the Austin Chronicle party at La Zona Rosa, but the crowd looked like more than we wanted to deal with. So we moved on, and called it a night, again getting home not much later than 10pm.

Monday, March 16, 2009

SXSW 2009, Day 1 - 3

I'm in the midst of SXSW 2009, and have intended to record my activities, but I'm slow out of the gate here. It's day 4 already. Today I'm attending some Interactive panels, so I've got my laptop with me (as do 95% of the people around me). I've never seen so many MacBook Airs, and everyone is carrying iPhones or Blackberrys. Lots of people are Twittering away.

So, I'll do a brief recap through day 3:

DAY 0:
This year, they opened the registration desk on Thurs night in order to expedite the registration and getting our badges, and (we assumed) picking up the directories and 'big bags' -- figuring it would be useful to start looking over the directories and other items. This was a waste of time. We spent maybe 45 minutes plus a trip downtown in order to save what would have taken perhaps 15 minutes by waiting until Friday. Seems everyone was coming to do the badge early, and the line was an order of magnitude longer than any we'd seen in prior years. And we still had to come back to get our directories and big bags. And it was raining. Oh well -- an annoyance but no big deal really.

DAY 1:
It was a workday for me. Panels started at 2pm and I intended to leave the office to arrive by then, but I seemed to have too many things I was trying to wrap up. So I blew off the interactive. We picked up our big bags and directories, I had a free drink at the registrants lounge -- Fuse with vodka; Fuse is a sponsor and it's everywhere, as is the new Sierra Mist Ruby Red that they're rolling out at SXSW (In a similar vein, I have no idea how many granola bars I've been handed so far. And one guy was passing out bottles of Sweet Leaf Iced Tea, Mint & Honey. I love those.). We started at a movie at the Alamo Ritz (where we could eat dinner while watching; I had a chicken pesto pizza and a beer). The trendy pick here would have been going to the Paramount to see the premiere of "I Love You, Man" ...which might have been OK but it looks kinda dumb, really. And we tend to favor the documentaries. So we saw "New World Order". This was a doc about the personalities of various conspiracy theorists, the central focus being a talk radio host named Alex Jones (who was in attendance, and we seemed to be the only people who'd never heard of him). What was interesting about it is that I was watching the movie thinking, "wow, these people are just plain nuts,", while I could tell there was a segment of the audience watching the very same movie and thinking "yeah, these guys are heroes, 9/11 was an inside job" and other such nonsense. The directors and Alex Jones then came up for a Q&A.
Next up was a documentary at ACC called "Blood Trail" which followed an accomplished freelance photo journalist (Robert King) over 15 years as he did dangerous assignments photographing news in Sarajevo, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. He was an interesting character, and was in attendance (with the director) for the post-film Q&A. He said he is on his way to Mexico to cover the drug battles going on there right now.

DAY 2:
We didn't get an early start. Stopped at Einstein's for a bagel sandwich lunch, then went to see Tony Hseih's opening remarks (after looking at a few booths on the trade show floor) He is the Founder/CEO of and he discussed the history and philosophy of his company's culture. I followed this with a presentation by Christine Li on the future of social networks (lots of talk about OpenID, Facebook Connect, etc).
Next, a movie documentary: "Objectified" at the Paramount. This was a movie about people who design objects -- covering design, material science, etc -- and designers from Apple, the guy who designs furniture and things for Target, etc. It it hard to describe without making it sound dry, but really it was interesting to hear from these people and to hear their processes described.
Next: we stopped by the PBS party, on our way back to the Conv Center. It was in a bar on Sixth Street, and there was live music (an accoustic duo, don't know who, but they sounded good). However, it was just too crowded. We checked it out for a few minutes and left. For dinner, we went to Iron Works BBQ and met a guy in line from San Jose named Nathan (he had an Interactive badge). So we shared a table with him. After eating, we walked with Nathan to the SXSW opening party by Frog Design. Had a free beer and there was sort of a Chinese Dragon parade thing going on. Then we said goodbye to Nathan and went back to the Conv Center for a documentary, "The Last Beekeeper", following three beekeepers as they struggled dealing with the colony colapse disorder that has struck the USA in the last couple years. I was unaware that 80% of the nation's beehives are driven annually to California for the almond harvest. The film followed the keepers to and from Calif. One found that 4/5 of her hives had died and she has had to fold her business. Q&A afterwords, as usual.

DAY 3:
Started with an 11:30am talk by Derek Powazek on 'The Wisdom of Crowds" as applied to the web -- e.g. collaboration, things like PageRank, etc.
Then, I checked out ScreenBurn, the arcade area where game companies were previewing their new games. I didn't stay long -- went back to the trade show floor to finish walking the aisles.
Then went to the day's keynote speech, actually an interview, with Nate Silver of (discussing statistical data mining to make predictions of things, e.g. his models of the Obama election victory last Nov).
I then stopped in for the first 15 minutes of a panel on Web standards, but left early in order to be in time for the movie "American Violet" at the Paramount. This was the first non-Doc I saw, although it was based on true events. It had Alfrie Woodward, Tim Blake Nelson, was directed by Roy Disney (yes, of that Disney family). It was about a poor single mother who was wrongfully arrested and being encouraged to take a plea bargain, but she fought back with help from an ACLU lawyer; she had been caught up in racially-motivated raids of her neighborhood. Stayed for the Q&A.
Then, I went to the SXSW Web awards pre-party. Had some (quite good) free food & drinks (is there a pattern here?). Shrimp and chicken fried rice, mushroom pasta, egg rolls, and a Chardonnay. I then watched a few of the web awards being presented, but that got old fast as I had no vested interest in anything there and didn't know most of the sites. M had gone to another movie instead, so I just hung out a bit until she got out. Got home by 10pm, a little early by SXSW standards. That's good because later in the week, there may be some verrrry late nights. Still, even once home, I spent a good amount of time mapping out the top candidate panels and movies for the next couple days, before the Music festival starts. The vibe of the festival always changes dramatically between Tuesday (when most of the web types wrap up), and Wednesday (when the crowds of colorful music types pour into the city).