Two-fifths of my roommates are audio engineers. During SXSW they were gone for approximately 180 hours straight, returning home to stuff earplugs in their ears and draw the curtains for a 4-hour nap between gigs. Max told me one night, “I have a drum check stuck in my head. Not a song. Just a drum check.”
In return for a small portion of his efforts, Max received a complimentary badge that costs around $1,700. He got to use it exactly once, to see a Spoon concert that was sponsored by Taco Bell. “Everyone was chain smoking and eating Taco Bell. It was gross. You would have loved to make fun of it,” he told me when he returned.
Well, I couldn’t, because no one gave me a million-dollar pass to push buttons and “mix live streams.”
“Doesn’t anyone need a writer for SXSW?” Max asked me. In spite of my valiant efforts with Craigslist gigs, no, not one single media outlet wanted to pay for someone to write a lively essay about a concert.
He sent me nonsensical updates from his gigs via text message. “I am having fun mixing Latino psych rock.” And “How do they make sugar- free Red Bull so sweet??”
I saw some free concerts. I became the victim of a mosh pit, and endured having cheap beer splashed directly on my eyeball and my foot stepped upons’t. I felt alive for the first time in days.
That is my only review of any music I saw, because no one is paying me to write about SXSW.
Feeling war-torn and widowed, on the last day I made my way to Shangri La for the end of SXSW party. Only locals are invited, and you have to show an I.D. with an Austin address to get drink tickets.
There was a masseuse working for tips. No music played over the loudspeakers, only loud ocean sounds. I drank 3 margaritas and did some deep breathing exercises.
My roommate’s dog attended. Rooney was, as always, indiscriminate in his love of strangers.
I asked this lady if I could put my picture of her on my blog.
She agreed. “Check out my live journal!” she added. “It’s called ‘My Black Baby.'”
“Your black baby?”
“It’s photos of my black dog.”
I Googled for hours with no luck.
Later that day, Max had finished his audio engineering work with Daytrotter. Daytrotter is a studio that descends every year to organize a rapid-fire recording session of indie-ish bands in town for SXSW. (You can stream their recordings for free.)
As part of the wrap-up celebration, the engineers and event organizers went out for barbecue. They chose a spot very near our neighborhood, called Sam’s BBQ. We had never been, in spite of the enticing sign that reads, “You don’t need no Teeth to eat my Beef!”
Sam’s has been open since the 1940s, with a brief hiatus in 2011 when a scandal broke – an employee was arrested in connection with a meat heist at H-E-B. The restaurant was shut down briefly, under suspicion of meat laundering.
Sam, the proprietor since the the 1970s, is a polarizing character. On Yelp, some reviewers can’t tell you enough about what a charming, salt-of-the-earth type he is. Others leave his establishment bristling that Sam did not do enough to demonstrate just how much he loves each customer as if they were his own firstborn child.
Everyone is similarly divided over the building itself, which is a dilapidated shrine to Martin Luther King Jr. and celebrities from the 1980s. Mismatched chairs are either reminiscent of a beautifully messy and bygone Austin, or reason enough to BURN IT, BURN IT TO THE GROUND, depending on which prick from Dallas you ask.
Before we got to the counter to order, we walked past a hand-washing station and a bucket of condoms.
To everyone who says Sam’s is gross: You know what’s gross? Venereal disease. And no other BBQ restaurant in Austin goes to any lengths to prevent it.
Have fun at Franklin’s, nasty. I’ll be at Sam’s, with my tender mutton and spotless genitals.
While we were eating, an old man wandered in off the street and started busing tables. It’s not clear to what extent he was an employee.
One of the Daytrotter midwesterners was beside himself with joy. “This is so hood!” he exclaimed.
Some people started arguing loudly outside.
“What is that? Is that someone’s radio?” he asked.
“People are fighting,” I explained, like a seasoned but gentle schoolmarm.
His expression lit up even more. “We’re in the ghetto!”
“Ghetto” is a word you hear thrown around a lot in east Austin, because the housing is not always cute, and there is crime, and black people. But you can walk to vegan bakeries and general stores that sell kombucha on tap, so it seems like a lot of people maybe don’t know what that word means.
I ate my feelings of shame and newfound agoraphobia.
And with that, South By was over.
Much to the relief of my friend who rides around the neighborhood with a lawnmower attached to his bicycle.
Business is looking up.
And these robots I spotted loitering outside the grocery store can finally purchase those human children they’ve been wanting.
This east Austin yard full of mouldering toys can get back to doing what it does best. (Driving down real estate prices and keeping this city honest.)
And this plump senior citizen can, at last, set up a lawn chair in my front yard to unwind in front of a parade.
I’ll allow it. I can tell he’s seen some shit.