SXSW 2019: Reflections

It’s time to write a little more about South by Southwest 2019 now that I’ve recovered. This year’s conference was unusual because the dates did not line up with spring break week for the University of Texas. (Most local schools also follow the UT calendar.) As a result, I heard there was a shortage of SXSW volunteers and that Austin traffic was terrible. I don’t know the official SXSW attendance numbers, but the music venues were definitely less crowded.

In general, I didn’t find this year’s Interactive sessions as interesting as usual. I did enjoy Brené Brown’s Opening Keynote and talks by Roger McNamee and Rohit Bhargava. I decided to skip the CNN Town Halls and political interviews, figuring there will be plenty of those in the next 18 months. However, I regretted missing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s session. The line was long, and I thought she would be at the next day’s movie Burn Down the House. But, she wasn’t feeling well and left early, so I didn’t get to see her.

Virtual Reality continued to be a huge trend at this year’s conference. The Virtual Cinema in the JW Marriott included VR experiences such as Mars Home Planet and Forest (both pictured above). Many other vendors also had VR displays at the Trade Show. Just two years ago, 3D printers were the latest trend, but I only saw one of those this year.

Over the nine days, I saw ten movies—nine were documentaries—and I liked every one of them. My favorite was The River and the Wall, followed by Apollo 11, Amazing Grace, and Knock Down the House.. Here are Bill’s favorite SXSW 2019 movies.

As I already mentioned, the SXSW Music venues didn’t seem as crowded this year. I wondered if that was due to the lack of big-name artists in addition to the spring break issue. Of the 36+ soloists and bands that I heard, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, John Paul White, Sweet Crude, Pipo Romero, The Small Glories, and Gina Chavez were my favorites. NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert on Tuesday evening was eclectic and fun. I hope that was the start of an annual SXSW tradition.

Another SXSW highlight was The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library, a traveling exhibit created by The Daily Show. Modeled after typical presidential libraries, this exhibit featured cleverly-organized tweets written by our current president. The date and time stamps were included with each tweet.

I spent more time than usual at the venues outside of the Austin Convention Center. I traveled around the world (virtually) to The New Japan Islands, Canada House, House of Scandinavia, Fort Worth, Michigan House, Casa Mexico, Spain, and Australia House. And Cheeselandia Wisconsin convinced me that a return trip to that state is required, if only for the cheese.

This was the first SXSW since dockless scooters were allowed in Austin. Seemingly-unlimited numbers of scooters swerved around pedestrians on sidewalks and between moving cars on busy streets such as Congress and Cesar Chavez. Bill and I both saw riders thrown off their scooters—one person landed face-first and even lost some teeth. The scooter bans for Sixth and Rainey Streets were inconsistently enforced. When I walked on those streets, some scooters were always zooming by. Each morning, scooter fleets had been recharged and were carefully lined up, but by mid-afternoon, abandoned vehicles were laying around everywhere. As a result of the SXSW frenzy, the City of Austin is now proposing tighter rules for scooter use.

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