South by Southwest Guide – Part 1 – By Troby
As you can see from this photo, I am not your average SXSW attendee. My ranks would be in the veteran level if we are going to be honest. But my time at the great South by Southwest Music, Film, & Interactive Festival was not spent like most people, well half the time it was like the regular attendees in Austin, Texas. I spent most of my time as a proud volunteer for SXSW. Yes, everyone of those badges that cost more than $500 a piece were all given to me for free, well not so much free. Let me explain . . . as many festivals go, they have paid employees that work year round to setup all the talent, sponsors, stages, security, logistics, etc. While the other half are volunteers, like yours truly. It is a long process of submitting an application months before, doing questionnaires on why you should be picked, interviews, and then finally being selected. I had to go through this entire scenario the first year, the rest of the years I was asked to return due to my awesomeness, no . . . really . . . I was awesome. So in return for my 60 hours of service I got an all access MUSIC Badge. Depending on the level of badge that you wanted to earn would change the number of hours you worked. The lame Interactive badge you had to work 35-40 hours or something like that, the Music badge was 50-60, and the coveted Platinum badge you had to work some insane number like 80 hours.
Now don’t get it twisted, this was not 60 hours in 5 days or something. The volunteers had to arrive on Friday morning at the beginning of the festival, so that would be today March 9th, and work the entire festival, so all the way to March 17th, so about 9 days in total. Basically you had to give up an entire week plus two weekends of your life for this cause, and it was a worthy cause too. Hence the reason that SXSW is always during spring break because nearly ¾ of the volunteers are all aspiring college students that want to work in the music/film/technology business. While the other ¼ of volunteers are local Austin, TX people that just enjoy the festival. So if you notice that whenever you talk to a SXSW worker you get an enthusiastic response and the best attitude because they are beyond stoked that they were allowed the great honor of being a SXSW volunteer. These people are not just some students from The University of Texas or Oklahoma State or something, that is actually quite the opposite, not one volunteer came from a big school really, at least the ones I talked too and rocked out with at night. Most student volunteers came from local music/art schools in Dallas, Houston, Nashville, San Diego, New Orleans, Chicago, or Seattle. Heck I was even in the wedding of the first person I met at SXSW, we became roommates every year after that and stayed best friends for over 8 years now. Tony!!!
Also, many people don’t realize that SXSW is truly a world festival, not some southern art rock festival. I remember every year becoming best buds with guys/gals from Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan, Brazil, and every other country you could think of around the world. They were always so open to learning our culture as proud Texans & Americans and vice versa. Plus they brought a world perspective on what bands to see from their country because just like the volunteers, the bands at SXSW are from all over the world, no one realizes how many bands from Japan debut at SXSW, they even have an entire JAPAN Night at one of the venues that debut like 10 bands. So what I’m trying to tell you is that SXSW rocks, just plain and simple. And this is just from the volunteer area.
Which, oh wait, I forgot to mention what I did!!! Well you can either work in 2 different areas, band/film stage setup, so you are basically a roadie for the bands that play or a film helper for the film makers, or you stand out front and watch the door to check badges. The other area you can work is inside the Austin Convention Center. This is where all the panels of speakers hold their sessions, the large convention booth area where everyone debuts their music/film technology, promotion people, beer vendors, small acoustic shows, art booths, tons of free shwag, basically the convention center is the whole brain of the festival.
The center is also where you have to get your coveted BADGE. No matter what your status is as an artist, film maker, actor, label executive, talk show celebrity, whatever, you had to come to the Registration Booth and get your picture taken for your badge and then receive the badge. This is where I worked as a Team Leader, and I’ll tell you why I chose to work here, simple, even if you were a multimillion dollar movie star that had some indie flick debuting or a rockstar with a major label, you had to come get your badge. No laky or assistant was allowed to pick up anyone’s badge for someone else, you had to show an ID and get your own badge. That was the great part about SXSW, no matter how big a star you thought you were, the festival never showed special butt kissing attention, you were treated just like a regular attendee. Of course some people were mobbed by autograph people, but for the most part everyone treated everyone like a regular person, and that was one thing I will always remember. So to say I have seen many celebrities and had direct conversations with hundreds of them would be a correct statement. I won’t name drop, but oh man do I want too!! Hahaha.
Well that’s the inside scoop about the volunteers, stay tuned to Part 2 about the festival and some of my interactions when I was out on the town after I got off work. They are some insane stories like finding out about a secret show by The Flaming Lips, to a drunk guy on a rick shaw, haha, that one always makes me laugh. GO SXSW !!!!!!!