SXSW Insider Day One: Make a plan, then throw it away

March 22, 2010

If there's one thing I've discovered, amid all the music and mayhem, after a decade of covering the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference it's that plans change, and they change on a dime. Each year prior to heading to Austin, I comb the official schedule to sketch out an itinerary, RSVP to a gazillion unofficial parties, and schedule interviews. And try as I might, much of the planning goes by the wayside and going with the chaotic flow takes precedence. In some ways that is also the beauty of this festival: some of the greatest surprises lay in the non-planned moments. For the first five years I covered SXSW as the Editor of Illinois Entertainer. The past five years I've been full-time freelancing, which means covering for myriad publications, websites and/or radio stations, all of whom have different coverage needs. So while there may be artists I'm dying to catch, it doesn't mean I'll get to see them if they conflict with one of my assignments. Once in a while the artists I'm dying to see will also fulfill assignments, and this year those artists are Big Star, Broken Bells, We Were Promised Jetpacks, the xx, Sleigh Bells, Local Natives, Band of Skulls, Best Coast, Real Estate and Maluca. Case in point. I arrived on Wednesday with a well-laid out plan. The first thing industry folks do after landing and hotel check-in is head to the Convention Center to pick up an official badge. Often the queues can be long, but at 6 p.m. I slide right through it. Rule #2 if you're a veteran, is at least one sit-down meal a day. It sounds strange, but in the early years there were scores of days I ate nothing but a Powerbar and when you're walking several miles from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., that just doesn't cut it. During a civilized dinner meeting with one of my editors and a label rep, I receive an email that Alex Chilton died. At this point no one knows for sure if Big Star will perform or what will happen to the panel they were to do. It's a super sad way to start the fest and it's all we can talk about over dinner, but there is still work to do. I'm off for the night. The plan: Wanda Jackson (whom I miss because dinner runs late), Findlay Brown, Broken Bells, Frightened Rabbit, and Miike Snow. I catch a bit of Findlay Brown and then I get an emergency text message: There's a camera issue, can I help shoot for the rest of the night? Pitchfork needs Frightened Rabbit, We Were Promised Jetpacks and Maluca -- all artists I want to catch, but two I wanted to do at another time slot. Ah well, Broken Bells and Miike Snow are playing multiple times, I'll catch them later. I've been in Austin for mere hours and the plans have already changed. This is the SXSW I know and love. We Were Promised Jetpacks (every song feels like it's their last, in a good way):

Maluca (signed to Mad Decent, Dominican-American rapper/singer with a lot of show and party, but not strong on the songs):

Frightened Rabbit (Their‚ The Midnight Organ Fight was #2 on my Top 10 in '08.‚ The Winter of Mixed Drinks album was released this month):