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SXSW'14, Keeping Austin Weird

You make my kitty kat purr....

all seasons in one day 10 °C
View 2014 Adventure on dzabell's travel map.

Hi there everyone,

I'll explain the subheading in a bit, I promise.

Austin was the next stop on my American adventure, and I was looking forward to the warmer weather the Texan capital was sure to offer. I initially chose to visit Austin following New Orleans rather than flying directly back to San Francisco to complete the west coast; I'd heard a lot about the thumping music scene (think Austin City Limits) and the burgeoning arts scene. While I'd never heard of SXSW, the festival coincided with my plans to visit the city, so I was excited to check it all out. Not a week prior to arriving, my Airbnb accommodation had been cancelled, the company explaining via email that "unfortunately, at this time we have received quality assurance information regarding your host and we are no longer able to support them as a member of our Airbnb community. As a result we have moved forward with canceling your request to begin the rebooking process for your stay." It turns out that I had hired a car space rather than a bed, granted, an unusual bedding option. Sister to the rescue! With some quick facebook liaising, Christie and TG's friend Amir (a recent Aussie transplant to the US) was able to secure accommodation over the weekend for me with a wonderful couple, Drew and Jen (Amir's girlfriend's sister and boyfriend). I can't be grateful enough to Drew and Jen for accommodating someone of such tenuous affiliation, and it sure saved my caboose! It was the first time since leaving Australia, and the last time for a few months, that I would enjoy my own bedroom, as well of the joy of some cute furry friends.

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Drew and Jen live in a two bed apartment in the leafy and semi-exclusive suburb of Barton Springs. While the area was accessible by bus, it did have that feeling of exclusion, as if anyone not living there wasn't exactly welcome. However, while the area felt a little uncomfortable (read: suburban), Jen and Drew were very accommodating. That night, the über fit long distance track runners took me to one of their favourite dinner options, Wholefoods. Believe it or not, this nation-wide fresh food supermarket chain started in Texas (the land of the fat arses); in addition to taking your groceries home, the supermarket offers the most delicious tex-mex, pasta, BBQ and buffet options for dining on site. Somehow I managed to order the pulled pork sandwich, dripping in fat, with absolutely nothing else on the sandwich... oh I forgot the BBQ sauce, and washed down with a Dos Equis.

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We took a stroll up 6th Street west, lined with bars and restaurants. Jen constantly being stopped by passersby eager to pet her cute puppy (who's name escapes me right now). Eventually, Drew and Jen left me to explore 6th Street east, known as Dirty 6th, and the host of the South by Southwest music festival. SXSW began years ago as a music festival to showcase local upcoming talent and has since ballooned into an international technology, film and music conference. The conference extends over two weeks, and completely transforms the city, flooding tens of thousands of participants and spectators into the city. Now you understand my difficulty in securing accommodation!

With every intention of merely inspecting the city scene and turning in for an early night, I happened upon two clubs of a particular persuasion, Rain and Oilcan Harrys. Honestly, I merely stumbled upon them while doing a particular search while standing out the front of Starbucks using their free wifi. Anyway, there I met Brandon (New Orleans), Leo (local) and Sal (California), three men also in Austin for SXSW. Leo had amazing connections and over the next couple of days took all of us to the coolest bars with the most free shit available. I made my very own detox smoothie in the Samsung tent, picked up a Facebook bottle opener, and snuck into a private IT function and stuffed my face full of sandwiches and beer. A photo below shows an afternoon spent with an A&E model (yes, A&E are evil bastards, but I wasn't about to be all high and mighty that afternoon). It was fantastic! Well, except for the dirty DA lawyer who got wasted and became a sleazebag. Leo, Brandon and I managed to push him into a cab and ditching him...

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While Austin has been attracting swathes of new residents and businesses taking advantage of new industries, the fantastic weather and outdoor lifestyle opportunities, I made the terrible mistake of passing up a taxi ride home with Brandon, and rely on the city's buses to take me back to Jen and Drew's. The weather turned absolutely miserable, the weather hovering around 10˚C and bucketing down rain. Even with one of the country's biggest festivals in full swing, and a new transport strategy recently rolled out to cope with the exploding population (the fastest in the USA), I had to wait nearly an hour for a bus back to Barton Springs (a few kilometres from downtown). It was absolutely miserable and of course gave a battering to my shoddy immune system.

While I should have stayed in that night, again I jumped on board that little app of good decisions and enjoyed an evening with two very friendly gentlemen who happened to live in the same complex as Drew and Jen. I hope their immune systems were in better shape than mine! Anyway, the next morning I treated myself to two breakfast burritos from Tacodeli. Honest to god, these little beauties are so delicious and satisfying. While you can find TexMex throughout America, it does not compare to the authentic experience. It certainly lifted my spirits, and once again endeared me to the fantastic food culture in the US. Sadly, I bid Jen and Drew and the delicious Tacodeli farewell and set off for a couch I had found the night before on Craigslist. If you haven't heard of Craigslist, it is essentially an online classifieds that markets everything from accommodation to hitchhiking to sex and tupperware parties (either held together or separately). I arrived on 45th street (i.e. 39 blocks from SXSW) to a share house full of dog hair, sweat, pot smoke and mould. For two nights I slept on a musty couch filled with God know's what. While the woman who advertised the couch was lovely, she was completely manic, somehow managing to balance volunteering as a security guard for SXSW whilst undertaking mid semester exams and taking care of rabid dogs. The highlight of the stay was helping move a couch into her housemate's bedroom, to discover a cat and over-filled cat box and the rancid olfactory assault.

My final night partying with Leo and Brandon was, well, interesting to say the least. I can't exactly remember how events transpired, but something led to Leo dry humping me on the dance floor to the chagrin of Brandon. Once I came out of my drunken stupor, I attempted to move us all onto another club, only to be accosted by a former beau of Leos who invited me into a coke threesome. Seeing the night deteriorate quickly, I again moved us out of the club onto the swelled streets. Leo, playing the pied piper began collecting other men to keep himself entertained, and whisked us all off to a party on the edge of downtown. After several free beers, and a random stop in a karaoke bar, I decided to venture home. Again I was foiled by the pathetic transport options of Austin and unable to hail a cab, began the 39 block walk home. By now most of you have seen the photos I posted along the way, stopping at the available Starbucks for wifi. These photos are the end product:

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After two hours of walking, and donating my last three dollars to a homeless women, I crawled into onto the flea and STI ridden couch and died. I awoke the next morning on deaths door and to a MMS from Leo that I won't publish here but was essentially a big gaping invitation to explore the deep recesses of his dignity. I made a conscious albeit hungover, decision not to write to see Leo again. Unfortunately, that meant not seeing Brandon again who was much more friendly and gentile (a southern gentleman) but I needed to leave that disaster in behind.

Luckily my two night stay at the Hole du'Hell came to an end, and I once again packed up to bunk with a couple of Aussies I had met in Seattle who happened to be in SXSW as well. I had moved from squalor to relative luxury, staying in the AT&T Hotel and Conference Centre. I nearly cried, once again sleeping in a bed (shared with a hottie) and a clean shower with hot water. But I didn't have much time to enjoy it. I had been chatting to a sweet guy on that friendly little app named Jean since arriving 5 days prior, and finally had to opportunity to meet up. He invited me to Wholefoods for some lunch, then to go paddle boarding on the Colorado River which runs south of downtown Austin.

This was probably the best day I had in Austin. I was to learn that day that Jean is one of the sweetest guys I have ever met (aided by a sexy southern accent too). When it transpired that we were to go paddle boarding with one of his uni friends, I definitely felt like I was intruding, being a little out of place. I felt particularly awkward when on our walk back to his place to get changed for paddle boarding, his uni friend Jen pulled up and offered to take me back while Jean rode his pushbike back. I started to feel more comfortable when I realised how equally sweet Jen was, but again, I felt like I was intruding on their reunion. We each got ready and saddled up on bikes (not before Jen had a little indulgence in some good old green. My god that girl can huff lol) and headed on down to the river (an excellent way to explore this beautiful city, much more enjoyable and catered for than public transport). We got set up, and I tentatively boarded by paddle board. Only then did I learn that Jean (who will deny this) is a paddle boarding pro who was preparing for a 21km paddle board for charity in the months ahead. With trepidation and pride on the line, I eventually stood up, and we began to paddle down the river. The sun was out, there was a light breeze, the water was clear and cool, the day could not have been more perfect. I quickly and so easily opened up to Jean and Jen, their friendliness, their banter, their experiences. Jean and I seemed to have such different stories but so much in common, travel being the most obvious. He is so passionate about Austin, his adopted home town, and knows it inside out being in real estate. Jen was equally effusive, being a Texan girl originally.

After an hour or two on the water (navigating between rowers, canoes, paddle boarders and others) we saddled back up and went for a ride out for some dinner and drinks, stopping in at Baby Acapulcos. Now at the end of this entry I am going to strongly encourage everyone thinking of coming to the US to stop by Austin, and you must make a trip to Baby Acapulcos for one of their trademark purple margaritas. Those drinks are like a slow motion punch to the senses, subtly setting you up for a messy evening. On Jean's sensible advise seeing as we had yet to ride back to his, I indulged in only one while the others had two. This made for an interesting ride home, including some cheeky comments from Jean when he decided to ride behind me. On our way home Jean took us to a lookout on the river to sample the Austin skyline at night, the result of which is shown below:

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Once we got back to Jeans, Jen and I decided to head out to sample the opening night of SXSW's music scene. Jean decided to stay back rather than battle the crowds which was a shame, but while Jen was getting ready I was able to have a really deep (read: drunken) political discussion. He was really insightful and even though we don't see eye to eye on some matters, Jean once again showed me how sweet, intelligent and thoughtful he is. Jean kindly dropped Jen and I off downtown, where we made our way to Jen's friend's gig. Here's where I can introduce the relevance of the subheading. Jen had volunteered to help man the band's merch table, and I naturally volunteered to help Jen. The band was from Portland (throwback!) called Acoustic Minds --> https://soundcloud.com/acousticmindsmusic. Please check them out as I really love their stuff! To help peddle their merch, I donned one of the singlets as seen below. I also cracked a shitload of glow sticks and handed out stickers and wristbands. We managed to sell a few CDs for the group, but mostly I was there to enjoy the amazing atmosphere of the festival. It was an incredible experience helping this (hopefully) up and coming band out, as well as spending more time with Jen (who I had crazily only met that afternoon).

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The following day was unfortunately a right-off, my body once again succumbing to exhaustion and general stubbornness. I managed to make it out again at night with Jen to once again help on the merch tent, but called it quits early on to try and get some sleep. Unfortunately, the aussie boys I was bunking with had managed to score 10 pills during the week, and were raucous every night they returned. We didn't see each other at all during the day as they had bought official passes to the festival ($700 each. Idiots). So again my poor self induced sickness was not getting much recovery time, and was made even worse when I woke up at 6.00am to go see some bands with Jean at the W hotel, hosted by the local radio station. Take note of these people who I hope to hear in the next couple of years, as their music is brilliant: Emilie Wolfe, Spanish Gold, Noah Gundersen and the Mowglis. I also was stoked to see London Grammar perform, beginning their first American tour, a market they have until very recently yet to crack. I then spent the rest of the day with Jen, dragging her to a free concert where an aussie act I was dying to see, the Kite String Tangle, was performing. While the crowd was very intimate, he seemed to blow everyone away with his haunting lyrics and synthesised sounds. Again, please check him out as his music is beautiful. Randomly, I also saw Les Claypool perform. Who is that you ask? Well he is none other than the writer of the South Park theme song. Seriously though he was a phenomenal bass guitarist who blew everyone in the audience away.

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Now I will admit that while I was quite taken by Jean, I was slightly deviant the last few days in Austin. The day after I had met Jean and Jen, I met a guy named Shane at a gig held at Mozart's Coffee Roasters, a coffee shop with stunning views over the Colorado River. I was there to see to see the Judith Miller band (check her out too) who unfortunately had to cancel their gig because the stupid pianist forgot his amp. So I started talking to another guy there, Shane, and went out for dinner and a drink. One thing led to another, and the following morning he dropped me home on his way to work. When I thought that I wasn't going to see Jean again, and after spending the day with Jen, I once again caught up with Shane, had some amazing Kim Chi fries with pulled pork (absolutely amazing) and again spent the night with him. Looking back on the whole week, Shane was really taking Jean's place considering nothing was going to sadly happening between us. Shane was a lovely guy but nothing more than a fling that in hindsight I do regret; it took away from the good times I did spend with Jean and Jen.

I had a very eventful final day in Austin. I had decided that Monkey was going to make his most controversial contribution to the trip yet, and enlisted Jen to help. We made our way to the Texas State Capital Building and prepared for what could have been an incredibly tense moment. Jen all of a sudden realised that security may have had a small issue with her green and pipe in the Texas legislature and panicked as to how to get around it. We managed to hide her stash in the mortar of the building, before passing seamlessly into the building. We made our way to the centre of the Rotunda, and I prepared Monkey for his moment. Not event the children's choir, parents ex-military servicemen could dissuade me from taking this photo (the sign we had found at the concert the previous day):

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After that little bit of excitement (and temporarily misplacing Jen's car) I fortunately spent my last hours in Austin with Jen and Jean at one of Jean's favourite restaurants next to Mozarts called Hula Hut. The food was once again delicious (although everything was so bloody spicy!). I was really sad to say good bye to Jean as I had so quickly grown to like him. But just like everyone else I had met, the trip was going to tear me away for a new adventure. Jen was absolutely beautiful and drove me to the airport and gave me some beautiful words of advise to make sure I made the most of the rest of my trip (you were so right Jen!).

Austin had made it into the itinerary on a whim, originally a distraction between the extravagance of travelling down to New Orleans and the high expectations of San Francisco. I felt unprepared for the behemoth of SXSW and was anxious given my accommodation had at the last minute been pulled out from under me. I can't stress how grateful I am to Jen and Drew for their hospitality at such short notice and for a complete stranger. Austin is a city undergoing rapid change, and was fascinating to see (and begrudgingly experience) the many difficulties it is encountering in coping with its popularity. The Texan brash spirit is very much alive in its capital, but not as you would anticipate: it celebrates its diversity and progressive ideals, with passion and pride. It has some hidden beautiful features in Lake Austin/Colorado River, and Springs area. It encourages free thinking, entrepreneurship and a good party too. Meeting Jean and Jen, as well as Brandon and to a limited extent Leo, made my week unforgettable (for various reasons) and I can't ever forget them for that. I know one day I will catch up with Jean and Jen who after knowing each other for only a few days I can consider good friends.

Next stop: San Francisco!

Ciao ciao xx

Posted by dzabell 12:31 Archived in USA Tagged music texas austin craigslist sxsw

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