a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘SXSW’

austin is NOT Texas!

Indeed!  I didn’t hear that in Austin but I did amuse some locals with my New Orleans anecdote.  My take – Austin is Portland in the middle of Texas.  Incredible!  And very cool.  I will definitely be back… and without all the hoopla of South by Southwest… but I will be back for that too.

For now, just some tips on how to rock Austin.  And rocking Austin one of the best parts! The live music capital of the world.  Of course, for Americans, the world doesn’t involve a passport.  Geography is not their strength 😉  But, I have seen a lot of countries and I don’t think they are necessarily wrong.  Americans love to be #1… I just want the experience to be worthwhile – so, who cares… Austin is an amazing place to see live music!

the grande dame of 6th st

the grande dame of 6th st

If it works with your budget, make like a cattle baron and stay at the Driskill.  It’s the

good luck finding a seat during SXSW!

good luck finding a seat during SXSW!

Claridges of the USA J  The kind of hotel that has so much history and such great staff that the hotel becomes part of your experience of the city, like a well written character in a novel.


The Driskill also sets you up right on 6th Street so there is live music everywhere… even if you drink too much bourbon it is a short walk home 🙂

oil barons feel right at home...

oil barons feel right at home…

But, if you are smart, you will be drinking Shiner Bock (just ask for “Shiner” to sound like a local)… I gather it cost me more during SXSW but still great value… and a wonderful Texan small town entrepreneur story…


The other thing one should do in Austin is eat!  There is a food and wine festival.  I am sure it will be part of my future.  This trip was focused on SXSW and expanding my brain and musical experience so I didn’t put huge efforts into sourcing dinner…

But what I loved was that even with minimal effort I had some wonderful meals.  My favourite spot was an authentic Italian pizzeria Due Forni.  I read about it in my hotel room one afternoon and then accidentally discovered on a wander that it was about two blocks from the Driskill – so it became a bit of a home away from home… definitely check it out when you get to Austin.


Other places to check out are Crave on 2nd Street and Craft Pride if you are a beer aficionado.   I also had some lovely food at the Hilton and Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental.  I think you can almost throw a dart in Austin and have a good time on all the important levels – food, drink, music J



The only hard part to your stay in Austin will be the sad ride to the airport… to seduce you to return, you will even be able to drink some Texas beer and listen to live music at the airport!  Giving Schiphol a run for its money 😉


finding real VIPs…

One of the most exciting aspects of attending SXSW is that it attracts an interesting, eclectic crowd.  Of course, not all interesting people are created equal – and I am a connoisseur 🙂  I’ve started to think of them as “my tribe”.

Almost all of my friendships were an act of serendipity – and generally include a good narrative.  Meeting V was no different 🙂

I felt like a voyeur at SXSW.  Most people come with an agenda, especially for the interactive conference.  But I was just there to soak up the atmosphere and celebrate my birthday so every day was a random walk.  I looked for catalysts or recommendations to inspire the day’s plan.

The easiest day to plan was when my new friend Quin was pitching his business idea in the Startup Village at the Hilton.  I wanted to make sure I had a seat for his presentation so sat through 8 pitches from young entrepreneurs.  Fascinating – and they are so impressive!

I had an entertaining time with the angel investor sitting beside me and got a better idea what professional investors are looking for.  You can check out Quin and his revolutionary new footwear technology at the plantiga website:


He was busy being courted by venture capitalists and meeting basketball players so I didn’t get to hang out with him in Austin but going to watch him was how I met V and had one of the most memorable evenings of my life.

It might never have happened had it not been pouring rain at the end of the seminars.  We decided to hide inside and have a drink hoping for the rain to stop.  The rain never stopped but, without it, V and I might have just gone our separate ways and the fascinating conversation would never have happened.

It’s not often you meet someone who totally gets it when you describe the Ngorongoro Crater as “the Disney version of the Serengeti”.  Someone who encourages you to be an intellectual snob.

SXSW is a haven for snobs like me.  I grew up in a trailer park so I’m never snobby about things you can’t control about your past.  But I am a bit snobby about how you live your future.  Whether you try.  Whether you have the confidence to learn things and develop your own opinions.

I am snobby about whether you are a VIP – but likely not the way you might suspect.  V doesn’t even know yet but he was the inspiration for my repurposing of that term.  It came about because we went to an event that night that we thought was a comedy performance by Seth Myers, but instead was Seth showing up and standing behind a velvet rope with the other VIPs while the proletariat stood on the other side of the rope and took photos with Seth when he came close to the Berlin Wall divide.

Seth seemed like a nice guy and I doubt most people there thought much about it but V and I wondered just what separated the people on either side of the rope… and which side likely had the more interesting people…

I am fascinated by the concept of celebrity, especially in these days when it seems almost anyone can get 15 minutes of fame, especially if you are willing to let cameras invade your privacy or act like a moron.

I’m certainly interested in meeting people whose accomplishments I admire.  I recently came across the reply to a fan letter I wrote to Robertson Davies as a teenager.  His reply was fascinating and insightful (it will get into the blog at some point).  I would be thrilled to meet Jon Stewart because he is so damn smart and really tries to engage people and get them to care about important things.  He is one of my heroes.

But most of my heroes are not famous.  I have zero interest in meeting most of the people the world currently seems to consider VIPs… which gets us to the redefinition V has inspired.  I AM interested in VIPs… the difference is that my VIPs are VERY INTERESTING PEOPLE.  I would encourage you to seek them out.  They are the one that may not rock – but they WILL rock your world.  Thanks, V 🙂


apparently kevin bacon has nothing on me ;)

Interestingly, Kevin Bacon WAS at SXSW talking about the six degrees of kevin bacon.  The community with which I try to connect is much broader and more global than this game would allow.  But that’s what makes the random connections that have popped up in my life requiring only a couple degrees of separation all the more astonishing.

I don’t think I will ever top that the random girl I met in the summer of 1983 because she was my next door neighbour in the University of Calgary dorm that was housing us during our summer jobs was best friends with a girl whose name I have now forgotten.  Her name wasn’t important.  The fascinating point is that Candace (I think that’s right 🙂 was dating a guy who lived in Bermuda who was my cousin’s best friend in small town Manitoba.  I had met the Bermuda guy because he was a Chartered Accountant and I was looking for career advice.  He was my first mentor and invited me to come to Bermuda when I graduated and had four months to wait before my first real job began.

I’ve never even met Candace but when Jean told me about her long distance boyfriend in Bermuda, I said, “I know him.  I stayed at his house!”  Candace then went on to date one of my other friends making my connections to this woman I have never met even more bizarre…

But right now we are at SXSW… I am hoping to write all the posts about my incredible SXSW experience before it’s time to get on a plane to another destination…

As already noted, I found the interactive and film overwhelming but that was nothing compared to the music.  Seven or eight pages of showcases (6 bands per showcase) in small print every night!  And the same concept in the afternoon.  I really wished I had some bands to support but I was there to make discoveries…

So I took a haphazard approach of supporting countries that I liked… in most cases, it worked pretty well, but when I wandered into the Aussie BBQ I got a little more action than I expected.  Obviously, I don’t attend a lot of heavy metal shows.  I arrived just as they were setting up and THAT was entertaining.  You could see there was a lot of bluster and weird, unattractive clothing and hairstyles.  These guys seemed to be really into showing off their beer guts via naked torsos… I guess it’s a look…

It all seemed tame enough until the show started.  The lead singer started by throwing water on the scant audience.  Then he was throwing water bottles.  Plastic so pretty harmless but generally I am not a fan of audience participation 🙂  When he started jumping off the stage into the crowd, I snuck away from the stage and finished my beer at a safe distance from the band.

Hey, not all experiments work!  But sometimes miracles come from experiments, even the ones that might appear to fail at first glance.

Since the Aussies had frightened me – and tried to destroy my hearing – I decided I would run to Canada House.  Surely, Canadians would not be so aggressive 🙂

I arrived just in time for “Toronto Turns It Up”.  It was a revelation.  All the bands were good – and completely different.  You should check them all out!  What was the most cool though is that I was texting with the son of one of my best friends (the famous Yvonne who helped name this blog :).  He is a musician and has been to SXSW so we were trading stories and I told him about this great hip hop act I had seen – and he has produced him!  The world is so much smaller than we think 🙂

Here are links to everyone, including Shea and Abstract Artform.







I also met some guy from Calgary named Greg who had dragged some colleagues from Houston to hang out at Canada House and support July Talk.  You really should see July Talk live.  You don’t normally put someone who sounds like Kate Bush and someone who sounds like Tom Waits together but it works 🙂  And she really works the crowd.  I am sure there were boys walking on air out of that show…  especially the ones with lipstick kisses on their cheeks…

What does this teach us?  Do lots of stuff.  Talk to many strangers.  Take chances… but run when the scary dude with the tattoos jumps off the stage 😉


eat crickets or educate girls? ;)

WTF… at SXSW, that stands for “what the future?”  It was one of my favourite parts and I spent most of the final day learning all kinds of wild things about the present that had escaped my attention since the regular media is more interested in Kardashians than crickets.

I started the day in the very first session learning about the next industrial revolution according to the CEO of inventables.  He was very convincing!  And we even got to see the mayor of Chicago make a personalized bottle opener live using the company’s 3-D printing technology.


It’s definitely food for thought.  Long ago, when I was at business school, the concept du jour was just-in-time manufacturing.  At the time, it was revolutionizing the business cycle and suggesting Americans should be doing group calisthenics like the Japanese.

The other concept I remember was the idea of customization – moving away from Henry Ford’s factory and letting customers have more say in the final product.  The concept was very compelling but the mechanics of the production process and the supply chain made it difficult to make customers happy AND maximize profits.

But then Apple started making ipods in different colours.  People were willing to spend more to express their individualism.  And individualism came at a much cheaper price thanks to new global supplies of cheap labour and containerization.

But, if the inventables CEO is right, we won’t need cheap developing country labour or container ships.  We will be able to customize and manufacture products in our own garage.  It’s a seductive and revolutionary concept – the point of WTF.

The next two sessions offered literal food for thought!  Apparently there is some recent study that predicts the already overcrowded planet earth will add another 2 billion people by 2060 – and it will be impossible to feed all those mouths without some really inventive changes in the way we think of food.  I’m not sure the spoiled western world is quite ready for most of it yet but it’s exciting to know someone is thinking of the future.

The first idea is growing hamburger from stem cells in a lab!  Dr. Mark Post actually made a hamburger in a lab in Maastricht.  If petri dish hamburger isn’t your thing, another very enthusiastic presenter shared his vision of 3-D printer food.  It sounds nuts but the concept is kind of a cross between a blender and a manufacturing extrusion device.  You put various components into separate chambers and they are combined in the machine and popped out in time for dinner!  You can even add medicine or vitamins.  Apparently Star Trek wasn’t as far-fetched as it seemed.


These food concepts are enticing and appealing but also expensive.  The next presentation was focused on saving space, conserving resources and cutting costs.  Of course, it’s a hard sell in the western world where insects are not considered a proper food source but rather a gross challenge for reality show contestants.

But the intrepid team put forward a credible case for insect farms and cricket flour.  I didn’t get a chance to try the cricket cookies as I had to run back for the keynote presentation but I did eat a deep-fried locust in Thailand – and can confirm it just tasted like deep-fried batter rather than bug 🙂

Around the same time as I was learning about the threats to the global food supply from overpopulation, I caught an episode of Bill Maher where he interviewed Alan Weisman about his book “Countdown”.


I still find it shocking that not everyone realizes the way to save the planet is simply to educate girls.  Educated women don’t have so many babies – and women tend to be more concerned about the collective so it’s all win-win.

Of course getting there is the challenge.  The one thing I learned from Alan and Bill that I did not expect is that Iran is a model for population control.  No weird, destructive one child policy required. They simply made contraception free and educated women.

So, the choices is yours, people… don’t call women sluts for using contraception, support organizations that help girls go to school (the more the better) or learn how to not gag on your insects… 🙂





is this your first time? ;)

It took a few days to realize this is what I would be asked most often.  The place is teeming with virgins.  I haven’t wandered into some creepy harem in Abu Dhabi… I am in Austin, Texas for my inaugural South by Southwest.  Or I was when I wrote this…


Newbies pronounce and write all these letters.  Once you are in the know, it’s SXSW in print and South By in speech.  I had planned to put more effort into tracking my experience on the blog as it unfolded but my life philosophy is to make sure that I get the full experience even if I forget a few details by the time I get to documenting it.  And SXSW is very expensive so I was focused on getting my money’s worth 🙂

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I have been working every minute until I stepped onto the flight to Austin so I was totally unprepared for my SXSW experience.  I delusionally thought I would be able to figure out a plan once I arrived.  But then I went to the registration desk to secure my Platinum Badge and was presented with a cloth bag so heavy I had ridges in the shoulder for the first four days from carrying it around – and the music information wasn’t even ready yet!

As if all the official SXSW options weren’t enough to immobilize me, I’d also signed up for RSVPster to RSVP to parties with minimal effort required.  I’d managed to comb through about 130 emails before I left home and noted events by day but new emails and event reminders continued to pour into my in box every day so I quickly just gave up any hope for an optimized plan.

SWSW is a live human experiment in big data.  Every hour you have tons of options.  Not everything will be great but there will be enough great events that you are always missing something no matter what you choose.

It is easier if you have a focus.  There are three separate conferences – interactive, film and music.  Of course, I love it all and these ten days were some of the most delightful and stimulating of my life.

There is talk that SWSW has lost its way and is too corporate.  There is definitely a lot of branding and sponsorship going down – but that’s just the way of the world.  If you are clever, you just take the free stuff and ignore all the marketing.  Corporations only win if you let them 🙂

I definitely wish that I had lost my virginity in the 90s, back before the geeks made the internet easy to use and the world wasn’t inundated by 24/7 marketing.  But I’ve always made my own choices based on careful analysis so it’s all background noise to me.  And if ridiculous levels of marketing means an open bar, I’m OK with that 😉

Losing my virginity was a thrilling, mind blowing adventure… details to come…

Tag Cloud