Thursday, March 18, 2010

SXSW 2010: The Lost Day

SXSW has been great in general, but things went more south than south by southwest yesterday afternoon, and I didn't manage to see a single movie. I blame the SXSW music festival, which has just started and is jamming up all the streets downtown and making a competitive sport out of the search for a parking space. But that's not the whole story, of course.

I'd always planned on a slow movie day Wednesday, figuring I'd need a break by then. So I really didn't mind when I got up too late to write my blog post for Slant before the noonish screening I'd been planning to go to. Instead, I headed up South Congress, stopping for some nachos and a couple of Shiner Bocks at El Gallo, and did a little shopping for Mexican tchotchkes at Tesoros. Then I sat in the sun in Threadgill's courtyard and listened to a couple of bands who were part of the free SXSW bill (ironically, one was from Brooklyn, though I never would have seen them if I'd stayed in NYC.)

Every time I come back I head for Threadgill's, since it's one of the few places I know that still feels like the Austin I fell in love with in 1977. There was a big dog there yesterday, and a kid with a furry hat with ears on it, and lots of cowboy boots and long-haired men with fuck-you messages on their T-shirts and pretty women in snug blue jeans. Better yet, James McMurtry was inside, doing a short but potent set that wasn't supposed to be free but was for me, since the waitress never hassled me about eating or drinking anything. Someone even came over and brought me a chair to sit in -- sweet.

But then I went back to my room to try to nap off a headache I just couldn't shake (I thought it was the unaccustomed afternoon beer and sunshine, but it turned out to be caffeine withdrawal), and I woke up like Alice, in a twisted new reality. Only mine was no wonderland; it was Austin colonized by the trendy part of SXSW.

The lines for the film festival were worse than usual this year, at least for me (there's no special treatment for press any more, wah wah), so I've gotten used to showing up at least 45 minutes early -- more like an hour, if the movie's in one of the small theaters or if it's likely to be really popular. I thought I was cutting it close when I left for my evening movie, but I'd forgotten about the extra traffic, not to mention all those damned horses in the road that force traffic to inch along for blocks in a single direction, like cows to the slaughter.

I was listening to KUT's live coverage of a SXSW showcase at Stubb's, hoping they'd get to Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings before I had to park, but they were just about to take the stage when I finally found a space, got out of my car, and scurried to the Ritz for James Franco's movie about the making of Saturday Night Live.

Only, by the time I got there, I was about 6 spaces too far back to get in.


Well, Stubbs was just a couple blocks away. Maybe I could just go hear the Dap-Kings live. I headed over to the wrong door, found out my film badge would get me in (cool!), went to the right door, and saw the line to get in. It had to be at least an hour long, maybe more if nobody inside left for a while.

Damn and double damn.

Sixth Street depresses me when it's all jammed up like this. It looks to me like Bourbon Street, which I've always hated, not the Sixth Street of my memory, a dive-y strip of pawnshops and tattoo parlors (and these were the days before middle-class kids got tattoos) and the original Antone's. I know I'm sounding like a grumpy old fart, but hey, that's how I felt. So I got back in my car, catching the last half of the Dap-Kings while I extricated myself from downtown and headed up to Kerbey Lane Cafe.

I felt a lot better after a call to my husband, a late dinner, and a little time with the current Chronicle, which seems to put out a new issue every couple hours during the music part of the festival, but oddly, it was the drive back to the hotel that finally put me right. I meandered for a while, passing old haunts like the Dobie Theater, the Hole in the Wall, and the house where the Texas Observer used to be when I was their movie reviewer (there's an "office space for rent" sign in front of it now, which felt a little strange). Just driving around was soothing, I realized -- something I'd forgotten, after three years as a car-free New Yorker. Especially here. Like Bob Wills said, there's something about those miles and miles of Texas....

Someone in one of the lines I was in this week asked if I still have friends in Austin. I have precious few, I told her, but that doesn't bother me much when I'm here, because Austin itself is a friend of mine.

P.S. In case you're wondering, I shot the pictures a few years ago, when I was in town for another SXSW film festival.

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