SXSW: A Newbie’s First Impression

todayMarch 14, 2016 12 1

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By Allison Belcher
SXSW Press Team

Allison Belcher at SXSW Interactive. Photo by Travis Tyler
Allison Belcher at SXSW Interactive. Photo by Travis Tyler

As a free attendee of past South By Southwest festivals, I’ve never truly had the opportunity to experience the festival with a badge. During past years, I remember staring enviously at the thousands of badge holders, walking the streets proudly with their lanyard and personalized badge with their photo on the front. I had only ever heard other people talk about their experiences at SXSW with a badge, most of whom would brag about the endless amounts of free drinks, amazing speakers and once in a lifetime opportunities that they were granted. From a majority of other people, I would hear stories and opinions about how SXSW wasn’t what it used to be, growing worse and worse with each passing year. This year, I was lucky enough to receive an Interactive badge and experience the festival for myself, gathering an opinion of my own. Friday, March 11th, was almost like a culture shock, leaving me awed in every way possible. With the possibilities I was given with a badge, my entire perspective and viewpoint of SXSW has changed. Recapping on my first Friday and Saturday of South By, I am able to piece together my own opinion of the Interactive portion of the festival, reflecting on both good and bad aspects.

Traffic was an absolute breeze on both Friday and Saturday. It was almost like a bizarre episode of Twilight Zone, being that it only took me 25 minutes to get from San Marcos to downtown Austin. When is that ever achievable? Especially during SXSW? Almost never. My positive attitude and relief due to the lack of traffic was disrupted when I realized that parking would be $30 a day for all five days I would attend. Frustration built up inside me, cursing the ridiculous parking costs. Hadn’t people paid enough for the badges and airfare alone? Luckily, I am a person that is quick to forget and I immediately disregarded the absurd parking costs.

The extra cool thing about SXSW Interactive is how many intellectual creatives, entrepreneurs and business people you end up meeting, a large amount of whom are visiting from different countries. On day one alone, I had had conversations with filmmakers and creatives from Finland, Norway, Netherland and the UK. Several of the people I had met on day one and two were like me – people who had been blessed with receiving the pass through application or University. For the longest time, I had assumed that SXSW was strictly a festival for the elite and rich (because who can afford a $1,500 pass anyway?) Clearly, I was wrong, being that a majority of the people attending had received the pass through hard work, desire and passion.

On Friday and Saturday alone, I had attended over five panels and became involved in several company gatherings featuring new innovations like IBM, Dell and McDonald’s. Artificial Intelligence and experiencing Virtual Reality via headsets were BIG. I began to realize that Interactive was really just a huge part of the festival for tech geeks and innovators, which is incredibly neat. In a sea of people from all over the world, I felt right at home. These festival goers were just as interested in coding, new inventions, futuristic devices and upcoming technology as I was. In turn, I felt a deeper connection with the hundreds of thousands of people that local Austinites curse for taking over their city. Being surrounded by intelligent people who are genuinely interested in bettering themselves and their companies is rewarding and it gave me a newfound respect and love for the festival.

Photo by Allison Belcher
Photo by Allison Belcher

The immense amount of free food and drinks was another awesome perk of holding a badge. Who doesn’t like free food anyway? I had stuffed my face with ice cream, Rudy’s breakfast tacos, Double Dave’s pizza rolls and more. I went into South By expecting to pay a fortune on expensive Austin food and left the first day full of amazing treats and the joy of saving money on an essential item like food.

At the end of a long day on Friday, the weather was drizzly and dreary. I patiently waited to exit the parking garage, dreading the $30 that would soon leave my sad, broke, college student wallet. As I inched my way up to the parking meter to pay, a young worker of the hotel I had parked at came up to my car window and said quickly, “The weather is awful right now, don’t worry about paying today,” and raised the bar to let me out.

“Maybe South By isn’t so bad after all,” I remember thinking to myself, smiling all the way home on the empty roads of I-35.

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  1. Anonymous on March 21, 2016

    Your optimism is refreshing! I also enjoy talking to the influx of educated and intelligent individuals about upcoming technology and the VR tech was life-changing. The positive energy and passion was reflected back to you on Friday when the parking guy didn’t require another life-crushing $30! Great write Allison!

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