As I was driving to Austin early last Wednesday morning, I was worried, most immediately because the rain was dropping so torrentially that Highway 71 was almost invisible. But also because, according to several insiders, media sources, and SXSW veterans, this was going to be an off year for the festival.
Off as in not as good, not the same. A reboot. Many people I spoke to told me that they weren't even making the trip to Austin this year.
For me, however, there are no days off. Along with great music, hang time with old friends, and networking with colleagues, there's money to be made during SXSW. So I packed my camera bag and headed west. This is what I saw:
[cue the Law & Order "doink doink"]
WEDNESDAY As soon as I stopped at the Buc-ee's in Bastrop for a break, the clouds parted and the sun came out. In the distance, there was an oasis of sunshine over Austin, surrounded my dark rain systems. It was going to be a great day after all.
First stop was the convention center for badge pickup. I also hit up the press lounge for a complimentary massage. Today and the next few days I will be awake and working for 15-20 hours per day, walking and biking more than five miles each day, sometimes on only one full meal. You need to stretch to run the race, and this was me doing just that.
I hit the "Jim Marshall: All Access Photo Pass" panel after my quick break. Marshall is one of the greatest music photographers that ever lived and worked, creating many of the iconic photographs that you may already love (Johnny Cash at Folsom, Jimmy Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, Woodstock).
The panel included Amelia Davis, owner of Jim Marshall Photography, photographer Jake Blakesberg, former San Francisco Chronicle editor Joel Selvin, and Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane. It was amazing to hear all the stories and news about one of my photography heroes. I was in photo-nerd heaven!
Afterwards, I ventured over to the Elliott Wilson/Big Sean CRWN Interview. The line to get in was massive, and the room filled up quickly. I saw Sean the night before at RodeoHouston cheering on his girlfriend Ariana Grande side stage. He's also fresh off the release his new album Dark Sky Paradise, and a 2014 filled with hit singles and collaborations. He's waaaay up, #Blessed.
Next up was The Fader Fort by Converse to pick up my media pass. This is always one of the hottest tickets at South By, and many people prophesied its doom because the new invitation system and it being an official showcase this year. I ran into my amigos the Suffers and the Chopstars there on the first day, having fun and taking it all in.
After a few Budweisers and Vitamin Waters, it was time to photograph Chance the Rapper. So I made my way, through the crowd and waited. And waited. And kept waiting. It took them an hour to sound-check; it wasn't worth the wait.
After dinner, my night ended by watching 2Chainz and Dipset at ACL Live, then the Suffers at Holy Mountain. Pretty good first day for sure!
THURSDAY This would be the start of three very long and hectic days for me. I would begin my days by checking out and shooting the South By Nice Kicks showcase at the shoe and streetwear apparel shop just north of downtown Austin. It did feel a bit like a Houston showcase the first day with Lyric Michelle, Maxo Kream, Doughbeezy, GT Garza, Roosh Williams, and T2 The Ghetto Hippie performing, as well as our old amigo DJ Rapid Ric on the turntables. I was also very impressed with the headliner, Ty Dolla $ign, who put on a great and energetic set.
Afterwards, I made it to The Fader Fort just in time for them to close the doors on me due to capacity. I missed Miley Cyrus, who was the special guest during Mike Will-Made-It's closing set. But I did sleep for 45 minutes in my car, which probably kept me sane and alive. Time for dinner then off to the first night of the Illmore, where Funk Master Flex, Chance the Rapper, Fetty Wap, and A-Trak closed out the night.
#MarcoAtSXSW continues on the next page.
FRIDAY And then the rain hit. Not fun to walk and ride and work in the rain, although it made for some interesting moments, like rappers performing under a tent during a downpour. Several shows were postponed or canceled. Many feet got soaked. It did seem to calm things down overall, with many choosing to chillax for the day. The Illmore had the best night of the weekend with Big Sean, Future, Rae Sremmurd and Mike Will-Made-It performing.
#MarcoAtSXSW continues on the next page.
SATURDAY (Finally!): By Saturday, I'm exhausted. I'm hungry, my feet are pounding, my head is aching. But I know that if I can hold on one more day, the rewards will be worth it. I guess I'm just 2 legited 2 quited, as they say. OooWwwEee!
Last day of Nice Kicks. Wale shows up. So does Trinidad James. I'm most impressed by this supremely talented singer/rapper named Charles Hamilton who apparently has been making music since at least 2008, and most recently dropped "New York Raining" with Rita Ora, which I believe was featured on the hit TV show Empire.
Timbaland hits The Fader Fort with Philly female rapper Tink. Apparently Tim talked to Aliyah, which is super-weird, but whatever.
The rumors were that Kanye was going to perform during Hudson Mohawk's set, but that never happens. Yeezy canceled on Jimmy Kimmel and also left a wide-open hole in the schedule at Stubb's. So the SXSW people reached out to the Trill OG himself to save the day.
Bun B and his team had less than 24 hours to prepare for a headlining showcase, Bun's first time ever at Stubb's. All the SXSW people did was work the door...Bun booked the talent and prepared the show. It turned out to be a grand ol' birthday party for Mr. Freeman, who was joined onstage by Trae Tha Truth, A$AP Rocky, Big K.R.I.T., Too $hort, Devin The Dude, Joey Bada$$, Statik Selektah, Propain, Doeman, and The Sauce Twinz. The venue was full to capacity, and even near midnight, the line snaked all the way down Red River. It was such a success, SXSW asked Bun to think about making this showcase an annual event!
Oh, and then the Illmore closed with J.Cole.
As you can see, it was another amazing year for Hip Hop @ SXSW. And that's even without (or maybe especially without) Kanye, Jay-Z, Drake and Kendrick.
Until next year.
Thank you SXSW.
When he's not roaming around the city in search of tacos and graffiti, Marco points his camera lens towards the vibrant Houston music scene and beyond. Follow his adventures on Instagram at @MarcoFromHouston.
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