Austin, Texas is something else. I tell you what. It’s an oasis of indie film and music and technology companies in the middle of shotguns and cow poo. It has the freedom of hipster youth without being annoying. The hipsters are nicer as well. If you’ve ever seen Richard Linklater‘s Slacker then you know the kind of hip-star I’m talking about.
I met my friend Will (who I assisted in launching RepAssured earlier this year) here for South by Southwest (SXSW), a mega-festival containing a music festival, film festival, and interactive conference. He came from Tampa, FL on the Startup Bus. It’s a 72 hour business competition. You get on a bus, form a team, and prepare to pitch your business venture capitalists. I went with him last year and it was a great time. It’s amazing how much a small group of focused people can accomplish under extreme time constraints. It’s Parkinson’s Law in action:
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
Anybody who has ever ‘waited until the last minute’ has discovered they can do pretty much anything inside that minute. I’m in the middle of this roadtripping adventure so I was ‘Groupie Kyle’.
This year Will & Co. got runner up. Second place out of sixty groups of ‘buspreneurs’. That’s a ‘fuck yeah!’ situation. The victory has been compared to getting an MBA from Harvard. Congratulations to some cool cats! The company is BumperCrop, check it out.
Then we went for some adventures. The first thing we noticed: hippie ‘homeless’ kids have taken the place of gangs in other cities. Or that’s what it seemed like anyway. Groups of dirty, happy, guitar-playing hippies on every corner. They weren’t sad. They smiled and danced and played with their dogs. Maybe they were kids experimenting in homelessness, I don’t know.
Walking down the street, harassing some kids that were blacked out from taking in too much rotten fruit, we heard a marching band. But it was more like swing music, Will informed me, than marching music. So we followed the sounds. And found a circle of people watching eight people on their marching band instruments. Tuba and drum and some other horns. People were flooding out of the surrounding bars to witness this thing. At first there was just one of the happy hippie kids kicking around in the middle of a big circle. He was quickly surrounded on all sides by people who were going crazy for this hip’n'happening marching band.
Second thing we noticed: cranes. Shit’s being built in Austin. When shit goes down on the coasts people flock to Austin. You can live much more cheaply in Austin than in California or New York or Florida. This is the same effect that sends money managers from New York to Buenos Aires. “I lost all my money! What can I do now!?” “Just move to a cool cheap place.” “By golly!” Long time locals are getting a little pissed because the cost of living is raising (supply and demand!) but I just say, “You got cranes, bitch!”
There is a huge effort to keep the small town weirdness. Local businesses have created the wildly popular Keep Austin Weird campaign. It has a lot to teach groups of local businesses that are scared of Big Guys moving in.
The Interactive festival was full of Mark Zuckerberg lookalikes. A bunch of people dressed meticulously sloppy. Tech folk don’t just have the opportunity to dress comfortably; it’s now mandatory uniform. I should also mention the festival is full of genius. Walking down Austin’s famous 6th Street is a beautiful thing during Interactive. Geeks and nerds and business folk and every mixing and mashing of those imaginable. All smart, all interesting. Not all, that’s a lie, but A LOT. There is a noticeable drop in IQ when the interactive folk go home to make room for the Music crowd. On the other hand, the amount of lady-belly-booby increases as much. Fair trade I guess.
During Interactive everyone is selling his or her wares. Talking about current or future projects. Mashing ideas together. Every year there are a million new apps revolving around some new hot idea. This year everyone wanted to dominate some hyper-local-social-couponing-eventing thing or another. And it’s fun to watch, because companies that had a huge presence this year may be gone tomorrow. The winner will have pushed the others out.
The start-up community catches a lot of shit because there is so much mixing and matching of apps. Basically take an app, add a feature, and you got a business! That’s how winners are made though. Whoever makes the right mix in the right way and gets it to the right people. It’s this kind of mass-experimentation that is increasing the number of Black Swan events.
The next day was one of bats and Beatles. There are a million and a half bats that live under some Austin bridge for a few months a year. We saw them fly away. As they exited their bridge, I heard some guy comparing them to some string theory thing. Which I could see a little bit. Maybe that was the smartest thing I heard in Austin. Maybe it was the dumbest.
After this beautiful show, we saw The Beatles – LIVE! Apparently they’ve changed their band name to The Eggmen. Some stunt like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or something. Great show. The music really took me to a magical place. Whisked me away. Sent me to the stars.Austin is interesting because it’s a prime contender for medical marijuana but it’s in the center of the Lone Star State so it has no chance. To declare their Marijuana-ness they fly their flag proudly on the most beautiful building in town.
I hung out with Will in Austin for maybe four days. In that time we became regulars at a Piano Bar named Pete’s. The piano players knew us, the bartenders had our drinks ready when we got there, the crowd cheered us when we entered. We became fixtures of the establishment in three nights!
But that’s not true at all. One of the waitresses was hot for one – or both! – of us. She came and made out with me on her night off (but that’s also a lie). Dueling piano bars are awesome. The piano singy-songiness of the places leaves no room for the standard douchebaggery of places like Push. Oh yeah, Push is the only bar on 6th Street created in the South Beach style. It has a sister store across the street called Status. You can pick up whatever has replaced Ed Hardy there.
Here’s a stupid thing we all do: only go see shit in towns we visit. My cousin has lived in Austin for eight years now and hasn’t seen a bunch of the stuff I saw while I was there. I’ve lived in Florida my whole life and never gone into the Everglades. Driving down Alligator Alley isn’t seeing them. I lived on a horse ranch for ten years and didn’t ride for five or six of them. The grass is greener. That other girl is cooler. That other country is just so exotic. Until you get there. We kill the grass we stand on. Anyway, I saw a bunch of fun things in Austin.
Next time: The Austin experience sans-SXSW and BABIES. Oh so much BABIES!