It took only a matter of hours for Austin to transform from a city of tech nerds to a festival of music junkies as the CNN Grill, like so many tech moguls, stole away from Austin in the dead of night. (The CNN sign literally disappeared overnight, returning the space to its natural state as Max's Wine Dive.) Yes, the interactive portion of the SXSW program is dead and gone, but after a very brief lull of quiet and calm, the city has already been reborn as louder, rowdier place as the Music festival begins in earnest. It's almost like they won't even miss us when we're gone! (At least Texas gave this reporter a head cold to remember it by.)
Who knows if we'll be back next year, but we did learn some valuable lessons about the best way to approach SXSWi and as our parting shot, we figured we'd pass them along for any masochistic looking ahead to 2013:
What NOT to Do at SXSW:
- Go alone. Yes, there will always be other people in town that you know, but to truly survive this massive event, you need a dedicated conference buddy. Someone who you can maybe share a room with and always rely on to meet up for a meal, or keep you company while standing in line, or just commiserate with about the panels you missed.. The alternative is thousands of missed connections and a lot of wandering around asking how there can be so many people and no one to talk to.
- Wing it. The schedules are provided in advance for a reason. Use them, study them, and develop a plan of attack. Remain flexible, but if you think you can do it all on the fly, that's a recipe for always being in the wrong place at the wrong time and missing most of what you came here to do.
- Stay for the whole thing. A whole week of this stuff will crush the hardiest spirit. Arrive late, leave early and try not to schedule your flight for the same time when everyone else is trying to escape.
Other than that, just try to relax — which is not always easy, but vitally important if you want to avoid a breakdown and actually have some fun. Now it's time for us to split town, but we couldn't do that without one final Patented Power Ranking as a goodbye to Austin. Consider it a job ... done.
YOUR FINAL, FINAL EDITION POWER RANKINGS
1. Beer. In the end, this is the defining characteristic of the entire conference, as the only thing everyone can agree on is that drinks should be free and plentiful. If you didn't give away free beer at your sponsored party then you didn't really have a party, did you? Even on the rare occasions where you're required to pay for it, it is still cheap and varied and well-made and the reason we won't be drinking again for a long, long time.
2. The Dorito Loco Taco. The new taste sensation was a free giveaway at a closing night party we attended. It changed our lives and if you haven't had one yet, you should do something about that immediately. That's not a joke.
3. (tie) Shark jumpers; SXDefenders. The debate happens every year: Is SXSW still cool? Nobody goes to Austin anymore, it's too crowded. Wait, no... this is Democracy in Action! The best part about this argument is that no one is ever wrong, because SXSW is totally what you make of it. Think you can't find an elite party that makes you feel cool and exclusive? Of course, you can. It's the South By way! There's always a VIP line or a secret after party in some hotel room or an invite-only show that gives you all the exclusivity you need, while keynotes attended by thousands provide the shared experience that everyone can say they lived through together. You can launch a startup or fight for freebies from the most established old school companies in the industry. There are dive bars and marbled hotel palaces and cheap tacos and $50 steaks. It's awesome and terrible all at the same time. It may be totally "over," but everyone will be here again next year.
4. Weirdos. You've all heard the slogan "Keep Austin Weird"? It is. Very. Yet, they still manage to import hundreds more oddballs for a few precious days in March. The tourists will (probably) never change the place.
5. Stage builders. Like the Chinese skyscraper rising from nothing in one day, dozens of concert stages were erected all around this city in a matter of hours yesterday. That's because SXSW still belongs to the music. (Sorry, but it's true. Yet somehow we all get along.)
(Top photo on left of CNN Grill by Duane Brown, via Flickr. Photo on right, as it looks today.)