While the SXSW sessions I attended were great, there was more to SXSW than just that. I want to wrap up my posts about SX by telling you how delicious and fun it was.
Because I was trying to get to all the sessions at first, parties weren’t my top priority. I was exhausted and, from what I was hearing at my hotel’s breakfast each morning, everyone was getting pretty drunk at these things. I put parties pretty low on my priority list, and that was a mistake.
When I told a coworker about this upon returning home, he said, “Oh so you’re still thinking of parties like…parties? Yeah, in this industry, it’s all work. They are just networking events.” Yup. I wish I had realized that two weeks ago. Parties are really where the magical networking of SXSW takes place. Because honestly? A lot of the stuff in the sessions is stuff you could learn without getting a badge if you cared enough to. I think for the advanced attendee, a lot of the info is info you sort of already knew. Furthermore, a lot of the panelists have books and blogs where they’ve covered these topics before. It wouldn’t be easy to duplicate the experience I had in the sessions, but it might be worth it to try and possibly save a couple grand. A few experienced SXSW attendees that I talked to later in the conference said that really, what you’re paying for is the networking.
It works like this: after the Love in the Age of Algorithm session, I was waiting and waiting to talk to one of the panelists, Elizabeth Bernstein from the Washington Post. Eventually, there were just a few of us left waiting and we were sort of talking in a group, though sort of asking her our questions, and eventually she just said, “How about we just discuss this over a drink?” BOOM. That’s an opportunity I probably never would have had otherwise. Had we all been going to a party — which is pretty likely — she would have just said, “Are you guys going to X party? How about we discuss this there?” The parties (and even just the bars) make all the panelists, attendees, and people you want to meet very accessible. And not just accessible — friendly. Wanting to meet you too. So I was able to have an awesome conversation with this woman who I would have been hard-pressed to meet otherwise. All the parties I went to were really fun too. There’s just something great about being with likeminded people.
I also learned that the parties went on all day, which further dispelled my notion that it was all about boozing. I mean, yes, you could day drink, but you also could not. It wasn’t really a big deal either way. The point was to relax, meet people, exchange business cards, get free swag, and do work that didn’t feel as serious and as much like work as the sessions did.
I spent a lot of time on Monday going to session with my new friend Megan and it was a fabulous day. We didn’t stay long at each; we kinda made the rounds, got T-shirts, chatted, and moved along.
A lot of people I’ve talked to since the conference said that at a lot of conferences like this, the panels and speakers are sort of an afterthought — while they provide the excuse to get together to network and relevant topics for discussion, more than one person told me that it’s not a big deal to miss most of the sessions.
When I heard that, I felt like an upperclassmen had just given me major insight into surviving SXSW and, actually, getting a lot out of it. I felt kind of silly for being so concerned with getting to as many sessions as possible. While I don’t think going to all the sessions was a bad thing, I’m definitely curious about what I was missing out on at the parties.
Oh the food. Food is a huge part of SXSW and I couldn’t have been happier about this. I’m the kind of person who, upon finishing her meal, is already thinking about the next one. I loved that everyone always seemed to be in the mood to eat during SXSW; it was so nice to be around a group of professionals who don’t simultaneously love and fear food (i.e. the fashion magazine industry). Austin has a great food scene and it was awesome to be able to experience it for a few days.
The most delicious thing I ate was street corn, which I had never heard of until I was handed a cob at the Skype party. It’s grilled corn, slathered with a mixture of mayo, sour cream, spices, and Parmesan cheese. It was incredible. I’m still thinking about it.
I ate barbecue (awesome BBQ at the Chevy party), Mexican food (repeatedly…at the Community Manager Meetup and the Skype party, plus I ate at Iron Cactus and Tacos & Tequila), crepes (La Crepe…twice), burgers (Wholly Cow Burger comes to mind, the Intercontinental bar), and food trucks (Hey Cupcake — as awesome as everyone says it is — plus a Foodspotting event that was all food trucks). I also had a Cap’n Crunch fried chicken in a bacon waffle cone in the convention center which was pretty ridiculous/delicious.
I’m pretty sure I could have gotten through SXSW without paying for any food if I had tried hard enough. There was always a party going that had free food and drinks; you just had to be resourceful enough to find it. Because I was pretty concerned with getting to sessions, I didn’t have a lot of time to think about getting free food — I went for what sounded delicious, what was nearby, and what had a short line. This method served me pretty well.
The meal I had at the Iron Cactus was probably my most memorable, and not because of the food (though the margaritas were damn good). Eric turned 27 the Sunday I was at SXSW and he came to Austin to celebrate. One of his best friends was also in attendance and I was really excited to meet her. (Full disclosure: I was partially excited to meet her because she has an awesome job at an awesome company — like, my company has a huge crush on her company — and I’ve sort of been admiring her from afar for the past year.) But really, I was just excited to meet someone Eric adores so much. I love when he tells me stories of all the fun things they used to do during their summers. Their friendship is just…I don’t know. Adorable? Amazing? The kind of friendship that everyone wants to have? The best kind to see someone you love having right in front of you? That Sunday was just a beautiful day, finally, and we all drank and ate and laughed it was really fun for me to watch them both just laugh until they were gasping for air.
The parties and the food were what really gave SXSW flavor (no pun intended). While I loved the sessions, the parties and meals were where we could just relax and digest (OMG, the puns! I’m sorry!) everything we had learned in the sessions. If I go back next year, I’ll be making a priority to spend more time there.
I’m trying to get back to normal life now, but, well, after eating Cap’n Crunch fried chicken in a bacon waffle cone…where do you even go from there?
Perhaps to breakfast tacos. Breakfast tacos were so ubiquitous during SXSW, they were like a meme…and somehow, I managed to not have one the entire time. Kinda makes sense that I ate eggs all weekend then.