This was my fifth year of attending SXSW Interactive, the annual enormo-festival/conference/party in Austin.
That means in certain circles, I’m a veteran. In other circles, I’m still a n00b. My first year was the first year that Interactive registration exceeded that of the Music festival. Music is the grandaddy of SXSW, the first festival they held. Interactive is a mere 20 years old, starting a few years into the event.
Since 2010, my first year, Interactive registrations have exploded. Interactive now accounts for, by far, the most registrants. More people still come to town for music, mind you, but there are so many free concerts and non-official concerts all around the area that many don’t bother to pay for a pass.
I have always regretted not having attended in 2009, the first year I worked for myself. But each year has been a combination of a terrific time filled with parties and great food and an incredible personal experience.
In 2010, I finally met several friends I’d known online for quite some time, new folks I still count as friends, a college friend I hadn’t seen in about a decade, and spent a significant amount of time with several friends I’d finally met at other conferences but hadn’t seen since. I made new professional acquaintances.
Each year since has been like that.
My second year, I went at the last minute and was unable to find a hotel or flight, so my husband and I road-tripped and stayed a few miles out of town, with the hubby chauffeuring me back and forth at the start and end of each day. I came out of SXSW that year with a couple of freelance jobs, which was great, as I’d been laid off just a couple weeks before the conference.
I spoke in my third year, thanks to a friendship a young woman struck up with me in the blogger lounge during my second year. That young woman was Emily Miethner, who has since created the wildly successful FindSpark community for young creatives. The two of us combined forces and proposed a panel that was accepted on Christmas Eve 2011.
Last year, I spent the better part of four hours with someone I’d known online for some time but had never met in real life. I spent quality time with many other folks I’d not been able to catch up with in the 51 weeks between the two conferences.
And this year, I managed to not only get selfies with Bill Nye and Bill Cosby (ok, on the latter it was only sort of a selfie, but …), but also spent a tremendous amount of time with new friends, ran into a former reporter of mine and met some terrific folks. As usual. In the blogger lounge, I met some new folks and met some people I’ve known online for a few years but have never met IRL. As usual.
As I was walking down Trinity Street on the first or second morning I was there, a lovely couple asked me if I’d been to SXSW before. When I told them it was my fifth year, they asked what kept me coming back. They really weren’t sure how they felt about it.
“It’s the people,” I told them. Every year I come, I get to spend time with people I would never get to spend time with otherwise.
Until that stops happening, I’ll keep going to SXSW. It’s huge, it’s unmanageable and it’s impossible to get to see everything you want to. Going to sessions is insanity, especially if the speaker is a big name.
But the big names aren’t why I keep going back.
In the top photo are Murray Newlands, V. Rao Dumpeti, Samir Singh, Shashi Bellakonda, Guy Kawasaki, Tamar Weinberg, me, and Dalia Strum in our “Ellen Oscars selfie” at SXSW. If only I had longer arms.