Our first experience with SXSW is in the books. For two weeks we walked, we listened, we laughed, we drank, we ate, and we learned…so much! While attending this massive festival/conference/event is not on a lot of retiree’s bucket list, we are so glad we did it! It’s hard to describe all that we’ve experienced here in Austin, but we’ll give it a try with our top ten highlights.
Pecan Grove RV Park
We camped at the Pecan Grove RV Park, which is the only full-hook up park near downtown Austin. It’s not new and shiny, but what it lacked in polish, it made-up for in location.
From the park, which is located just south of Lady Bird Lake, we could walk to the Austin Convention Center in about 30 minutes. We were also just a five minute walk to a SXSW shuttle location for those times we didn’t feel like walking to the festivities. From Pecan Grove we could also walk to great restaurants and music venues. Perfect location!!
SXSW is one of Austin’s biggest events and the festival definitely takes over the town. Yet, even without SXSW, it’s a super fun city. We biked on the trails around Lady Bird Lake and Steve did his daily run on the trails as well. We enjoyed watching the rowers on the lake and people playing in the parks. It seemed there was always “something” going on…
In downtown, on Rainey Street, and on South Congress there are fun bars, restaurants, and shops. And the BBQ!! We ate some form of it almost every day!
Austin has so much to offer and even though we were here for over two weeks, we still didn’t tackle everything on the list!
Music, including Nashville Songwriters Live
While there are so many parts of SXSW, it started as music festival. It was reported that over 1400 artists attended this year from all over the world. You could listen to all forms of music including rock, bluegrass, rap, latin, country, and any other genre you can imagine at venues all across the city. Our favorites were located at the Saxon Pub, which was within walking distance of the Pecan Grove RV Park.
One night we attended an incredible event featuring three of Nashville’s Grammy award winning songwriters. Bruce Robison has written hit songs for George Strait, Liz Rose collaborated with Taylor Swift, and Lee Thomas Miller has penned hits for Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Chris Stapleton and others. Each sang their most famous songs, and we all sung along. It was incredible to be in the presence of such greatness.
Our primary goal for attending SXSW was to learn something new. Each day we attended several sessions at the convention center or at nearby hotels. We explored trends in aging, technology, and culture. Can you tell which session Steve went to and which ones I went to?
Creative Industries Expo
Every good conference has an expo and SXSW’s blow most out of the water. Since the Creative Industries Expo focuses on innovation, we saw lots of new products, prototypes, and concepts that will change our future. Represented in the expo were countries promoting their economic opportunities, startups seeking funding, and organizations representing their cause. Lots of giveaways, lots of fun!
SXSW attracts celebrities of all kinds. I attended several sessions that featured celebrities including Chelsea Handler, Jen Psaki and Mark Cuban. While we didn’t search out other celebrity sightings, we saw news that Eva Longoria, Tilda Swinton, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Keanu Reaves, and William Shatner, among others, made appearances during the festival. Movie premiers bring many of the famous folks to town.
Full Irish Breakfast
Every day during SXSW, brands host special events to promote their products or services. We attended a number of these with the Full Irish Breakfast being our favorite. Held on St. Patrick’s Day, the Culture Ministry of Ireland sponsored this soire which featured Irish bands, Irish drinks, and Irish food.
The room was at capacity most of the afternoon, but we arrived early and grabbed a seat at the bar and next to the food. This was a perfect set up for an afternoon of debauchery. We met people from all over the world while drinking Irish coffee, Guinness, and other Irish specialties. The whole thing was free!
Startups, brands, and countries all use SXSW to introduce new products and ideas. Many attend hoping to find investors and collaborators. Some of the technology that caused us to say, “wow!” included flying cars, holographic signs, and lots of virtual reality. Steve got to play with a big-rig truck, and I did a virtual knee replacement surgery using VR.
Another way that brands show up at SXSW is at events called “activations.” Basically these temporary event spaces promote the brand while entertaining SXSW attendees. For example, we visited Roku City, which immersed us in settings from Roku shows and ended with drinks and dinner.
Avocados from Mexico took over a local bar and offered guests tacos, live music, Sprinkles cupcakes, and avocado margaritas.
We attended activations from Dolby, Shell, Doritos, eMLS, White Claw, and others. Most offered at least a few free drinks along with fun stuff and information about the brand.
Rodeo Austin and Concerts
Not part of SXSW but running at the same time as the festival, Rodeo Austin is one of the big stops on the ProRodeo tour. More than just rodeo, it includes a livestock show, carnival, and of course concerts!
We attended two performances while we were in Austin. One night we saw the rodeo, followed by a concert by Shane Smith and the Saints.
The other time we watched the cowboys followed by a show by Ryan Bingham of Yellowstone fame. Both were great opportunities to get out of the downtown area and enjoy an Austin tradition.
Would we do it again? Heck yeah! And doing SXSW with the RV was the perfect way to do it!