Top Ten Highlights from SXSW

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.

Bruce Robison, Liz Rose, and Lee Thomas Miller

Thought-provoking Sessions

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!

Cool Tech

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. 

Brand Activations

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!

Austin amidst COVID-19

On this spring road trip our ultimate goal was to attend South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin. We were looking forward to attending thought-provoking presentations by world leaders, perusing the wellness expo for new fitness approaches, and listening to music from artists around the world. A week before the conference was set to begin, and days before we were to arrive in Austin, the event was cancelled. What a let down!IMG_7737Of course, when you are traveling you have to be flexible. You never know what’s on the road ahead, but none of us had this on our radar. We decided to continue on to Austin and use this as an opportunity to just be Austinites. Little did we know that Austin, and the rest of the world, was going to change dramatically during our time here.IMG_7755In the first few days here we biked around the popular Lady Bird Lake, which has a 13 mile trail that encircles the lake at the center of the city.  Taking us through downtown, Zilker Park, a lengthy boardwalk, and other highlights, we biked the trail several times. We did a little city exploring, too.IMG_7730Like most people, we’ve spent quite a bit of time following the developments of the pandemic and with each day our game plan has changed.  The signs of the times are all over Austin, just as they are across the world.  Shelves emptied, events cancelled, and even the gym at our RV Resort has been closed until further notice.  Today the bars and restaurants were shut down and we stood in line to get into the grocery store. We are grateful to be feeling fine with the ability to practice social distancing in our little home away from home.

One day we got out of the city and headed to Pedernales Falls State Park to enjoy the nice weather and have a picnic.  We bought a Texas Parks annual pass way back in west Texas, and it’s definitely paid off and encouraged us to visit places we might not have otherwise checked out.

After visiting the falls we stopped in Johnson City to check out LBJ’s family home and more interesting Park Service displays. Johnson left an indelible mark on this part of the world and it’s commemorated in many ways.

Of course, this was at the time when the bars were still open, so we stopped at another of the Hill Country’s great breweries.  Mia enjoyed another patio adventure.IMG_7767We’ve been looking for opportunities to practice social distancing while still making the most of our time here.  One day we visited an area called the Veloway, a city-managed, bike only path. IMG_7775The three mile loop had plenty of hills and curves challenged us for awhile.  We were able to get some exercise, see a new place, and not be in contact with other people. Another day we hit McKinney Falls State Park with the bikes.

The hike/bike trail there took us right up to the meager falls but also gave us a chance to see the start of the Texas wildflower season.  We are a few weeks from the peak but it was still nice to see the colors and imagine what it will be like in full bloom.

Originally we had planned to stay in Austin for another week but the world has changed.  We have a choice in where we hunker down and outside of a busy, congested city sounds like a good idea.  Tomorrow we’ll hit the road back toward a more rural area.  So far the State Parks are still open and provide an opportunity for us to keep our distance while still enjoying the outdoors.  For now, that’s our plan.

We hope you are feeling well and are making the most of these difficult times.  Let’s stay in touch.