Monday, March 21, 2011

SXSW 24/7

Flights into Austin Bergstrom International Airport always seem full. The Texas Capital City always attracts a crowd, and unlike passengers flying into Newark, airline passengers heading into Austin always appear like happy campers. It's not Disney World, but Austin comes close, especially when you compare the fun factor. Just ask one of the thousands of SXSW happy campers who are back at work this week. Most likely their story of Austin and SXSW will be a lasting memory. It's the kind of memory that any chamber of commerce dreams of for its city. It's the kind of memory that lures people to move here, not just visit here. However, these are the memories residents create here every day.

Austin is no longer the sleepy college town where hippies hang and politicians periodically hover. The energy level is high, always. And energy attracts energy. The University of Texas, Concordia University, Austin Community College and St. Edward's University all generate an energy of intellect. Countless coffee shops churn out creative works by a covey of entrepreneurs collaborating behind their laptops. Artistic expressions don the walls of museums and informal galleries, and music fills the air from a random corner, a footbridge over Lady Bird Lake or from atop a rooftop lounge downtown. These are the daily habits of a city I call home. And one of the fun periods to tap into the city's rich brew is when so many residents flee it.

As Austin locals turned their homes into short-term hotels and escaped for a spring break, visitors poured into Waterloo like a tsunami and flooded our restaurants, our trailer vendors, and our streets with a carefree feeling that makes Austin a magical place. And for the locals who stuck around, the show was practically free. No hotel fees. No HomeAway rental expenses. No airline tickets. No real hassle.

A strategic drop off point put me and my high school- and college-age kids into the thick of all things SXSW. Free music, free drink, free food samples and a free-flowing crowd made for great entertainment. It was an instant flashback to college and a time when living in Austin was affordable. The abundance of music was compelling. I could not keep myself from dancing freely in the streets, much to the embarrassment of my offspring who wished I was elsewhere for this March madness. They would say, some things are best kept at home.

Our Downtown Austin Alliance could not have ordered better weather, and the SXSW organizers pulled together an incredible array of talent. A National Public Radio crew from New York was on the scene at Auditorium Shores for a live simulcast. The Big Apple was getting a taste of the real fruit, and the NPR crew was thrilled to be here because Austin was delivering on its promise of being a fun city, a creative city, a city of collaboration and cause to celebrate.

The City of Austin's brand profile is very high right now. Mickey Mouse should consider being a rock star.