By Marc Woodfork
For everything that’s great about SXSW, the films, the music, and the cool innovative concepts on the convention floor. There is a side of SXSW that exists that caught me by surprise. Being from the west coast, I’m no stranger to change. I’ve seen it happen in drastic measures. I didn’t expect it to happen in Texas. Traditionally, Texas has always played by its own rules. Change comes very slowly to that state. But Austin is the exception.
Almost everyone we encountered had the same story: “I’m from Austin, but I don’t live here anymore” or “most people that are from Austin don’t live in Austin anymore”. The overwhelming answer was because they can no longer afford to be there. Classic gentrification. Before coming to SXSW I heard Austin is the least “Texas” city in the state of Texas. After experiencing Austin, I understand the sentiment.
Talking to the one or two people who I ran into that are Austin natives and still live there, I was told Austin lost its culture. The city is shallow, void of heart. A shell of what it used to be. Austin has been called the ‘new silicone valley’. The people who are from Austin and grew up there can no longer afford to live there. The influx of Tech companies brought jobs but only for a select group of people. If you’re not in that industry, you may be out of luck.
Which brings me back to SXSW. With everything that’s going on during the festival, you can’t help but feel that something is missing. There is a sense of shallowness, or a void. It’s almost like there isn’t a soul present. For instance, San Diego Comic Con, yes it’s a different festival of sorts but while there, you still feel that everyone is on the same wavelength. Regardless if you’re into comics or anime or cosplay. Everyone is listening to the same tune so to speak. SXSW didn’t have that feel. I think its due to the lack of local Texas culture that no longer exists.
SXSW after dark is a completely different experience. The famous Sixth Street is something that I don’t think can sustain itself for much longer. Too many people in too small an area. Sooner or later it will start to become a problem. There are other places to go other than Sixth street, and you would be wise to seek those out.
Overall, SXSW for what it is, a opportunity for musicians and filmmakers to showcase their talent and passions is a great thing. I love that aspect of it. I just wish that the wheels of change hadn’t hit Austin so quickly and laid waste to everything that made Austin a charming place to be. I wish I’d had an opportunity to see what Austin and SXSW was like when culture, heart and soul was still there.
Must have been nice.