As the buzz surrounding Austin’s annual mega-conference litters my newsfeed, it’s making me nostalgic for the taco-fueled whirlwind of tech, film and music. Unfortunately, I’m not returning to Texas for 10 days of boozy events and networking — but I’m sending several D.C. politicians, SXSW newbies, in my place. Kinda.
Since 1987, SXSW has drawn thousands of industry professionals and culture connoisseurs to the Texas capital. It was traditionally founded as a music industry networking mecca, but eventually added in a film festival and interactive tech conference. There are discussion panels, exhibitions, screenings, and parties. Lots of parties. Each segment of SXSW attracts its own special breed, but there’s one thing every attendee shares: a weeklong hangover.
Your first time can be intimidating. You find yourself in a crush of nearly 150,000 people — and that’s just the Franklin barbecue line. You didn’t realize your newly purchased Stetson hat looks pretty absurd in the fashionable crowd. Or maybe you don’t understand how Austin, even with an ongoing drought, can suddenly turn into a flash-flood zone. It’s easy to feel a little lost. But as an Austin expat and veteran SXSW reporter, I’ve learned a few tricks to navigating the chaos. Here’s a guide for some of the D.C. politicos venturing to Austin for this year’s spectacle.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., will be sitting down with the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith about his intense fear of drones, or, uhh, the future of tech policy. Paul’s interview will be near the beginning of the conference during the interactive portion, but if he sticks around past his Sunday appearance, here are a few things he should look into:
This week, it was announced that SXSW regular Snoop Dogg will deliver the keynote for the music conference. And I get the sense that there could be a budding friendship between the Dogg and the senator. Paul just introduced bipartisan legislation that would end a federal medical marijuana ban, making good on longtime support of loosening regulations. And Snoop is basically the Pigpen of marijuana smoke.
Visit Alex Jones
The key to SXSW is pacing yourself, so I urge Paul to get out of the downtown jumble and drop in on a completely different kind of insanity: Alex Jones. Jones is a libertarian and avid conspiracy theorist who believes that the government is behind almost every national tragedy in the last two decades. Jones cites the senator as a listener of his eponymous syndicated radio show.
Head to East Sixth Street
Let’s be real. This entire appearance is drumming up support for a 2016 campaign. According to his PAC, Paul will open up an Austin office the day after this SXSW interview. Yup. His campaign is becoming increasingly imminent, and Texas voters are in his sights. So if he wants to get after a young, impressionable crowd who enjoys saving money and yelling about political issues, he should head to the East Sixth bar scene. It’s dive-y, it’s grungy, and its full of the millennial voting bloc that a 2016 candidate needs to court.
And as for another SXSW newbie...
Speaking of millennials, Instagram’s favorite House member Aaron Schock will be speaking on a panel about everyone’s least favorite generation. But that appearance is perhaps being overshadowed by his penchant for shady expenditures and Katy Perry. Luckily for Schock, the glitterati turns out en masse to SXSW. This is what he can’t miss:
The celebrity blogger’s annual fete is one of the week’s most exclusive guest lists. Schock can hobnob with fellow celebrity fan-girls and, if he’s lucky, maybe even run into a few of them himself. Take some selfies, perhaps?
A Drama Nirvana
The day after Schock’s appearance, the interactive exhibition will explore how TV dramas are marketed. Beth Hoppe, the chief programming executive for PBS, will speak on the panel, and hopefully be able to explain to Schock how she mind-bended him into redecorating his legislative offices, Downton Abbey style.
In the midst of his budgetary woes, it is kind of SCHOCK-ing that the representative is still making the trek to SXSW at all. But if he wants to show a true effort to stop his lavish spending, Schock should hit up the hundreds of free day shows during the music portion. Yes, free. And if you pick the right ones, there’s free beer, too.
Schock and Paul aren’t the only D.C. figures at SXSW this year. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Grover Norquist, Al Gore, and Joaquin Castro are just a few of the other presenters heading to Austin this year, and I have some final, bipartisan advice for all of them: Eat. All. Of. The. Tacos. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. And bring me some.