The True Cost of Canceling SXSW
The measure of what might have been and inspiration lost as a result of COVID-19 can’t be quantified
In March 2008, I sat in the front row for a Mark Zuckerberg interview at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and witnessed one of the weirdest interviews the Facebook CEO ever gave. It was the early days of Twitter, and what happened at the talk became a prescient example of the ugliness and echo chambering that the social media era would bring. That in itself would have been a story for the memoirs, but later that evening, completely by chance, I ran into journalist Sarah Lacy, who conducted that keynote, and shot a quick YouTube video of her that went viral. People still ask me about the incident more than a decade later.
In March 2014, I was walking up South Congress Avenue toward a SXSW event with my brother and his girlfriend, our lanyard-dangled badges flapping in the cool evening air, when a large bus pulled up alongside us. The doors opened and we were invited into a karaoke party bus experience. We ditched all our plans and spent hours traveling downtown Austin on this ridiculous, mobile, disco-ball-equipped lounge. It was the most fun I’ve ever had standing on a bus consuming alcohol.
Last year, in March, I got an email inviting me to a downtown performance by Santigold. I’d never turn down the chance to see one of my favorite musicians, so a few friends and I headed over early the night of the show. We wondered if we were even at the right place as we stood outside Speakeasy, an Austin bar and music venue, the only ones in line for something we weren’t even sure was really happening. An hour later, we realized we were at the post-world premiere party for the SXSW-featured movie Booksmart, which had just screened down the street at the Paramount Theatre. We realized it because we were suddenly surrounded by cast members and celebrities like Nick Kroll and Natasha Lyonne, a rich buffet spread, and music from DJ Dan the Automator. Minutes later, director Olivia Wilde took the stage…