SXSW: 5 things that defined it

PHOTO BY JUSTIN DAVID TATE
Stalley performs for a packed crowd at the Woven House on March 13 in Austin.
PHOTO BY JUSTIN DAVID TATE
End of an Era lead singer Jeff Wallace powers through a song on March 13 in Austin
By JUSTIN DAVID TATE

The South By Southwest festival in Austin was agony on my feet. There was a lot of walking,  running, jumping and standing, but the pain and the waiting in line was worth it — mostly. Some of SXSW was highly entertaining and surprising in a good way. Other parts of it, including longtime favorite musical artists, proved to be a disappointment. And one tragedy put everything in perspective. Here are just a few of the bigger footnotes in my SXSW experience.

“Boyhood” is a film I had been looking forward to for years … literally. The film, made by directing legend Richard Linklater of Houston, took 12 years to make. And what makes it unique, is how purposeful that 12-year process was.

The time lapse is used to allow actor Ellar Coltrane, 7 years old when he first started filming, to play his character Mason through various stages of life.  Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play Mason’s dad and mom, although neither names are listed in the credits.

We, the audience, know the parents by how the main character knows them, as his biological parents. It’s through Mason’s eyes that we get an intricate look at how slowly life progresses, yet how quickly the slow tick of time adds up to experiences built and relationships created.

Rising rappers were prevalent throughout the festival. They ranged in status from those with mid-level buzz such as Stalley of Rick Ross’ Maybach

Music Group to newly signed indie buzz-magnets such as Isaiah Rashad.

I went to the Parish on 6th Street to see Slaughterhouse, a group of respected veteran rappers. Turns out the best thing about the show was the opening acts. Hip Hop jerkin’ duo Audio Push brought a totally amped level of energy to the stage with leaps onto speakers and surprisingly brisk movements in some of the tightest skinny jeans I’ve seen on a rapper this year.

They brought relatable lyrics and an intense energy that would be hard to follow for anybody, including Slaughterhouse.

Even Kevin Gates, a Southern rapper more concerned with the circumference of a woman’s backside than anything of consequence, was interesting and carried a certain sluggish swagger, even if his pants came dangerously close to falling below his knees throughout his performance.

And Isaiah Rashad is a beast. ’Nuff said.

Free concerts were fun to walk into. While many people like to plan their schedule very thoroughly, the fun of SXSW is running into random bars and locations to discover good music. Attending shows headlined by established names will provide no surprises and maybe a few disappointments.

Seeking a random music act such as I did on March 13 at the Heart of Texas Rockfest on 7th and Neches can yield a rich concert experience. My goldmine discovery was End of an Era.

The rock band has a pretty dystopian name, but in reality, listening to their catchy, energetic set, you can’t help but have hope for the future of rock music. These guys had enough charisma to inspire the Austin crowd to topple the barricade and fall in love with a group from New Jersey of all places.

Stalley headlined one of a series of free concerts at the Woven House on 5th Street on March 13 that I stumbled into. His set was cool, with pretty lights and an enjoyable experience.

It’s these surprises that make SXSW capable of surprising you, even if you’ve gone three years in a row like I have.

Milk Music is a new free music app by Samsung that was the only requirement for Samsung Galaxy owners to get in line for a wristband to see the biggest show of the festival, the reunion of Jay Z and Kanye West.

I figured my trusty Samsung Galaxy S II would be able to download the app. I had previously shown my ability to wait in a long line when I waited from 7:30-10:30 a.m. to see “Boyhood” the previous Sunday.

When I went to download the app, it said I needed a more recent device. I later found out only Galaxy S III and S IV as well as Note 2 and 3 devices could download the app.

I was unable to download the app, thoroughly dealing a swift blow to my dreams of seeing the concert I missed in Dallas years ago. Though I was able to enjoy other concerts, hearing people talk about the show and seeing those ominous Samsung Galaxy wristbands and Milk Music T-shirts just reminded me of how ancient my phone is.

Rashad Owens, a 21-year-old, black Texan and biological father of six, killed three people and injured 22 others sometime after midnight on March 13.

I got texts from three people, including my sister and my college newspaper adviser, at the crack of dawn wanting to know if I was all right. I didn’t realize what had happened.

I read about the incident and it sickened me. I realized I could have very well been one of the fallen.

I had talked about going to see Tyler the Creator at the Mohawk after work. I did a promotional event, which is something a lot of young people do at

SXSW because besides being the largest music festival in the world, it’s one of advertisers’ biggest opportunities to tell young people to buy their products.

Work tired me out to the point that staying up an extra two hours after getting off a 12-hour shift at 11 p.m. to try to get into a show knowing I had to work the next day seemed a bit daunting. I rode back to the hotel with some of my co-workers.

I’m grateful for being tired. I’m horrified that the incident happened, and I absolutely loathed the stereotype Owens has fulfilled of young black men as being irresponsible and having numerous illegitimate children.

Reports say he could face the death penalty. Even if he isn’t killed, he’ll never get out of prison once convicted. His six children, including one born in February, will grow up without their father.

It saddens me to see this, and it reminds me just how different life could have been if I were raised differently. I would like to believe I could never be Owens. I would like to think my natural character would not bring me to drive while intoxicated and kill numerous people, but living in completely different circumstances under the rule of different parents and different surroundings, who knows?

What I will walk away with after this event is that I will not allow my son to become the next Owens. He can’t be. He will be intelligent and, most importantly, responsible.

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