Travel in the Time of COVID-19

with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Okay, travel ain’t love and COVID-19 ain’t cholera. But my planned travel back to Austin for SXSW Edu certainly earned some caution from friends. I must admit I felt some mild trepidation regarding going through 2 airports to get to a conference with thousands of people from all over. And by the time we will be leaving in two weeks, the Big 3 of SXSW festivals — Music, Film, Interactive —will be in full swing with even more people streaming through the Austin airport.

“I heard from an authoritative source that SXSW will be canceled,” I was told. Well, not yet, at least. Yes, a number of large tech companies including Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon studios have canceled their planned appearances at the confab this year. Speakers & featured guests like Ozzy Osburn likewise are cancelling. But for now, the festival is on alert, providing much-needed updated information via a dedicated web-page but still planning on the full-on adventure.

(prior part was written Friday morning)

Wow—what a difference a day makes.

SXSW did, in fact, get canceled yesterday afternoon, sending everyone scrambling. I had not finished this blog post about the situation.

I am still startled that they actually pulled the plug on the whole shebang. After the news came out yesterday, people were pinging me and Sara by text asking what we planned to do. I basically said I plan to be in shock this evening and start trying to figure it out later.

Now, Sara and I plan to fly back to Colorado a week early just to avoid any potential travel complications. So, we’re scrambling. Our time is drastically foreshortened, but we still want to visit with a few of our friends here, so we’re trying to get that together. It’s certainly not what we expected to do.

It is impossible to overstate the devastation this move creates for thousands of people, both near and far, from attendees & presenters to bars & restaurants to bands & filmmakers to staff & volunteers. Not just a few of those folks will lose their hard-earned spot in festival showcases. Many will lose money as well as the opportunities for exposure and connections. Then there’s all the just plain folks who attend official SXSW events or unofficial SXSW side-events around town or the free concert series down at the lake.

To their credit, several bars and clubs in Austin, like the Saxon Pub and the Continental Club, have announced they are working to confirm previously booked bands and report most of them still plan to come and play. Locals are pulling together in various ways to get pas the sudden loss of all the various events.

Seriously old-Austin types like me can recall that the original impetus for the first SXSW music festival was to bolster local bands and bars when the UT students left for spring break. It quickly grew from a local-regional phenomenon to national & international renown, with bands far and near clamoring to play the showcases. A few budding musicians, like my cousin, Will T. Massey, got their big break at some of those early years of SXSW. When they added Film + Media (later to split off as the Interactive Festival) in the mid-90s, the brand blossomed even further.

Now, with this unprecedented cancellation, there’s all sorts of rumors afloat that SXSW will lose no real money because they’re insured for this sort of thing. Well,  no — while SXSW is insured against terrorism or bomb attacks, there is no insurance against bacterial or viral infections, much less an epidemic. The whole affair is a loss.

Still, SXSW has weathered ups & downs before. Believe it or not, the now-highly successful SXSW Interactive Festival was nearly eliminated from the line-up after a dismal year early on during the bust. Now, it is far and away the biggest of the Big 3.

I will miss attending SXSW Edu this year. I always see old fiends and meet new compadres. But they are saying they will present some virtual events during the planned days of the festival and potentially reschedule for later in the year. I don’t see that happening, but the organizers are also already into planning for 2021.

Louis Black, one of the founders, in commenting about the unprecedented cancellation, shared this thought:

SXSW is people and ideas and dreams and visions. It is like an Indian nation, not defined by geography, or by past and future. It is us. We together. We will survive. We will flourish.

I like that way of thinking: SXSW in our minds & hearts, throughout this coming year. Next year’s version oughta be like one of those Mountain Man “Rendezvous” events from the Old West: the annual gathering of all the wanderers to restore spirit, supplies, and friendships.

SXSW Rendezvous 2021! start planning now — it’s gonna be amazing!



About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
This entry was posted in Austin, SXSW, SXSWedu and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.