(Originally published March 2015)
I completed a bucket list item last week. Two actually: 1) Visiting Austin 2) Attending South By SouthWest.
The interactive portion of the conference I attended managed to live up to its billing – chalk-a-block with creativity, innovation and an exuberent belief that technology can change the world for the better, or at least for the funner. The endless free drinks, heaping bbq, wandering into a live Spoon concert, and snagging a t-shirt at the Pied Piper booth at the Mashable House didn’t hurt either.
What may remain with me most though, was my wander through downtown Austin the night before the conference kicked off. A taste of the real Austin before the rest of the world fully descended upon it. It’s a charmingly odd place, and people from Austin seem to happily embrace it. You see the ‘Keep Austin Weird’ slogan on t-shirts and bumper stickers all over.
The city definitely has its contingent of eccentrics from what I can tell, but when they say they want to keep the city weird, I think what they mean is they want to keep Austin from changing into a bigger, more generic version of itself. Weird in the context of Austin really means integrity, and a rallying cry for a liberal enclave amid republican Texas. To embrace the endless free music on the 6th street, from honky tonk to crunk. The refreshing experience for an outside of walking up to virtually anyone, ask directions, and find yourself 5 minutes later in the middle of a friendly conversation over a beer and BBQ at Stubb’s (this happened).
Austin has a lot more going for it too in a practical sense. The University of Texas is here. The tech industry is bustling. It’s become a beacon for American upper-middle-class hipsters alongside the likes of Williamsburg. Ironically, that may spell the downfall of its true inner weirdness as it’s now one of the fastest growing cities in the US.
Let’s hope it can still stay weird for a little while longer.