Thank God for Locals

My SXSW buddy got sick and is heading back to Calgary. That was bad news as we'd been having a great time, but hope he's feeling better.

Luckily, James and I are both in to the same music and both have music passes. The Fader Fort party turned out to be a four day event that you needed to RSVP for. After standing in line for an hour to get wristbands we found out we were not on the list despite our expensive sxsw badges. Dejected, we headed to the Canadian BBQ and saw our first act (the entertaining Radio Radio) and at free food and drank free beer. It was there that we met our first local saviour of the day - Elisa. She told us 3 key things:

- our badges get us to skip the line for 2 venues per day
- check for local events & schedules
- Fader Fort RSVPs get a 'plus 1' so just work the line to get in.

James and I immediately got our skip the line passes for 2 venues so we could see an 11.00 show (One Time Only) and a 12.00 show (Spoon) back to back. That worked out well although I wasn't really happy with either performance. Spoon was a let down.

After getting our priority tickets we went back to the Fader line. I met a great group of people that had an extra plus-1 so spent the hour in line with them. They were a blast.

We stuck around Fader Fort to see a couple of acts. We Were Promised Jetpacks & Freelance Whales were quite good. Free Energy was also decent. They were giving out cassette tapes & many people were confused by them.

James and I then met up with Scott so he could say his farewells before heading back to Fader Fort to catch the 'surprise act'. Turned out to be Nas and Damien Marley and they were fantasic. I also met up with one of the girls we were in line with and ended up hanging out with her for a bit. She has a marketing background but now does a ton of travel so we had a lot to talk about. We will be hanging out more today but she doesn't have a pass so will only be able to get in to events that are open to the public. Next year I think I'll skip the music pass because there is enough music you can catch for free. Another local lesson learned.

Great news of the day is that Muse just got added to the lineup on the weekend and that MGMT is in town too - no event announced yet though.

Music Bitches!

Considering the busy first week, I've actually done a good job of pacing myself so far. I've hung out with a bunch of married guys for the most part, so aside from the obligatory trip to the peelers which may or may not include a hillbilly knife fight, the wildest it has gotten is sitting around a bar drinking heavily and discussing ubiquitous platforms every second night and recuperating and discussing twitter backchannels on the in-betweens. Although there were a somewhat surprising number of very attractive women at SXSWi (i = interactive), nobody else in the group was single or in to networking in general, so most of the people that I met in the evening festivities were associates of the people I was with. That was fine though, as I met a bunch of great people. 

(A side note on the attractive women... I figured out later it is likely due to the rise in social media and the need for communications people in the online space - probably going to be your hot chick over the socially awkward uber-nerd)

So Tuesday is considered an "off-day" as it is the last day of the Interactive conference and the film panels (although films from the film festival portion of SXSW will continue to be shown until Sat). Scott and I started out slowly, and had pretty much taken it easy the night before - we checked out the Microsoft/Carsonified party but left around midnight still fairly sober. We went to a couple of great panels - one on dashboard design and the other on Canvas (the JS/HTML5 library that may replace Flash). Both panels were applicable to Game Plan Systems and provided some valuable insights. Interesting that a guy from the Canvas panel was heavily promoting flot, a Canvas graph-plotting library (graphs being integral to dashboard design).

Then we went to check out our first film - The People vs. George Lucas. If you are a Star Wars fan or fascinated with either nerdery or sub-culture dynamics then it is a great film. I like all three, so I found it to be highly enjoyable.

So when we got out of the movie and it was still raining fairly heavily and most of the people with Interactive had left it seemed like it would be an early night. Today (Wednesday) the music kicks off with the Levi's party at Fader Fort, which we found out is one of the parties to go to... there is always a surprise guest and this year the rumors to fill that slot include Metric, MGMT, Gorillaz, and Black Eyed Peas. I was anticipating a night of rest and preparation.

The evening took a somewhat surprising turn.

First I should explain that our hotel is a decent ways from the action, so we have a shuttle service that takes us to, and from, our hotel. It's a massive pain in the ass, but the shuttle drivers are usually great so it's often a pleasant ride.

Last night, after a nice steak dinner at the hotel, we got ready to head back downtown to meet up with some departing friends for a drink or two. Enter Robert Johnson - the extremely overtly gay shuttle driver. We were waiting for the shuttle with James, our new friend from Great Britain, and when the shuttle came rushing in to the hotel with 4 excited honks of the horn James' face immediately dropped. "Oh fuck", he says. Turns out that Robert Johnson had taken a liking to our young skinny friend on a previous trip. Robert jumped out of the shuttle and immediately latches on to James - "Hey honey!". Scott and I immediately hopped in to the back seat so James would have to sit up front - which he did with dread. Then a group of about 6 women came in to the cab and the energy level picked up.

The girls loved Robert and totally egged him on. With Give Me Your Love by Mariah Carey blaring in the background, Robert proclaimed "Keep your hands off the boys bitches they're mine!" - and we were on our way downtown. The 10 minute shuttle ride set the tone for the evening. Everything that came out of Robert's mouth was highly offensive and punctuated with "Bitches!", pretty hilarious stuff.

We ended up going to a Media Temple party for the closing of the interactive conference. I use MT for the Calgary Film Festival web site so was happy to drink their free beverages. They also had a great lineup of bands, the headliner was We Are Scientists (one of the bands I am currently enjoying and on my list of bands to see here). A friend of mine from Calgary, Mikael, was about to take off but We Are Scientists was great so he decided to stick around. Their music was really good, but they had a really good stage presence and were highly entertaining. The bass player (who was talented at his craft) was also somewhat of a comedian, and the lead singer seemed to find him particularly hilarious. The banter between songs was probably the best part of the show, and I managed to catch the last exchange of the evening - not their best bit, but you get the idea. Video above.

After the set, we left the bar. Mikael was extremely drunk but flying home in the early morning so went back to the hotel, and Scott had previously left so I ended up hanging out with this Australian girl I met while leaving the bar. She was a social media expert starting her travels the US for 3-4 months. She is going to San Francisco after SXSW and is basically starting what I just finished with NY/Spain, I am jealous. Anyways - we ended up bar hopping along the Austin strip... a lot different experience than hanging out with a bunch of married dudes.

Was a fun night and a great kick-off to the music festival. I think it will be substantially different than the interactive portion of the festival. Now that my hangover has subsided I must get myself to the Fader Fort party and get my St. Patrick's Day on.

iTunes on Random

I give my brother in law a hard time for liking ABBA, but I have more than a few songs that I love that people would give me a hard time about (doesn't everyone?). One of those songs is Steal My Sunshine by Len. It reminds me of one of the best summers of my life (1999). It was definitely overplayed and almost everyone I knew got sick of it by that autumn, but for me it seemed to be a reminder that everything was going well. It took nearly ten years (2009) until I got that feeling again & hope I don't have to wait another decade before it comes around again. In any case, I'm glad that iTunes decided to shuffle that one in there for me today. Muchos gracias!

(the song also reminded me of butter tarts - which I love)

Considering another festival

I'm adding speakers, films and bands to "My Schedule" on SXSW's website. I'm starting to get in to a good work mode and the exercise is partially to prepare for the interactive portion of the festival, but mostly it is helping me with the IA work I am starting for the 2010 Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF). On that note, there are a lot of things that I think that SXSW can improve on in their user experience. Much of their site is fragmented, with no real consistency between the film, interactive and music portions of the site - and it is really unclear as to how a newcomer should approach the festival.

Usability for "logged in" users (essentially: customers) was one of the biggest complaints for CIFF last year. This was something we recognized going in to the festival, and was something we couldn't help with limited resources. With that said, it is going to be a major focus for this year's festival, and we are already underway with our first component for the 2010 festival. This is by far the earliest we have ever started work on the film festival and we're hoping to make major strides this year! There are some great lessons to be learned for interacting with the SXSW site, and I'm sure I will learn even more at the event itself.

Now... with that out of the way, I can say that adding some of the bands to my schedule has really whet my appetite for more live music. In a quick first pass I've added the following:

Andrew W.K., The Antlers, Asylum Street Spankers, Attack! Attack!, Band of Skulls, Barcelona, Bear In Heaven, The Beatards, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Bowerbirds, Billy Bragg, Brasstronaut, Broken Social Scene, Caspian, Computer Club, Deer Tick, Dirty Little Rabbits, Drive-By Truckers, The Drums, Gay Witch Abortion, Geeks, Hole, Holy Fuck, Hot Panda, Japandroids, jj, Kittens Ablaze, Corb Lund, Neon Trees, Oh No Ono, The Raveonettes, The Rural Alberta Advantage, She & Him, Spoon, Stars of Track and Field, Surfer Blood, Ten Bears, This Will Destroy You, Tiger! Shit! Tiger! Tiger!, The Uglysuit, We Are Scientists, Woodhands

It's a pretty decent list, I think. It features a couple of bands I've seen (BSS, The Drums, Corb Lund, Surfer Blood), some AB connections (Woodhands, RAA, Corb Lund), some favs (BRMC, Bowerbirds, Spoon, She & Him, AWK, Band of Skulls), and some new bands I wanted to see in NY but missed out on (Antlers, Uglysuit, Oh No Ono, Bear in Heaven).

With that said, I've had my eye on Coachella ever since its lineup was released. I REALLY want to go, and it kind of fits in to my schedule. I should be ending my stay in San Fran by that time and on my way back to NY. The tickets are still on early-bird pricing and the lineup is UNREAL!! However, this is something that I don't want to hit alone. I've mentioned it to a couple of people and there is still some decision making going on. I'm wondering if I should just get a pair of passes now and sell them if I can't find someone(s) to go with me.

This trip has taught me that there are things that are way better to experience when you're on your own (as a matter of perspective, reflection or not having to compromise). And then there are things that would be way better if you had someone to share it with. Coachella would definitely fit in to the latter.

I've also been thinking about Sasquatch (May) or Bonaroo (June), but those will both be happening when I'm back in Calgary, so are less likely to happen. Maybe Sasquatch because it's within driving distance.

Some Music I'm Listening To

Got a crapload of music before I left NY, here are a few tunes I recommend:

Day Glo - Brazos
Fangela - Here We Go Magic
Comfortable, Comparable - Hooray for Earth
Wo Xiang Tanbai - Immaculate Machine
Rex the Dog - The Knife
Relator - Pete Yorn & Scalett Johansson
Home - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Of Moons, Birds & Monsters - MGMT
Oh No - Andrew Bird
And The Boys - Angus & Julia Stone
Kill This Low - Twin Berlin
My Denial in Argyle - Woodpigeon
Let's Go Surfing - The Drums
Swim - Surfer Blood
Ciao! - Lush

Also listening to a lot of Grizzy Bear in general, but Two Weeks might be one of my favourite songs right now.

The Colbert Report

On my actual b-day I went to a networking event where I met a couple of people, including a very cool person who I met up with again at another event and hope to hang out with when I'm back in NY. I also went to Of Montreal, which was fantastic and included several Of Montreal'esque antics.. including 2 fighting pigs (fake) that got spanked by Susan Sarandon (real). Ask me about it in person if you're interested in hearing about it.


So another thing on my to-do list was to go on a talk show. I will admit here that I love TV. I don't often make time to watch television anymore & rarely turn on the tv at all... nowadays I typically get my fix by getting obsessed with a series and then watching it via rental or online in a ridiculously short time frame. The last few series where I have done this are: The Office, Battlestar Gallactica, Mad Men, Lost, Dexter & 30 Rock. I abandoned Weeds and True Blood... they didn't really hold my interest. I have the Wire queued up.

This behavior is not very unique, as most people I know do this. However the exception I make is the Colbert Report, I will regularly stay up to watch his show and to say that I'm a huge fan is an understatement. He's awesome, and I have a bit of a man-crush on him.

When I went to NY, I did a bit of research to see what you needed to do to get tickets for the show. Much like SNL, the Daily Show, Letterman and Late Night - tickets to the Colbert Report were given out months in advance and the few seats available were given out on a standby basis which involved waking up early and standing in line all day. I thought I would have plenty of time to fit in a day of line-standing but it turns out that 10 weeks in NY can go by pretty quick.

In a last ditch effort, I went online again to see if there was another way. It turns out there is. In many cases, the VIP tickets that get handed out months before become available, because traveling plans get changed or something comes up, etc. VIP tickets are non-transferable (to prevent a black market for the free tickets), so when that happens the Daily Show and Colbert Report post the ticket openings back on their web site. Because of their popularity, normally they go extremely fast (4-5 mins). The good news is that some guy made a twitter feed that alerts its followers when those tickets become available. On Jan 27th, I had tickets for that night within a couple of hours of following the twitter feed. If you are in NY and want to see Colbert or Jon Stewart... follow @dailytix.

So enough about getting a ticket. The whole Colbert experience was excellent! I won't go in to the detail displayed above for the rest of the post but here are some highlights:
  • they let you in to the show based on your arrival. I was #83 (the number of Ales Hemsky - my favorite Oiler);
  • before the show they lead you in to a room where you go through security and watch Colbert highlights as Colbert himself rehearses in the studio;
  • once in the studio all cell phones and cameras have to be off & there was a security guard right behind me. I got a couple of shots, but bad ones;
  • I sat beside a guy who looked like a guy I used to work with named Mac (my 3rd such encounter in NYC - see him in the photo in the security room);
  • we had about 45 mins of stand-up from a warm up comic before Colbert came out to do his deal with Jon Stewart. At the end of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart does a little chat with Colbert to end off the one show and lead in to the other. Stewart was on closed circuit TV, so after Colbert sat down they had a warm-up/rehearsal which lasted about 5-10 minutes where they chatted about topics from the day. This included a fairly in-depth conversation about what the guest on the Daily Show was talking about & Colbert's opinions on it. Of course, when the actual taping for the segment happened, Colbert took Stewart completely off guard by pretending not to know who the guest. The old bait and switch. I don't know if that was set up or not, but Stewart seemed genuinely dumbfounded, which was pretty hilarious;
  • Colbert then went off-set and they brought back the warm-up comic, who told us it was rare that Colbert went off again (apparently go right in to taping the Report) & also thought the bait & switch was hilarious and odd... so maybe it wasn't set up;
  • Colbert finally came out again and did an out-of-character Q & A. He's equally hilarious out of character, but its obvious just how much of an informed genius he is when he can talk openly about various issues. Of course most of the questions were pointless (like 'would you rather kill Bambi or Winnie-the-Pooh?'), but he gave great answers for those too;
  • before the taping he launched a bunch of Wrist-Strong bracelets out in to the audience. Both people beside me got one & I did not;
  • the taping was great... if anyone wants to watch it go online for January 27, 2010 at (Canada) or (US);
  • I expected lots of jokes about the iPad, but he kept it rather light on that, which is fine because I'd heard it all by that time. His focus was on Justice Roberts' decision to allow corporate financing of political campaigns... he was genuinely fired up of camera as well. He talked a lot about it off camera as well, mentioning his run for President in '08 which he had sponsored by Dorrito's Nacho Cheese. He said that when they were doing it, they tried to come up with some of the most ridiculous things they could think of... and now it's actually not a joke;
  • his guest was a mathemagician, who basically was this uber-nerd savant who used magic to make math fun and interesting. I'm usually not a huge fan of Colbert's live interviews because the guests usually have a hard time navigating Colbert's persona (the editing done in the taped interviews makes them wayyyy more funny). However, this one was pretty good and the guest was probably already used to people not taking mathemagics seriously;
  • after the taping was done, he did a bunch of high-fiving with the audience (I was near the back so couldn't partake - but got a blurry pic where he's on the left of the shot);
  • then he sat down on the ground in front of the audience and started singing Kumbaya. The audience joined in and I got another blurry pic, but his head is barely visible at the front center of the audience.

Got to get caught up.

Okay, I am a little behind on my updates (not that anyone reads this thing). But for the sake of keeping a bit of a travel log, I'll start to get caught up. Right now I'm on my way to Malaga, Spain. I have to post updates for:

- a visit from some Roibus-loving friends;
- skating at Rockefeller;
- my birthday (both my real one and a pre-birthday night out);
- Colbert Report;
- and some networking events & other bricka-brak.

But my plane leaves soon, so for now I'll post this photo of me and my roommate on our way back from the Beth Orton concert.