Why SXSW is Worth it, Even if You Have No Plans and No Access
Because you never know.
Every year something happens that nearly prevents me from going to South by Southwest. This year was no different. A professional obligation on Thursday was threatening my travel plans, and I was considering giving it all up, joining in the chorus, of "It's too crowded," or whatever and staying in Dallas.
But then something absurd happened, like it does every year, and my need for the three hour tour to Austin only became more urgent. With one show announcement, Red Bull Sound Select's Thursday Master P performance, I decided to figure it out.
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As a teenager I was obsessed with No Limit Records' brand of slow southern style. A young and budding hip-hop and pop devotee, I steered towards No Limit at a time when a more astute pupil would have been delving into UGK. But the heart wants what it wants.
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These kind of absurd time-travel opportunities are what I love most about South by Southwest. I knew hearing the opening beat of nearly any No Limit song would bring my teenage self to life. Sure, seeing Icona Pop first and secret Justin Timberlake shows bring their own flavor of excitement, but absurdity is the lesser discussed experience at South By Southwest, and I wanted my serving mixed with free vodka.
In the middle of the night on Wednesday, I was in a car headed south.
I had already decided, even before 35 Denton, that I wasn't going to let "festival season" get to me. At the end of the day it's a lot of parties and free booze -- hardly ingredients worth complaining about, but the crowds and manic RSVP'ing and connecting for the not-so-secret and faux-exclusive after parties can take its toll on you if you let it. This year I had a clear goal: Master-fucking-P, the rest would be icing on the No Limit Cake. And sometimes when you stop looking for the adventures, they come looking for you instead.
A late phone call to my colleague and frequent accomplice, nail-artist Vanessa Quilantan lead to an early nail appointment with Audra the Rapper. Part of the Maybach Music Group imprint and Rick Ross approved, Audra was preparing for a weekend of showcases. At the hotel, she has her mother and two girlfriends in tow; they have just made the drive from New York City and Virginia respectively. I was admittedly tagging along. We assured them the gas station tacos are safe. We all started plotting ways to end up at The Illmore later that night. I have seen a lot of shows and been to a lot of festivals, but these kinds of experiences are the ones that increasingly intrigue me. The ritual before the show, the petting and brushing and adjusting. We listened to her tracks; she reveals a set change to her mother as she assembles both her look and her entourage for later that night.
Her nails were wet but it's time to leave. Like any good girlfriend, one of hers helps her with her shoes so she will not smudge the paint before they take off for North Door on East 5th. It all happens rather quickly, but just imagine your favorite artists' best friend zipping that dress or adjusting that hat before they go onstage. These tender moments of process are hidden away in hotel rooms, but they exist and feel significant. Audra put on a flat-bill hat that yells, "MOBBIN," across it. "Will we see you guys later?" she asks sweetly. "Yeah, we will let you know about The Illmore," we tell her. "Just go girl, just Mob," she smirks.
"Are you 'bout it?" DJ Headkrack yelled into the mic for the crowd later the at Red Bull Sound Select stage. We have assembled. The sun is down, so I have started drinking liquor. I don't know if I was giddy from the Red Bull or the nostalgia, but I found a perch on which to wait.
Truth be told, I was sort of prepared for Master P's performance to be a shit-show. As a teenager I was never able to attend the No Limit tours live, so personally this was more about righting a live-show wrong than seeing the Master past his supposed "peak." The opening bounce of "Make Em Say UGH," made everyone ugh and there it was. The muscle memory of driving around in my step-father's Honda accord with my tape-player-to-Discman converter sliding around the leather passenger seat takes over. It didn't take long to get to Mia X's "You Don't Want To Go To War," and by then I was full-tilt screaming. Save for Silk the Shocker, P brought along a healthy No Limit crew and it was not a shit-show. It was fantastic. Singing along now doesn't have the same formative impact it did on the teenage me. Then, I probably needed the confidence of a soldier more threatening than my blonde 5'3 frame as I bumped along with P and Mia screaming, "You don't wanna, go to war with a soldier ..." I didn't have haters, or enemies, or tanks or dolja, but I'd know what to do if or when they came. I could be a soldier, too.
In an encore, Master P serenaded us with "I Really Miss My Homies," and I remember during its release the jokes about Master P's singing voice outweighing the intent of the song. He doesn't sound any better, but ten years worth of loss later and drunk in the middle of a crowd, it felt like we were hearing it again for the first time.
People were really singing along, cathartically. Free of 40s, we all waved our Red Bull and Vodka in the air. Next to us some members of Trash Talk manage a long and wobbly pour for the homies and it felt unreal. And surreal.
Some more weird stuff would happen. I somehow managed my way into a late-night Ghostface Killah introduction. The floor of The Illmore, Scoremore's in-demand SXSW party, cracked under the crowd of Kendrick Lamar. Before that Trinidad James popped up out of seemingly nowhere.
Exhausted and in need of pancakes, we headed to Magnolia Café. We put our name down. There is no skipping the 4 a.m. breakfast line.
"Deb, right?" one of the hosts comes up to me and asks, "I know you from another life, come with me," and he takes us right to a table. The teenage me, the one he knew, blushes.
Pancake in belly, I cut through the wristbands just before sunrise. I know I will protest again next year, but this is why I always end up back in Austin in March. For the absurd notion that time travel is real and it's free to you with only an RSVP.
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