Wills Glasspiegel for NPR
Austinite D'wazauhn Washington working a make-shift pay-to-park lot in East Austin on Friday.
Austinite D'wazauhn Washington working a make-shift pay-to-park lot in East Austin on Friday. Wills Glasspiegel for NPR
Downtown Austin can be a cacophonous place even on a normal night. But during South by Southwest, there's a hierarchy to these sounds: musicians stake out street corners to play for change; gigging rock bands blast songs from the open doors of night clubs and shot bars. Then there are the official South by Southwest events. You can spot them by the lines of people wearing badges or wristbands in front of the bigger name venues.
If you don't have a wristband? Leonard Briseno says you can just hang out at a friend's front yard across the street.
"It's like being at a free concert — I mean we're right outside you know?"
When I talk to him, Briseno is doing more than just listening — he's making some money. He and his buddys have opened up an impromptu food stand called Lenny's Legs, though it sold out of turkey legs hours ago.
Whether it's small scale entrepreneurship or just taking in the tunes, it seems like all around this city an attitude prevails: no wristband, no badge? No problem.
Austinites are making their own festival. It doesn't confine itself to downtown and it doesn't confine itself to the indie and Americana music typically associated with Austin.
Well into the evening, Diane Enobabor is fielding calls from artists who want to perform in her East Austin hip-hop show later on tonight. It's at the Orun Cultural Center, a community space tucked between a bodega and a barbershop.
During segregation, blacks and Hispanics were largely restricted to the East Side. Inobabor says South by Southwest provides a great opportunity for the exchange of music and ideas, but some people in her neighborhood are still cut off from "South by," as its called.
"I mean, that option isn't accessible if you're not in the industry, or if you don't have the money to buy a badge," Enobabor says. "So this center is us channeling an opening to that."
Te'aunna Moore, also known as T-Fly, is performing tonight with her group Cypher. Justin Tyme is a local spoken word artist, and he says there's no time like "South by" in Austin.
"It only brings more energy into this city — it brings more vibrance," he says. "I just want to step out of my house and see what I can find, you know?"
Gidon Ben Israel — whose stage name is Gidon the Mighty Warrior — hit the streets, too.
"Even today, my crew was out there. We had a radio boombox just freestyling," Ben Israel says. "We were forming a big crowd, cause people aren't really used to seeing that! You like in Austin! So when an outside cat from Brooklyn — he was like, 'Yo, I'm gonna go back and tell my people from Brooklyn what you doing. It's amazing!'"
Walk a little ways south of the Orun Cultural Center and another unofficial party is underway — this one hosted by a group that's only recently started to call East Austin home. More and more young, white students and artists have moved in. Party organizer Justin Boyle made sure to clear his party with his older neighbor.
"I mentioned that we're just going to have a little bit of a show," Boyle says. "'It's not going to be a big deal, you're not going to have any problems.' And he goes, 'No man play it loud! I need to hear some music!'"
There's a keg in the yard, burgers on the grill, and an open door policy. The bands play in the living room and the guests dance in the kitchen. Boyle says for South by Southwest, he wanted his party to feature local acts: bands that might have been pushed out of their regular venues by visiting groups.
"This is the music capital of the world, right? And so there should be a place where people can go and chill out and not be worried about being part of the scene and not on Sixth Street," says Boyle.
But even on the festival's main drag, some local musicians are trying to get the attention of the crowds jamming the sidewalk.
Felix Edgar Madrid lives in Austin. He's unemployed and is making a little exra money playing on Sixth. But he insists that he's mostly here to soak up the energy.
"It's a really awesome vibe just to have a lot of people you can jam with randomly," Madrid enthuses. "And it's really cool to be able to at least do that. Let alone all the free shows going on. It's really uplifting."
At least until Sunday, when the out of towners go home — and the folks of Austin go back to the music they play all year long.