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SXSW – too big for Texas?

SXSW – too big for Texas? (photo)

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They grow ’em big in Texas, so it’s fitting that SXSW has begun to grow exponentially into a behemoth of a festival. I’m not actually there this time, kind of a bummer, but I can’t help wonder if I’d be somewhat frustrated if I were. SWSX has been going on for a long time, and it’s as respectable as they come in it’s scope and ambition – both of which have increased dramatically in the last decade.

Some new numbers on attendance look daunting though. What began in ’87 with 700 registrants, was as of last year, a festival of about 35,000 participants. And this year, according to the Hollywood Reporter, “Based on anecdotal evidence and unofficial figures, this year’s total… ran closer to 50,000.” you might not notice if 50,000 people dropped into Chicago or New York, but in a city of 750,000 like Austin, you’d notice. Especially since they’re all wildly bombed.

What’s more, SXSW is essentially an intimate affair, with really small venues. Most of them are just pubs that turn into clubs for 10 days give or take. Festival director Janet Pierson is all over it, but it might be too late for many in long lines being turned away already this year. “This is No. 1 on the list of challenges to tackle. We’re aware of it; we’re sorry about it. It’s something that we’re really going to have to sit down and look at from every angle,” she told THR.

I remember well my last time at SXSW (maybe not that well) and how beautifully disheveled it all was, yet well run. It was perfect, I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. Even when the cops took down some anti-corporate protesters and beat the shit out of some poor drunk guy on 6th street right in front of me – the only injustice I witnessed.

It was 2004 and already I had to stay in a hotel just outside the downtown area, the place was so booked up. It wasn’t on my dime so it was no big deal and I spent most nights crashed up somewhere closer to the action anyway. As crammed as some of the venues were, there was always a laid back vibe, no pushing or dickery. Even the rampant looting of promo goodies was done in good spirits. I witnessed a guy saying he was with a band called the Flaming Balls walk into a hotel suite filled with boutique giveaways and load up an industrial-sized garbage bag he’d taken from housekeeping with a small fortune in hair products, shoes, hats and miscellaneous hip accoutrements. No one gave a shit except the housekeeping lady who glared at him as he dragged the bag, too heavy to carry, down the hallway on his way out.

Later, after an all night party in a warehouse, burning one with The Walkmen, I cabbed back to a ridiculous after-hours at the looters crib. There was no band called the Flaming Balls, he was just some legend from LA who’d set up shop in Austin for the week – PlayStation, air conditioning, and a wad of hundred dollar bills – stealing from the rich and giving to young girls or something. There was rumor of a vending machine you could get joints out of. I saw chill people I’d known for years literally laying in gutters in the street, happier then they’d ever been in their lives. I saw TV on the Radio in a really small room for the last time.

SXSW is one of those magic places where you end up rolling with a motley crew of friends, work associates, and musicians who normally don’t hang – and some hugely blown out strangers. Some of what goes on I wouldn’t write about but it’s all quite wonderful I can assure you. It’s a place where you can make your way into most anything and if you miss a band they are almost always playing again somewhere else. There’s not a lot of attitude or injustice towards the average pleb, unlike some other festivals I know (Austin police have a mind of their own). I hope it manages to stay that way for my inevitable return.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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