SXSW: Madness from the trenches.
“Load in at 11am” read the text sent at 1:47am, while I hauled the last of the trash bags into the 5 foot tall steel bin. It’s South By, better get used to it, cus it won’t let up for a week.
I wake up somewhere on the East side, around 9:45am as the fair maiden I shared a bed with gets dressed up to go on a bike ride. Chan picks me up and we drive to my place so I can take an online Spanish for him. He takes my defensive driving courses, so quid pro quo.
I arrive into the venue at 11:02 and walk across the empty dance floor to the back door. There’s 10 other guys, all dressed mostly in black, on a semi-circle as the huge truck pulls into the alley, barely fitting in the crowded space of concrete and trash bins. They all wear sneakers or boots, no room for nice shoes at work. I greet Myles and James. There’s a group unloading the ramp from the side of the truck, it takes 6 guys to set it properly into the open door in the back of the truck. For 30 minutes we are carting equipment into the venue, amps, lights, sound gear, and a huge custom-made steel platform where the drum kit is attached. After bringing out all the equipment for stage setup we’re done for the shift. A brisk one to begin the day. I stroll through downtown and grab a bite to eat, a 4/5 burger at some semi-fancy spot on Congress. I catch a Lyft back home to grab my car, since I gotta go back to get James’s list for hospitality that evening. I meet him an hour later, he hands me gift cards and we quickly go over the items and plan out where to get them. I spend the rest of my Sunday afternoon in jam-packed grocery stores, getting the mildly eccentric demands of the night’s performers. Throughout the day, I get a couple more requests from the bossman, and my manager, and the casual texts by somewhat random friends asking if I can get them into the show that night. I end up making it back to the club right around 5pm. The streets are packed with people and traffic. James meets me in the alley with two other guys, and the take the groceries from me so I can drop my car off before my shift begins. One of the other door guys, Trey, had just called me to cover for him, he was overbooked for shifts and tells me it’ll only be till 9, upon which he’ll arrive and I’ll finally be able to go home. I’m about to get out of downtown when the bossman texts me to go pick up some BBQ for the lead singer, across downtown at his restaurant. Luckily, downtown Austin is only so big, but traffic is just evil. I end up dropping off my car at the expensive hotel because I took a wrong turn and I need to be on the floor by then.
The line goes around the corner, with a good mix of SX professionals with the Platinum badges, aged creative corporates, random guys on the GA line, and the babes who always think they can sweet talk their way in. Not tonight, guerla, show’s sold out AF and can’t help you out, even if y’all start playing with each others breasts in public (which we didn’t ask for, they just did it). Some dude comes from inside and offers us $200 just to let this group of chicks in, and the other SXSW volunteers keep making jokes about how we should let them in. I spot my buddy who’d texted me earlier about getting him in, and I greet him happily since it’s always great to see a familiar face. We keep working the door, slowly letting people in, and before I know it, it’s 1030pm and Trey is nowhere to be found. I start calling him and he still doesn’t pick up. “You got fucked”, Mike jokes. I’m slightly livid since I’m getting close to 12 hours on the clock. I want to go see some friends who are in town before they leave. By 11pm, Trey finally shows up, pays me some money he owes me, and I go behind the bar to clock out. The band everyone is waiting for is about to play, so I decide to stay since I missed a badass rapper the night before by just being a dickhead and not wanting to be at work when I’m not working. The band is from San Francisco, they put out an album in 1997 that they effectively leveraged to obtain a record-setting major label contract. The album blew up, before the internet, when record sales were at their peak and things would never again be better for indie bans to break into the mainstream. In that moment, they toured with Oasis, arguably one of the biggest bands in the world at the time. You’ve definitely heard of them. Nostalgia is abound as the band starts playing, as the people who are stuck outside start singing the songs from the street. The band is not even that good but they have 600 people going crazy over the songs they wrote almost two decades ago. I start chatting with one of the corporate girls who’s been working the events all week with us, and we joke about this whole week. As the band ends, I start walking out, and I’m a block away when I get the text from bossman “You think you can stick around for load out?”. Stay until 2am, when I finally make it home and crash .
Wake up around 10am. I see the young guns going on spring break, my friends getting trashed at the SX event they found their way into, and some emails informing me some dudes in Dallas and Austin that placed an order for some belts (Hell yeah). I pack them up ready to ship, grab a bite to eat, make coffee and head out. Blast some early Beatles to keep the Monday blues away. I head downtown to meet my friend before he returns to LA, and give him two belts, each for his roommate and him. As I roll through yupster central I see a pop up shop in the middle of this heavily-trafficked street, and decide to stop and talk to them. Nice, they take items on consignment. Stop by later and talk to the owner, they suggest. I go and meet James, get the list, and go about getting this run done for the country bands playing tonight. Only bands that order cigs and dip. I drop off the stuff around 4:30pm, and go meet the shop owner, and agree to bring 22 belts on consignment the next day. I head to Target to buy a hanger to display the belts on. I get back home, update my numbers, take out the belts, organize them by size, and put them in a box. My phone rings and my partner is hollering “let’s grab a beer and catch up”. Again to the east side. We chat and drink and meet some older girls from San Francisco. On a Monday night, end up drinking and dancing with this girl until 2am, and return home to PTFO and do it all over again.
Thursday night rolls in. The venue is doing a showcase for their bread-and-butter artists, they play the blues and nothing else cus they just wanna play the blues. I get a call, No Caller ID, and answer the phone since I know it’s dad calling. A quick conversation, he informs me how some thugs broke into our ranch and sacked the house, including the dignity and possessions of the people who look out after the house while were away, who are pretty much family to us. I speak of my ideas for the future, how I need to go to Argentina to figure out more products, take pictures of the life down in South America, all these lofty ideas that I think will help build the brand. “How are you going to afford all that, man? I don’t see it, at least not right now. What are you gonna do to make enough to keep yourself in the U.S. and build your company?” I’m sitting down as I hear these words, and stay still for 5 minutes after while I ponder the nature of the decisions I’ve made in my life that led me to this: In 4 months my work permit ends, my lease is up, and dad’s financial aid will be done for. What do I have? I started a company that is selling a unique and great product, but really haven’t hit the stride with e-commerce marketing. I have a music project, with a website, three recorded songs, a band that is constantly changing line-ups and barely played one show. I have a gained some rapport with the people I work with, but there’s only so much they can do, especially when my situation is something so foreign to them. I have 4 months to make it happen for myself, before my time is up have to return home, to criminal paradise and the city of stifled dreams. I write this column half in desire to share, half in desperation for exposure. Five years of college, naturalization, embracement of American culture, including accent, mannerisms and behavioral patterns. It waits in the balance. It’s the third quarter and I’m down but not out. I will keep my head up because no one else will do that for me. Monday morning doesn’t know what’s coming. At least I tell myself that.