I didn’t think I’d see it again.
South by Southwest was the first cultural casualty of COVID-19, but it wasn’t a fatality.
Over the last two weeks, Austin transformed into the city-within-a-city that is SXSW. It’s really more of a university-within-a-city, where attendees come for the educational enrichment and stay for the socializing (and day parties).
Was SXSW going to come back? Would festivalgoers?
For much of the past two years, I thought SXSW might not come back. The organization that runs the event — which started as a music showcase in 1987 and now includes a conference, speakers and hundreds of events focusing on technology, film, education, video games and even politics — laid off a third of its staff in the days following the 2020 cancellation.
(I’ll never forget that anxious Friday afternoon in the newsroom when we held our collective breath about whether SXSW officials were going to cancel the event, an unprecedented move that — for Austinites — became the official start of the pandemic.)
Last year’s SXSW took place entirely virtually — I interviewed Rachael Ray for one of the keynotes — but even as a participant, I could tell that the online-only experience was a big “meh.”
As this year’s festival approached, I was busy doing other things. I didn’t have a badge. I didn’t have any assignments. I didn’t have a schedule filled with 50 events over 10 days.
What I did have was something else: My mom.