There is an overwhelming sense of loss at the conclusion of SXSW. Much of the feeling of despair is due to the physical ramifications that a full week of the festival does to you. The transition from festival life to civilian life is difficult and every year it’s harder to go back. No more seeing celebrities and rappers at the same events I’m at. No more waiting in lines to absolutely everything. And no more excuse for going as big as possible for an entire week. Instead of growing somber at the realization that it’s over, I’ll look back at the many highs and lows of the final days at SXSW.
When Wednesday hit during SXSW the best move was to hit the Fader Fort presented by Converse. From the last two times I’ve done the festival I’ve learned a couple things: get to the Fader early and never leave before the headliner. This year my team and I were fully committed to it and spent an average of 6-7 hours there each day from Wednesday to Saturday. In an effort to curb the mass consumption of alcohol that occurs each year at the Fader, they implemented a new plan. They offered drink tickets in the form of wooden chips that were given to each attendant as they walked in. A limit of two per person was the Fader’s attempt at controlling the public before the bars became fully open at 5pm. I commend the effort, but it didn’t work and everyone found a way to get more chips. Alas, they at least tried to hold a safer event. Where the Fader always wins is in its surprise performances. This year the event became a tale of two halves, a momentous beginning that shifted into an underwhelming finale.
Day 1 of the Fader had Chance the Rapper headlining and minus some technical difficulties, he started off the event with a blast. The event planners had set the bar high by starting off with Chance and left everyone excited for what was to come. By the second day, one of the best things about the Fader was in full swing, the rumors. I probably have as much fun spouting off rumors to random people than watching a full day’s lineup. My personal favorites are Jay Z, Macklemore, Madonna, and the Beatles. All that was known about the headliner on Day 2 was that Mike Will Made It & Friends were listed. But who could the friends be? Future had to be one of them because when you need a banger, Future is there for you. Around 3pm the Miley Cyrus rumors were getting to the public and I was stoked. We secured a pristine location near the stage and by the bar, with a human chain of friends making sure everyone stayed hydrated. It took me a couple seconds to even locate Future on the stage because once the beat dropped I was aerial. If you can listen to “Move that Dope” or “Shit” and not get hyped, you’re letting the terrorists win. By the time Miley came out, the crowd was ready to explode and it erupted in pandemonium when she belted out the hits. I walked out and needed a moment because that performance by Mike Will Made It & Friends had just lit the place on fire.
When Day 2 delivers such a gem of a headliner then the only natural reaction is to expect it to get even bigger on the last two days. By the third day, it felt like all bets were off on rumors. I read a tweet that morning that Kanye cancelled on Jimmy Kimmel. The only valid reason I could think of was he was headlining the Fader and couldn’t do both. I believed it wholeheartedly and used every sign to reinforce that Yeezy was coming out. One indicator was Big Sean had already confirmed a set for the Fader that day. Sean being with G.O.O.D Music had everyone believing Kanye was there. We were in the Fader early of course but by 4pm we looked outside the fence to see the line was to the highway. When Big Sean took the stage he did what he does best and gave the crowd all his hits, which set the place off. The man killed it and looking back that night, it should’ve ended with Big Sean’s performance. After Big Sean the mood changed, Migos had their set out of order and seemed overall disinterested in being there. I could tell that Kanye was not going to come out that night, but the rumors were still in full swing. People in the crowd were saying Rihanna and I believed it because I wanted to tell myself the headliner was going to be epic. Once the headliner was announced I wanted to exit, T-Pain would come out and play the longest set list in the history of mankind. No disrespect to T-Pain who did have a strong performance I just only listened to his music when I was forced to listen to the radio. Many people left during the performance and I was left wanting better hip-hop. Luckily some friends of ours had a Free the People hip-hop showcase at Austin City Music Hall. I would see Chance the Rapper a second time this time without any technical difficulties. Apparently a bunch of other rappers performed too, but for some reason I just can’t remember. Just like I can’t remember why I would trek across town after the show to my house on foot. The walk itself was worthy of a Peter Jackson trilogy. My theory is the “turn” was real and the next morning that realness had me feeling dead.
I should’ve seen the signs earlier in the week that by the end of SXSW I would be in a Zombie state. Throughout the Fader I had seen some of the cast members of the Walking Dead. I met Norman Reedus as I walked up to the bathroom and people were yelling “Daryl” his character from the show. I knew it was my chance to commend him on my favorite work of his. No, it wasn’t the cult classic Boondock Saints, I focused on his true work of art. When I first saw Norman it was in the blockbuster sequel Blade II as Wesley Snipes’ sidekick Scud. So he was surprised to say the least when I shook his hand and said “You killed it in Blade II man.” His reaction was priceless, he just laughed and was like “thanks, man.” It was a recollection that played in my head on the last day of the Fader. I was the zombie on that final day. It wasn’t mindless hunger for people that drove me, it was mindless fear of what I’d miss out on if I stayed home.
The best performance on the last day of Fader happened at 2pm by up and coming singer Kali Uchis, who dazzled the crowd with her unique vocals and soulful melodies. Comparisons to Amy Winehouse have swirled but where Kali differentiates is in her range. Her rendition of Selena’s music is a crowd favorite especially here in Texas. I also kind of met her once, so that is the main indicator that her career is about to blow up. The rest of the Fader was a let down, Timbaland played some hits but he’s a producer, where your friends at? Travi$ Scott came out in the most unlike Travi$ Scott fashion. An artist who went off in the Fader last year climbing the sound equipment above the crowd, leaving everyone chanting for 10 minutes after he finished his set. This year he must have been hammered and on something because he came out with his biggest hit and just mumbled. Where was the real Travi$ Scott? He certainly was not at the Fader that evening. The show concluded with Twista, who is a talented guy but not what I was trying to see on the final night as a headliner. We all stood in the crowd waiting for anyone else to show but an awkward public announcement informed us that the show was indeed over. It ended 30 minutes earlier than scheduled and loud boos poured in. I did not join in but was equally bummed out at how the it all ended. I would later see the tweets by the President of Fader lashing out at fans for complaining about how it ended. I see where the guy is coming from but it’s not the public’s fault that the event had set the bar so high. Fader was a victim of it’s own reputation and it was odd leaving the event displeased at its final two days. I was near catastrophic levels of sleep deprivation but I couldn’t let the underwhelming conclusion to Fader be my last SXSW stop.
There is one event at SXSW that dominates after hour showcases and parties. The Illmore is the stomping ground to the majority of rappers in town for SXSW. The lineup always trumps most concerts and access into the event mirrors security access to the NSA, CIA, and DOD, but with rappers. I had only been to it one time last year and it brought out Lil Wayne at 4 am. On the last night of SXSW I just had to go, the let-down of Fader had me motivated. Shout out to the plug for getting me inside with ease. At 2:02 am, I left the bar and darted into the concert portion of the venue. Security was making sure only a small amount of people were allowed into the stage room. Once inside I knew I couldn’t leave the concert for any reason, forget the restroom, it was no longer an option. OG Maco was wrecking the show and his banger “U guessed it” had the place lit. The actual heat permeating the room had to be near 130 degrees. It was worth the discomfort as Trae the Truth, Bun B and J.Cole brought out the hits. The finale of J.Cole was short and his sound was off and he didn’t have a DJ but it was still J.Cole. I enjoyed his 3-song set and I had never seen the guy perform before so I was going to think it was dope no matter the circumstances. Exhausted from dehydration and perspiration I stepped outside to breathe in the cool air. I caught a ride home, went straight for my shower and then waited for the rest of the team to get home. After many laughs and story sharing our SXSW ended at 5:25 am. This was my most productive SXSW and it worked out in ways I never imagined. It’s time for non-SXSW posts they’ll probably be shorter, or the same, or even longer, who knows I’m still operating in zombie mode from the last 10 days.