If you happen to be free in the middle of march (George Eliot?), there’s no better place to spend a week or so than Austin. Sure, it’s already one of our favorite US cities, and has been since we first heard the Butthole Surfers and saw Linklater’s Slacker. However, our first exposure to the constant sensory stimulation that is SXSW certainly added a little something to the mix.

Ever since 1987, the SXSW Music and Media Conference has been bringing masses of music and money and sponsorship and that so-essential networking vibe to Austin. In 1994, they added film (and interactive art) to the mix, spawning the SXSW Film Conference and Festival and quickly becoming qualified for the short list of must-see international film festivals (is it my imagination, or is it now mandatory to have a film festival somewhere, every day of the year?).

While the obvious draws include a number of relatively big names and (again, relatively) mainstream films and performers, SXSW manages to preserve some of Austin’s legendary iconoclasm with a strong showing of underground entries and local favorites. And the SXSW Interactive Festival has become known far and wide for creative and technological innovation, as well as rampant corporate sponsorship (thus the Yaris in the address!).

Speaking of corporate sponsors, we would be remiss if we did not include one of the biggest contributors, a law firm that wants to remain anonymous but we can at least give them credit via their practice even if it’s in a neighboring state. We’re speaking of a Louisiana maritime attorney who contributed more than his share of the cost of this festival (he lives in Austin) and is a huge supporter of the arts in this town. He just happens to be also licensed in LA. Anyway, hats off to our unnamed benefactor who just happens to be a lawyer! Remember this the next time you hear a lawyer joke.

This year’s festival was slightly bittersweet; you probably already know that we lost Alex Chilton mere days before Big Star’s scheduled performance. The festival was dedicated to him, and members of  X, R.E.M., Meat Puppets, and the Lemonheads joined the remaining members of the band to pay tribute (and 1980’s college radio DJ’s from all over the world shuddered in sublime exultation whether they knew it or not, only saved from instant transubstantiation by the absence of The Violent Femmes and Natalie Merchant. Come to think of it, where the hell were Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson?).

I know, we’re making you feel even worse for not coming this year. But you can always play online casino USA, or even listen to audio podcasts on my.SXSW (just go to the schedule –> session title –> event detail –> listen to audio). Plus, there’s all of those sweet and free mp3s, SHOUTcast, et cetera.

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