South by Southwest 2001

“The #1 Live Music City in the Country” from one of the conference hotels.

13 MARCH 2001: Let’s Interactive

At the moment, there might 5,000 of the promised 15,000 participants from the music, film and Internet industries here. Most will arrive tomorrow when the music festival begins with the Austin Music Awards: Lucinda Williams, Alejandro Escovedo, James Cotton, and others will be playing.

Of the three festivals being held here in Austin this week, Interactive is the newest — and it shows.

The problem may be that like the term “interactive” itself, the festival is not terribly well-defined. Is it a hard- and software show for techies? A showcase for elaborate Web sites? A place to hear some of the Internet heavy-hitters talk about their plans? To get some “how-to” tips?

Let’s Interactive: The Showcase Space. “So what’s next?”

All of these, I suppose, but something seems be missing, and that may have to do with a couple of things. First, the festival is happening in the very large and very dark shadow of the dot-com bust that has been ongoing for more than a year now. Secondly, the industry may simply too new for much sensible dialogue, so there is more flash here than reflection. And a feeling that you have heard much of it before.

Indeed, you may have. David Talbot talking about Salon magazine, Michael Hirshorn (formerly of Spin) talking about his newish Inside magazine, Larry Harvey from the Burning Man Festival… did I mention nearly all the keynoters are guys? Not that these guys (and plenty of other lesser-knowns) were anything less than professional, but rather “professional” may be the problem here. While everyone I’ve heard over the last few days talks about their love for what they do, and you can believe it, this is still a festival that celebrates business, not art. And in that way if differs from the other two festivals — film and music — in a big way.

T-shirt stand. SXSW: take it home with you.

That said, the annual Web awards are always of interest and most winners are online. A session on music-sharing post-Napster had some smart panelists, all of them earnestly trying to puzzle out what the record companies will do next. (Anything they can to frustrate consumers and keep all the money was the general feeling). One of the best events was a panel discussion moderated by Teri Senft on women and Webcams that touched on issues of identity, privacy, sex, and the boredom of everyday life.

Tomorrow: the film festival, in which Penelope Spheeris says “Dude!”. A lot. And Quentin Tarantino is, gasp!, Mr. No-Show.