“If Austin, Texas were a woman she would be beautiful and lonely”
At 1:00 am on Thursday morning, during the third official night of South by Southwest, Austin, Texas was struck with chaos and confusion as a drunk driver hurled himself into a dense crowd of attendees, killing three people and leaving dozens more severely injured. Following the accident, all of Austin erupted into a state of confusion and panic. The city was drunk and heavy with the weight of what had happened. Misinformation spread like disease.
“Twenty people are dead outside.”
“Where the fuck are our friends?”
“Our friends are dead outside.”
“I think I just watched a woman die.”
“People are dead outside.”
My roommate McKenzie and I arrived twelve hours after the city broke open. It was a weird time to be looking for a good time. The streets were charged with tragedy. The infamous Mohawk Bar had been reduced to a crime scene and last night’s disaster was alive in the air. The accident had taken a strange and sobering toll on the city. People sipped their drinks more modestly. Police presence was heavy. The show went on, but tentatively. Austin was processing the first deaths in the history of the thirty-five yearlong events. I wandered through the city like a stranger. Our friends and acquaintances retold the tumultuous evening to us as if it were their fault. Each person we spoke to claimed some degree of involvement in what had happened, whether they were outside of The Mohawk or they saw it from the cheap seats – everyone spoke as if they were intimately involved. McKenzie and I were foreigners, further removed from the melodrama of death and drunkenness than any of our friends. We were the lucky ones.
Our day began at The Gypsy Lounge, an indoor/outdoor venue boasting decent bands and free Sailor Jerry for those D-list enough to have earned a wristband. Naturally, our friends from Brooklyn were parked at the bar. My friend, Tim was there with cool girl, Cassie Ramone and a few other familiar faces. As enticing as the idea was of drinking rum in the sun all day, we were here to see the music, and the music was elsewhere. McKenzie and I hooked arms and headed off to Cheer Up Charlie’s to see Small Black.
We hurried under the overpass, stopping briefly to take a photo with a massive, Mexican family who mistook us for being important (we have cool clothes). We arrived late and flustered with no music to be found. My roommate was beginning to panic. She’d promised the band that we would be here.
Fortunately, McKenzie is an alchemist with an Iphone. Within two minutes her phone was singing with a call from the guitar player. We met Small Black at their van.
The show had been cancelled. The accident outside of The Mohawk had resulted in a closed venue and a scheduling nightmare. The band was bummed. Juan and Jeff took off in the van to mourn privately, but Josh and Ryan wanted to hang with us. At South by Southwest, status is measured in wristbands and these boys were up to their elbows. As we wandered through the crowded streets two fangirls flocked to us. I heard one say, “Those are the guys from Small Black. Who the fuck are those girls they’re with them?!” The boys wanted to have a drink at Fader Fort, but the spot was exclusive and McKenzie and I lacked the proper credentials. Instead we opted for an outdoor venue where a hardcore band called Fucked Up was playing. The music was loud and left us with a feeling of deep anxiety.
Somewhere on a patch of grass we spotted Rezzie, a Pitchfork photographer who had threatened to take our photo at least ten times. Now that we were with our B-list boys, he wanted a shot. He snapped some pictures of McKenzie, Josh, Ryan, and me. McKenzie, whose verbal filter rarely kicks in before 5:00 o’clock in the afternoon blurted out, “FINALLY!” That was the first of many photos that Rezzie would capture of us making a bad name for Brooklyn. Small Black’s guitar player, Juan, resurfaced and I bought him a beer. He seemed grateful not to be charging yet another drink to the company card. And then we saw Marnie. (Quick backround information for the less keen readers: Marnie is a Brooklyn social light who can’t see or put her tongue in her mouth, but somehow has more followers on Instagram than me. Marnie frequents every important show, party, bar, whatever- but she always manages to end up on all fours. All of this would be more embarrassing were it not for the fact that Marnie is a twelve year old dog.)
Neither McKenzie nor I had ever seen Marnie walk before, so you can imagine that this was a big moment. Marie’s owner, Cindy, even gave me a Marnie the dog sticker shortly before we were asked to leave. The cops were busy clearing out the venue, but we still had pictures to take and drinks to finish. The third time the same officer asked me to leave I apologized profusely.
“South-by must suck for you!” I told the cop.
“Some days are better than others,” he had kind of an Eeyore thing going on.
“I’m so sorry!”, I said.
Anyway, I gave the cop a hug and the cop gave me a police pal sticker and my friends decided to be cooperative and leave. Last night’s calamity was feeling further away from us with every passing second. This was further solidified when we learned that The Mohawk was ready to reopen its doors for the evening. The only question was how McKenzie and I would get in. She frowned into her Iphone, as if waiting for an answer to appear, until Juan lit up like a lightbulb. “Don’t worry about it,” he said.
The band went in through the front but Juan hung back to get us in. He took us to a side entrance where his friend was working. She tentatively stamped us and led us through a labyrinth that eventually opened up into The Mohawk. The VIP section is almost always cooler from the outside. We sipped free drinks and briefly considered the possibility of heading to a party on Willie Nelson’s ranch, but our magic was already beginning to dwindle. I decide that a power nap was what I needed to recharge my energy and my Iphone. I took off with my friend Tim and passed out on the couch of his hotel room, only to be woken up by the smell of urine and all too eager Marnie the dog. Maybe my evening was over after all. I left the hotel feeling disoriented and incomplete. I had traded McKenzie for Marnie, and I was fading without my other half. I managed to hail a taxi and I headed back to Embassy to crawl into bed with my best friend.