On the other hand, there's the frustration that an event of this magnitude will foil even the best laid plans. My attempts to meet up with a number of contacts fell through for a myriad of reasons. Having evolved into a race of overfed giants, my painstakingly sought out band viewing vantage points were often obscured by bigger, taller, pushier fans. But I keep revisiting the same thought: Austin loves music. The whole city shuts down for it. It's available to everyone – old, young, disabled. All-ages shows abound, with wheelchair access at nearly every venue. Parents bring their toddlers. Houses of worship open their doors to it. And it's perhaps one of the best places to see artists – established, unknown, on the rise – give it their best shot. There were moments when I was dumbstruck at the passion and innate talent pouring out of these thousands of performers. It's an amazing thing to watch someone as gifted as Alfredo Rodriguez do what he was clearly born to do.
It's my firm and deeply held belief that everyone is musical in some way; as corny as it may sound, I believe music is the incredible untapped potential of humanity. Some, like Rodriquez are perfectly aligned with their natural ability; others like me express the musical impulse through a written response to it. For this reason, a number of comments Quincy Jones made at his keynote speech keep coming back to me: “Music is the one thing that engages the left and right brain simultaneously...It's a powerful cradle of spirituality.”
It's moving, really. Music is a language we all understand, and a language we should learn to use more with each other every day. According to Jones, it makes you smarter. Every person in the world feels strongly about, loves some kind of music. It makes people feel, moves people to respond. It invites interpretation, conversation and debate, but it can also be the perfect mediator – with enough open minded discussion, there is a place where we can all agree. Music is innate, and it can unify us.
I'm taking a lot with me from my week in Austin, but foremost in my mind is the gratifying notion that there are places in the world – if only at certain times of the year – that celebrate music to the umpth degree, withstanding nothing. Everyone's invited to play, watch, attend. To me, this is a pretty powerful thing. But SXSW comes at a price, and I need a nap. The pace of music week is exhaustive, unrelenting. As I left a venue one afternoon I overheard two photographers talking. One turned to the other and asked, “When's nap time?” only to meet with the answer,“Welcome to hell.” Hell to some, heaven to others, one thing's certain: I'm tired, but I'm already thinking about next year.