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SXSW: Stick a Fork In It
By: Maryann Fabian
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Remember when your favorite indie band from college started to go big time? At first, you enjoyed bragging rights: “l liked them first…when they weren’t big and famous.” Then everyone started to catch on. One day, groan, you actually hear your mom humming along to one of their tunes on a light rock station. And all of the coolness once associated with the band is gone. Complete sellouts, you think.

That’s pretty much what has happened to South by Southwest in Austin.

In the past, the interactive/technology conference and music festival turned Twitter and John Mayer into household names. People looked forward to SXSW as it proudly crowned “the next big thing.” But now it’s gotten so bloated with corporate brands wanting to have a little hipness rub off on them that it’s hard for start-ups to even get noticed.

So far, the biggest news out of SXSW is Grumpy Cat. Already an Internet meme star, TMZ reports that Grumpy received A-list celebrity treatment by the folks at Friskies cat food. They flew her in first class, put her up in a top hotel, hired a full-time assistant to brush her, and paid five figures for an appearance and commercial shoot. Yes, even if you discount being poked at and gawked at by thousands of geeks, techies and pseudo-trendies (which, even for the most laid-back cat, has got to be traumatic), Grumpy Cat had a better week than you did.

Speaking of food, it must be the underlying theme this year. (And not just the booths plying patrons with free beer.) Tweets about food at the festival outnumbered all the other tweets about panelists, events, and performances three to one. Either that’s a sign that nothing else is newsworthy, or that food was a highlight. Austin is already a foodie’s dream but food trucks from as far away as Los Angeles showed up. Keynote speakers include the founders of Whole Foods and Panera. And Oreo, still on a Super Bowl high, owned the place as it promoted its Grab & Go packs, from pedi-cab sponsorships to strolling cookie characters to an Instagram display to an odd tie-in with actor Jeffrey Tambor, who was promoting new episodes of Arrested Development. “Tweet a pic of ur fave spot in Austin before 2pm tonight w/#oreograbgo & #sxsw and dinner is on @jeffrey tambor.”

That’s either one smart cookie or it’s time for a new festival to take over.

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About the Author
Maryann Fabian is a copywriter who has crafted the voice of some of this country's best brands.
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