Friday at SXSW: When to Chuck It

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Friday at SXSW: When to Chuck It

“We have two choices,” our bus driver announced gravely. “We can turn back right now and beat the rush out of here, or I can pull in and drop you off, but we’ll be stuck for hours.”

We had just pulled in to Willie Nelson’s ranch in Luck, Texas for his annual Luck Reunion festival, which our semi-panicky driver had just (incorrectly) informed us had been canceled due to weather. We had to decide now, he said. Who’s getting off?

Our little schoolbus quickly transformed into what I imagine the music-fan version of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange might look like—a cluster of frantic people on the phone yelling updates and commands at each other. “My friend inside says they’re still serving drinks!” “This weather app says the storm’s supposed to last until midnight!” “Let’s go and see! The website says ‘rain or shine!’” “I have to pee!”

We made a game-time decision to ditch the bus and take our chances—word on the street was the festival was postponed, not canceled, and we weren’t about to risk not seeing Willie. It’s a choice we’ve been conditioned to make here at SXSW and at countless other music festivals for years. We grin and bear torrential downpours, brutal heat, bleeding blisters and sore feet, spilled beer, the occasional kick in the head from a crowdsurfer—all so we can see the music we love.

So after getting yelled at for attempting to seek shelter inside a chapel—so much for sanctuary, I guess—we wound up inside the Revival Tent with about a hundred other people whose musk we’d grow very familiar with over the next few hours. We made as many “bad Luck” puns as possible (seriously, if getting stranded in a town called Luck isn’t a country song, I don’t know what is, and if anyone in Nashville needs me to co-write “Down On My Luck in Luck,” please be in touch), caught a much-appreciated acoustic set by Lissie (check out Dacey Orr’s recap for more on that) and hunkered down as the rain began pounding down and darkness fell.

It was in the post-Lissie, sitting-in-the-dark time, hour two or so of being stuck in the tent, that I realized I hadn’t eaten anything that day besides half a breakfast burrito in the morning. The storm had caused the temperature to drop about 20 or 30 degrees, and the sundress I had so carefully picked after downing that half-burrito suddenly felt like a really dumb choice. A guy from the festival came onstage and said they had no idea when they’d be able to turn the lights back on and get the music started again, but that they understood if “some of you are about ready to chuck it in the fuck-it bucket.”

The tent camaraderie and promise of seeing Willie Nelson had kept me from chucking it to that point, but when the storm finally passed and we were free to wander the grounds, the main stage had been broken down because of the lightning and big acts like Lucius and Jenny Lewis were playing inside the 40-person-capacity chapel. The lines for the food trucks and the shuttles coming every hour or so to bus people back to Austin were outrageous, and when it started raining again, I was woozy, freezing and pretty sure I was developing trench foot.

Then a weird thing happened: I found out thanks to social media that the guy I walked past who looked like Bill Murray a few hours earlier was Bill Murray. A rare Murray sighting in the wild, squandered because I hadn’t trusted my gut. No more ignoring my instincts—it was time to chuck it.

It’s tough sometimes, when every aspect of your very being—the music fandom, the pride, the curiosity and sense of adventure—is telling you to tough it out, but your body exercises its veto power. All we can do is push as hard as we can before that happens; I know we had a much better time than the people who stayed on the bus and immediately turned around, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’m lucky to have even been there in the first place. And, as luck would have it, today is a new day at SXSW, with more bands to be seen and—hopefully—fewer people with full bladders trapped in enclosed spaces.

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