1) They ran the tightest ship, and on the most epic scale, that I'd ever seen. Every band went on exactly on time; sound quality was always adequate to excellent; and the published schedule (when there was one) was always true.
2) The variety and obscurity of the music I discovered was unparalleled. I'd see bands who had never been in the country before, and might not be again for years to come.
3) If I wasn't that in to the band I was watching, I could walk down the street and poke my head into four nearby doors, and by the last one I'd have found something better!
All that's gone now. It's been a mess of cancellations and reschedulings. Even after the solid week and a half of prep I put in (much more work than last year) my schedule was very sparse. Not only that, but many of the bands on it were likely to come to San Francisco, which kind of defeats the purpose. Hell, half of them were from LA.
Maybe the organizational fuck-ups mean they have a new production team who don't know how to crack the whip like before? Or maybe it has just grown enough that they've reached their level of incompetence.
Maybe the lack of variety is due to the ever-increasing level of corporate sponsorship? Maybe we're now only seeing bands who have been pre-vetted by the corporate overlords, who already have their product endorsements all lined up?
I dunno. I just know that I spent too much of my time seeing nothing good. I saw about a third as many bands as I saw last year, and of those, honestly, I liked them half as much.
(By this I don't mean to disrespect the bands that I've posted about: if I posted about them, they are good! You should totally check them out! But in previous years I discovered multiple bands that rose beyond "really good" to "OMG my new favorite band forever" and that just didn't happen this year.)
As early as Wednesday afternoon I wrote:
- "So far I give this year a B- with 'SEE ME AFTER CLASS!!' written in red in the margin. Up your game, SXSW."
What I wrote Thursday evening:
- Three days of having basically no plan between 8pm and midnight -- I had entries in my calendar, sure, but only to discover late, "that one cancelled, that one went on an hour early, that venue is out in the middle of nowhere". It hasn't failed this badly in any previous year.
Actual conversation: "Maybe I'll go see ___ at 11." "Oh, that venue is doing only Rolling Stones covers, and every band gets a 10 minute set." "You have got to be shitting me."
With all this work, and with my hotel (the same hotel) costing 30% more than last year, and just a world of organizational fuck-ups, it's pretty clear that I'm not getting anywhere near the return on (excessive) investment out of this event that I have in previous years.
This written while-and-after waiting in line - like an animal - for a band with one guitar and a keyboard who somehow still managed to go on 20 minutes late.
By Thursday evening I'd have been happy to call it quits and fly home right then, if that wouldn't have made me feel dumb by costing me even more money.
So I spent the rest of the time mostly seeing bands I'd already seen, because alternatives that didn't suck were undiscoverable.
I won't be coming back. I'd have had better luck by just looking at the schedule and punching names into YouTube, then waiting for those bands to come to SF.
Maybe someone who's local or who just has better hookups than I of will tell me what I'm doing wrong and change my mind, but at this point - fuck, it's a ton of money for a ton of frustration. Especially in comparison to how great a time I fad in previous years. This year just... cratered.