SXSW 2018: SX So Far – Hitting Stride Early

by Daniel Ramirez on March 11, 2018 in Entertainment, Art, Film, Music, Food+Drink, General, Living Texas, Austin,

It has begun, and done so in earnest. SXSW 2018 is here, and it has invited all who visit to come inside and step away from their own reality for a little while. With such inviting delights, it’s hard to resist the draw, and we’re only one and a half days in. Follow us on a quick wrap up of what we’ve seen so far and don’t forget to follow us for live coverage on Facebook and Instagram.

David Axelrod & The Axe Files

Day two of SXSW 2018 was a day for big, smart brands to present their biggest activations. CNN, whose “at The Market” activation encouraged both healthy choices and a devotion to the idea that “Facts Matter” showcased a political powerhouse in David Axelrod, whose podcast, “The Axe Files” taped live, was a lively start to the morning. Across the street, FOX Sports put not only their dedication to soccer on display at their PHENOMS installation, but championed women in the sports industry, hosting a panel discussion on the challenges and trends in social media, where sports figures are concerned. Amid a male-dominated commercial industry, the panel was comprised of powerful women whose influence on the sports media world is uncontested. The morning was full of “big think,” with ideas intended to push discussions, as well as the world at large forward.

A new kind of air hockey

Great Big Story’s ultimate photo-ops built off the stories they tell, and the staging was incredible. From jumping into a claw machine from the arcade, to the perfect 90s hip-hop/boy-band album cover, this was one of the most thrilling Instagram moments of our day.

To that end, SONY’s “Wow Studio” did just that to all who visited. It wowed them with new technologies and new combinations of emerging technologies that were truly breathtaking – from the responsive and well-evolved robot dog, Aibo, to the new spin on air hockey (incorporating augmented reality on the table in a game you simply have to try) and soccer. There was almost too much to take in, and one could get lost in the rooms that turn your hand into a musical instrument or your entire self into an honest-to-goodness comic book super hero.

But, the ultimate prize in this year’s SXSW activations is as clear as the cowboy hats sitting atop everyone’s heads. For the pinnacle of SXSW activation, one need only go…west. HBO brought more to SXSW than an iron throne, as those who registered – or waited patiently in an impressive line – were transported, both literally and figuratively to the world their genius series writers created for the screen. HBO brought Westworld to life at SXSW. It’s a time investment, to be certain. You’re put on a rail out of town (well, a bus, at least), and the moment you step out again, the game is on. This is the true spirit of the show, in that there are multiple paths and multiple mysteries, alongside the food and drink on offer. The “hosts” will interact with you in the extreme, from heavy flirting at the Mariposa to aggressive accusations if you’ve wronged a sheriff or outlaw. But, everyone has a secret, and the more you explore and pay attention to, the more there is to discover. Don’t be shocked by gunfights or a letter addressed specifically to you, and only believe most of what you hear as you discover your own mysteries (find a coin, unlock a secret door, win the deed to the saloon…there are many possibilities). At it’s completion, one cannot help but consider that you may actually have visited Westworld. It is perhaps the most impressive activation in our over 14 years of SXSW attendance. You can still try to sign up and reserve a spot at but there is, needless to say, a heavy demand (after all, you get to keep your hat!). Westworld.
Welcome…to Westworld.
The Ladies of the Mariposa
The Ladies of the Mariposa
This gunfight is staged...or is it?
This gunfight is staged…or is it?
In our G5!
In our G5!

But it really isn’t a night-ender. For that, we turned to Bravo and their Imposters set up. Split across two locales along Congress, the network allowed people to fake out the world, either in their photo op at the south location or their party at the north location. South, there is an opportunity to take pictures for your feed that will fool your friends into thinking you’ve jetted off to a foreign locale on a whim, and then see the “man behind the curtain” as the next picture pans back to reveal the magic of the shot. The North location has a full-make-up and makeover station, complete with wigs, pickpocket training, and a bath full of (fake) money. But the real gems of this “Imposter” party were the foods meant to fool you. Real dishes were being passed around, as were imposter dishes that looked eerily similar to the actual items. What looked like a duckfat fried potato could be angel food cake, and a caprese salad on a toothpick could be marshmallow and molded jello. It all paired well with the miracle berry (a food-tripping experience) handed out upon departure. Not to be outdone by any of the music later in the week, Bravo brought  hitmaker Flo Rida to the stage to make the entire place erupt. All in all, it would count, even compared to over a dozen SXSW conferences, as an incredible finish to a SXSW, worthy of closing it out and shutting it all down; and, yet, this one is just getting started.

Getting dressed up as someone else
Getting dressed up as someone else
Flo Rida's AVID fans
Flo Rida’s AVID fans
Flo Rida
Flo Rida brings all the ladies to the stage to “Get Low”

More to come.