Seeking boots, beer and media buzz at Austin's SXSW

Wed Mar 7, 2012 6:03pm EST
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By Corrie MacLaggan

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - At Allens Boots, where cowboy footwear comes in ostrich, crocodile and elephant skin, salesman Bryan Perez is prepping for the annual South by Southwest festival invasion.

As tens of thousands of people head to the Texas capital for the music, film and interactive conferences that kick off on Friday, Perez expects to educate visitors from Europe, Asia and big U.S. cities like New York on how cowboy boots are supposed to fit (snug in front with wiggle room in back for the heel).

"They want boots," Perez said. "They want the real Texas experience -- I guess."

Organizers for the festival, dubbed SXSW, expect this year's industry-conference-meets-cultural-exchange to be the biggest yet, surpassing last year's 49,000 registered attendees and featuring more music concerts, film screenings and panel discussions than ever. The technology conference runs March 9-13, films screen March 9-17 and music plays March 13-18.

The music portion features more than 2,000 acts from dozens of countries performing during the festival. Almost every place in Austin becomes an official or unofficial SXSW stage for bands trying to get noticed: the airport, downtown clubs, parking lots and outdoor spaces along Lady Bird Lake.

"What happens during South by Southwest is kind of Austin on steroids," said Roland Swenson, SXSW managing director.

Speakers include Bruce Springsteen - he and his E Street Band will also perform - and Rainn Wilson (Dwight from TV's "The Office.") There will be red carpet premieres for movies like the comedy "21 Jump Street" with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. The Counting Crows, the Shins and Norah Jones will perform.

Venture capitalists, software developers, film distributors and representatives of independent music labels will schmooze at parties fueled by beer and live music. They will sample barbecue and Tex-Mex and perhaps venture away from downtown to try the "Japanese farmhouse" food and sushi at Uchiko, whose executive chef, Paul Qui, just won Bravo TV's "Top Chef: Texas."   Continued...