Alright! Alright! Alright! The way to SXSW

I’m sat in a 100-year-old cinema in Austin, Texas, about to watch the premiere of John Wick 4, and Keanu Reeves – yes, really – brushes past my seat. Later that night I’ll be in a small venue to watch New Order blow the roof off. The next day I’ll attend a talk by NASA on the new James Webb Space Telescope, and later that night I’ll find myself stood next to the very same NASA scientist watching a British heavy metal band. Later that week I’ll attend a football match at Austin FC and bump into the mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham. I’ll attend talks by Robert Downey, Jr and William Shatner. I’ll enjoy free Guinness at the Irish Music Embassy on St Patrick’s Day. I’ll walk 200,000 steps, see countless talks and attend 27 gigs in 11 days. That’s without mentioning the food (BBQ!).

So, how did this happen?

“You’re joking!? Where do you work again?” is the response from most friends and family when I told them of the trip I had coming up. A work mate and I were set to travel to Austin for the SXSW festival, with RBH paying for access-all-area passes, flights, accommodation and even some spending money thrown in. I’d got used to jaws dropping wider as I told the story. The reason it was happening was RBH’s annual Care to Dare award – and Kev and I had been the lucky winners.

Previous Care to Dare winners have won trips to follow England at the World Cup, gone to Comic Con in San Diego and even hiked to an Everest base camp. To enter, all you need to do is choose something – anything! – extraordinary you would like to do, make a compelling case for it, and the entry deemed the most exciting or different or out-there will be made to happen.

Kev and I first came up with the idea for our entry six months prior to the trip. As keen music fans we’d been talking about the possibility of experiencing a music festival in Europe or the likes of Coachella in the US, but we weren’t sure if we were pushing our luck or not. But then Geoff (a previous winner) pointed out that someone in the agency had to win, and it could well be us, and this spurred Kev and I on into making more concrete plans.

I’d had an interest in the SXSW festival since Steve Lamacq and BBC 6Music had started producing shows from there in around 2006. SXSW had already broken music artists like The White Stripes and The Strokes and since then Amy Winehouse, HAIM, Bon Iver and LCD Soundsystem had all got a big lift to their careers by performing there. The festival had massively expanded beyond music to include tech, film, TV and much more besides, so it seemed to be the perfect choice. Our entry consisted of a short film pitch featuring highlights of former festivals and reasons why it was so special, together with some mocked up AAA passes in a presentation box.

We have regular all-agency catch-ups, and in November 2022 we had the last of the year. I’d almost forgotten about our entry two months previously – until it was mentioned that the last item in the agenda would be to announce the winners of Care to Dare. The moment our names were called out and our pitch film played on-screen was one of total shock! Before we knew it, we had glasses of champagne in hand and arrangements were being made to buy our passes and look into flights and hotels. In less than four months’ time, we’d be heading to Austin…

We really did have the trip of a lifetime and came back buzzing from the experience. Austin is an incredible place that calls itself the Live Music Capital of the World due to the sheer number of live venues in the city, and that’s before SXSW even starts. We explored the music venues of the famous 6th Street, had amazing food at the world-renowned Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, stopped for an In-N-Out Burger (best I’ve ever had!) on the way to watch an Austin FC match and met countless friendly Texans who frequently mistook our Midlands accents for Australian (“Say ‘Spotify’ again!”).

The festival itself has around 30 or 40 events happening at any one time, meaning the SXSW app was essential to keep track of everything. There were certain events we just really couldn’t miss. William Shatner recounting his experience of becoming the oldest man in space aboard Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin spacecraft was funny and fascinating in equal measure. Michael J Fox’s talk about his struggle with Parkinson’s disease after the premiere of his documentary film ‘Still’ was moving and inspiring. Getting to see brand new images from NASA’s Webb Telescope was another highlight, as was a talk from Amy Webb on AI and the emerging Tech Trends for the year ahead. Now, watching a film in America is already a different experience to us reserved Brits, but watching the packed premiere of the aforementioned John Wick 4 with Keanu Reeves in attendance was off the scale!

Music was our original motivation for going, and we made the most of it, seeing countless up and coming bands as we criss-crossed Austin to take in as many gigs as possible, with the record being seven in one day! By the end of the trip we were exhausted but happy with the amount we managed to pack into our time.

We are so grateful to RBH for making it happen. This is a real example of what it means to work for an agency that dares to care. I’m looking forward to seeing who wins next, and is given the opportunity to turn their dreams into reality.


Written by Mark Butcher

Senior Digital Creative

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