That dude in the picture next to me is Orion Walsh. He's the modern equivalent of Woody Guthrie and was my travel companion for SXSW 2019. I've travelled quite a bit in my day but nothing like this road warrior. The first day on the trip, shortly after he had finished telling me why he never uses or brings a pillow when he travels, he was eating a banana he brought along. A few minutes later, when I looked over, not only was the banana but the peel entirely gone.
Knowing the legend of Orion Walsh, I looked over in awe and I asked, "did you just eat your banana peel?!" Not believing my eyes, I was thinking: Wow. This guy is such a legendary traveller he even eats his own banana peels so as not to waste anything on the road. This trip is going to be EPIC! I soon found out, luckily, he had just stowed it on the floor. As the fog stretched over hwy 77 we continued our journey under overcast skies to the independent nation of Texas for a full week of music, friends, BBQ, "birding", and a new perspective which the road never fails to provide.
This was my second trip to the SXSW music festival since 2011. The first trip had found our economy rental car driving over a truck tire on the interstate, a Dairy Queen out of ice cream, and getting smuggled onto Ana Nalick's roadie crew which secured me an official artist wristband and massages on the top floor of the Austin conference center. How could I top that and what would 2019 have in store? This year, the highlights for me were getting to play my own music at Shangri-La as part of the Midwest Takeover Showcase with many other talented Nebraska musicians I've come to love, spending time with old friends who live in different cities, hearing incredible live music from all over the world, and some finger lickin' good food.
Feeling refreshed and inspired, I reflected in the red dirt of Oklahoma on the drive home about what this whirlwind of a week taught me and now at my computer back in Nebraska I'm really challenged to define exactly what that is as I relay it to you.
The Value of Happenstance: From meeting my wife, starting a family, taking the leap of becoming a full-time musician, writing a new song, or stumbling upon a new favorite band; pretty much all of the best things that have happened to me in my life were a product of happenstance. This trip was no exception. I got to spend time with many old friends I didn't know I would be able to and I stumbled across a lot of great music that inspired me to try new things with my own music. While I still believe it's important to try to create your own destiny, I think you need to be sensitive to the whims of synchronicity and recognize opportunities off the beaten path when they arise.
Rock 'n Roll is Not Dead: On the drive we talked about how much the music industry has changed in the last 15-20 years. I was told "rock 'n roll is dead," "the internet is putting people in isolated boxes away from the real world and exploiting them in their naivety", and "most successful artists don't play music with real instruments anymore." SXSW is proof that these assumptions are wrong. The old world is not dead, it is only expanding. There were so many amazing musicians, making emotionally charged music on real instruments, with great music, and connecting with real people through their live performances and it was so refreshing to see!
Music is a living thing: Living things either grow and adapt or decay and dissolve. The artists that are most successful are adapting their marketing efforts and their music to the changing trends and technology. However, the principles of good songs, musicianship, and true emotional connection are still ruler at the end of the day and SXSW was a good reminder of this for me. The new posters are social media, the new production studios are your bedroom, and the new CDs are streaming services. Young adults entering the music industry don't long for the return of CDs and paper wasting flyers, just like I didn't miss vinyl when I started playing and listening to music. Learning the new symbols and language of the world does not mean you have to abandon your values. Someone once told me to put all of your non-negotiable values in a box and protect them fiercely. Everything outside that box, be willing to compromise on. I love that and agree.
At the end of the day, you don't have to do it yourself, but you should at least be open to the idea that someone could really be eating a banana peel.