When the music portion of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival kicks off tomorrow, Austin, Tex., officially reaches its zenith as a tangled knot of buzz bands, label reps and corporate sponsors trying their best to appear indie. Ensnarled in that muddle of Wayfarers and Telecasters will be a legion of journalists, bloggers and fans desperately in need of Wi-Fi connections so that they can be the first to bring that new band to the unhip masses.
Austin streets aren't the only highways and byways experiencing traffic jams. With so many craving a connection, the information superhighway is bumper-to-bumper.
Helping to alleviate all that bottlenecking is marketing agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty. For this year's SXSW festival, they've launched a controversial marketing charity campaign called Homeless Hotspots, in which homeless people are being used to serve as Wi-Fi hot spots.
T-shirts that read "I am a 4G hotspot" have been issued to the homeless who want to participate. Customers ravenous for Wi-Fi can pay what they want, either with cash or by PayPal, to obtain a hot spot device from the vendor and gain access to an online 4G network.
While at least it's not on the level of Bum Fights, this campaign leaves an exploitative aftertaste in my mouth. Turning the homeless into sandwich boards for a weeklong festival only exacerbates the problem and epitomizes what's wrong with SXSW. Quick-fix stopgaps are no solution for such long-term problems as homelessness. And privileged, laptop-toting scenesters leeching Wi-Fi from the homeless who have been stripped of their humanity? Shudder. I'm sorry, but Clarence is NOT a 4G Hotspot; he is a man.
Still though, work is work; a dollar is a dollar, so who am I to cast stones? But no way am I pretending this is some do-gooding cure-all.
If you are in Austin this week and all the hubris and exploitation is causing you nothing but headaches, I know a guy there who works for the city and he has this to say: Not to worry, there's a new fiesta in the making as we speak. It's out at the moon tower. Full kegs. Everybody's gonna be there. You oughtta go.
But before you follow Wooderson out to the moon tower, first check out the Alabama Shakes. I definitely give them my full endorsement. They're playing Wednesday night, as part of a killer bill at Stubb's, and Friday night at Easy Tiger Patio. Not convinced? Wet your whistle, check Brittany and the boys out in this video, then get back to me: