SXSW 2017: BEFORE AND AFTER
A look at 6th Street employees on the first day and last day of SXSW 2017
Another SXSW has come and gone for Austin, TX. And as always, there were plenty of highs and lows to go around.
Tens of thousands of people attended during the 10 days of the festival, which covers everything from film to interactive to gaming. Some were lucky enough to catch glimpses of celebrities like Seth Rogen, Michael Fassbender, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Or even see one of the surprise shows by people like Garth Brooks (which I didn’t realize was such a big deal. And I even grew up in Texas. Yes, I’m looking at you, Heather).
But nothing brings in more crowds than the music on the world-famous 6th Street between I-35 and Congress Ave, the strip now (semi) affectionately called “Dirty 6th” by Austinites to differentiate it from West 6th and East 6th (the other side of I-35).
Throughout all the chaos that ensues during the fest, there is one true constant that remains (besides the shitty traffic)…
A whole bunch of service industry employees worked an ungodly amount of hours.
And these aren’t normal work hours. Trust me. I’ve worked these types of hours on everything from film sets to carpentry, and nothing compares to listening to blaring music for hours on end while dealing with ridiculously drunk people who seem to be entitled to things beyond sober comprehension. The term “shit-show” is justifiably thrown around more times than you can count.
The first argument I hear from non-service industry people is always, "yeah, but all that money they probably made..." Well, it's not enough. You'd be surprised how many tourists don't tip (especially Europeans, where tipping isn't as common). And it's often these bartenders don't make out any better than normal nights without all the extra hours and stress.
The second argument is "why don't the bars just schedule more staff for less hours?" Well, these bars need their best staff to work through the chaos. You can't leave some "fill-in" running things, so at best, they only come for the extra high-volume times to assist the full-timers who have to be there. And a lot of these people turn out to be flaky and/or unprofessional, especially amidst countless events and parties that encourage alcohol consumption, so you can only rely on them for so much.
That all being the case, some asshole thought it would be funny to take photos of these hard-working souls on the first and last day to see what kind of changes had occurred. And, yes, that asshole was me. (In my defense, I’ve worked 7 SXSW’s in the past, so I’ve definitely been there, and these guys all know that. So keep your pious criticisms to yourselves.)
Another thing everyone on Dirty 6th seems to agree on is the amount of bad hip-hop “artists” that flood the streets with flyers and mix-tapes. (By tapes I actually mean CD's, of course.) Far from what SXSW started as 30 years ago (longer than most of its attendees have been alive). The commercialism of what it has become, blah, blah, blah… I’ll let someone else (or many someones) write about that nonsense. I’m just here to entertain.
But before we get into it, let me start off by making a few general apologies.
First, I didn’t come up with the idea to do this until the day the first photos were taken. So all I had on me for a camera was my Galaxy S7. If I had planned ahead I would’ve procured something of a higher quality.
Second, anyone who’s ever worked at a high volume bar knows this… there isn’t always time to stop, find the best light, and take multiple photos to later pick out the best one. This had to happen on the fly. So some of these shots are going to be blurry and/or awkward. Deal with it.
Third, this is the first article I've ever written and I don't claim to be an expert on how to write such things. So I've written it how I speak, basically. And the formatting will look better on a computer than on a phone, apparently. Whatever.
Finally, sorry to anyone I didn’t see on Day 1, hence you and/or your bar are not represented here. Please take no offense. Again, it was a last minute ordeal and the subjects chosen were simply because they were there and they let me take photos of them.
Oh, and one more. I apologize to anyone who sees themselves depicted in a “negative” way in these photos. It’s not my intention. Truly. But then again, if you didn’t have a sense of humor you couldn’t work on 6th St and you probably wouldn’t be friends with a smug asshole like me. So I’d say I’m likely safe here.
Ok, to sum up…
I’m not a professional photographer or Journalist.
And this isn’t meant to be “art” as much as it’s just meant to be fun.
Great. Now, on to the good stuff.
All ‘before' photos were taken between 5 and 10 PM on Friday, March 10th. All ‘after' photos were taken between 5 and 10 PM on Saturday, March 18th. No exceptions were made. Sorry, Chris and Don over at Recess Arcade Bar.
In addition to their total hours worked, I also gave everyone the option to add a general quote about their own SXSW experience this year. Most were more than willing.
(Oh, and do not argue that, technically, the last day of SXSW is Sunday, March 19th, because I don’t care. When you steal my idea and do it next year you can take the photos whenever you damn well please.)
RJ (Owner/Operator at Plead the 5th), 134 hours
“You’re here for the music? Me, too. You’re here to be cheap? Fuck you, I’m here to get rich.”
While RJ's bar isn't technically on 6th, like the rest on this list, I made an exception here because, it's close enough and it's RJ. Also, I was sitting in his bar talking to him at 5 PM on Fri, March 10th (after checking out the nearby Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul pop-up) when I decided to actually do this project and his photo on the left was the first taken out of the series.
Seth (General Manager at Cheers Shot Bar & Big Bang Bar), 119 hours.
“I have kindled a burning hatred for backpacks.”
Seth's mean-mug is extra funny to those who know him as the one manager of a bar that's pretty much always laughing and telling jokes (mostly terrible puns). This one appears to have the least change on the surface, but I really wish the reds around his eyes in the photo on the right was more apparent. Oh well. Also, he spent some time carrying around my dog, Teddy Roosevelt, because "people tend not to yell at people who are holding cute dogs."
Jonathan (Bar Manager at Big Bang Bar),156 hours
“Manager, bartender, door guy, janitor, sound engineer, what other jobs did I do…?"
Shelby (Bartender at Big Bang Bar), 108 hours
“Don’t ask me for a fucking Hennessy.”
This is the one where I have to go on record and say that none of these employees are drunk in these photos. Jonathan asked if I wanted any sort of pose and I told him what I told pretty much everyone, "just show me how you feel." He was running on fumes by this point, while the much younger and 'greener' Shelby is in a different mode that a lot of us are just too damn old for.
Michael (Bar Manager at Buckshots), 120-something hours
“Country music is still better.”
Like most veteran employees on this list, when I told Michael what I was doing on the first day all I got was a snarl. And by the last day he was too tired to muster up anything more than wide-eyed stare. And like most veteran employees he immediately followed both photos with presenting me a shot of whiskey. Good friends to have.
Morgan (Bar Manager at The Jackalope), 150 hours
“Yeah, I'll definitely make that drink 'strong' for you...”
Anyone who's ever been to The Jackalope doesn't need any more of an explanation for this photo. Or anyone who's ever met Morgan, for that matter. She's sweet but she'll also fuck shit up. And she's definitely the most sarcastic girl I know. It's quite wonderful.
Don (Bartender at Cheers Shot Bar), 88 hours
“Thank God mixed-tape season is over.”
Don is always good for a smile pretty much any night of the week no matter how tired and stressed he might be. But SXSW can turn even the sweetest of dispositions into nothing more than a blank stare. In his defense, he did laugh when I showed him his photo right after I took it. Then another whiskey shot was poured for me.
Duece (Floor Manager at Lit Lounge), 172 hours over 13 days
“There are too many to choose from, but I’ll go with, ‘you can mix-tape these nuts.'”
Duece is arguably the most seasoned door guy in the history of 6th St. And even when he's putting some belligerent drunk to sleep with a choke-hold, he keeps his stoic demeanor. I would wager that Duece changes his bed-sheets more than he changes his expression.
Daryl (Head of Security at Dizzy Rooster)
"I don’t remember how many hours. No days off for over a week now and still not done working till Tuesday. Fuck SXSW.”
Daryl is another one of those guys that keeps a smile plastered on his face most of the time. But as he said above, he wasn't wrapping up for a few more days after this so he showed me what he was feeling about SXSW this year.
Will (Security at Vulcan Gas Company), 160 hours since March 6th, no days off
“Never want to hear 'Rain Drop, Drop Top' ever again.”
Will was the last photo I took on the first night as I wandered into the National Geographic activation located inside. And with an open bar happening, he had his hands full that night and for several more to come. After they resorted back to their live music venue status for the remainder of the fest it didn't look like it got any easier on him.
Nick (Barback at Cheers Shot Bar), 80 hours
Makell (Bartender at Cheers Shot Bar), 125 hours
Nick is a good example of keeping the same expression from photo to photo, but you can clearly see the difference in his face. Money was made, but weight was definitely lost.
For Makell, I actually had to come back later in the night because he was tending bar on the Cheers rooftop patio (in direct sunlight right next to non-stop live music) and he refused to remove his sunglasses. Later in the night when he was downstairs I knew I would get something better.
Neither provided a quote. I believe their responses were something along the lines of, "nah, I'm good" or "I don't even know."
Aaron ("Doortender" at Blind Pig Pub), 75 hours
“SXSW music has gone down the drain."
It's very fitting that Aaron is arguably one of the most blurry photos, as he actually is a professional photographer (@aivvisuals). He's one guy I would go to to ask how to remove the red from his eyes, as he was the guy who edited my head-shot (featured as my author photo for this article). Also, that 9-day beard is great.
Daniel (Security/Barback at The Four Horsemen), "No clue" how many hours
“Fuck rap. I hate rap."
Daniel split his time between here and Touche throughout the fest. He's one of those guys that when we see each other we spend our interactions berating each other, laughing, and then we move on. I guess this is true of most door guys I know (yes, Tank, I'm especially talking about you). Unfortunately, neither Dax nor Mallori were at Four Horsemen when I stopped by the first day, because both would've been great for this.
Mitch (General Manager) Touche, 83 hours
“I don't even want to talk about it.”
Oh, Mitch. You're awesome. Enough said.
Thanks for reading. I hope you had some laughs.
And a huge thanks to every one of the people who allowed me to take photos of them. You all rock.
If I can leave you with one last thought it's TIP YOUR FUCKING BARTENDERS.