SXSW reports usually just cover the parties, the bands and the latest hot, trending topics and products coming out of the festival, and you’ll still read about plenty of that this year (including here at TheBlot). Sad to say, you’ll also be reading about the tragedy that happened late Wednesday night too.
A drunk driver was being chased by police and roared onto Red River Street in downtown Austin. On the other side of the barricades blocking off the street from traffic were hundreds of would-be club-goers waiting in line to get into the Mohawk nightclub. The driver killed two moped riders and injured almost two dozen other people (some who were described as flying through the air). The driver was captured and is under arrest now.
Several hours earlier, I had made two trips to the club. In the late afternoon, I had gone to see indie folk rocker Angel Olsen. The line wrapped around the block, but I managed to make it in. They’d foolishly booked her at the inside stage where an over-capacity crowd tried to cram in to get a peek at her. I barely made it into the area, and only to snap a few pics and shoot a brief video before I felt my ribs getting crushed. A few hours later, I was back at the club to try to see a joke-punk band called Cerebral Ballzy. The line was much worse this time and though I probably could have gotten in, I decided to bolt to meet up with my girlfriend to catch another show a few blocks away. Before I left, I texted her that the show she planned to see there later (punk legends X) would probably be a bad idea since the crowd was too huge. Luckily, she took my advice — around the time that X went on (just a few hours after I left the club), the tragedy happened there.
At that time, I was about five blocks away, trying to stay awake after running around all day. A local free jazz band called Young Mothers were tearing it up, but I was so sleep-deprived and tired that I conked out twice before crawling home to call it a night.
In the morning, my girlfriend gave me the news about what happened last night. I immediately contacted my mom and her mom to let them know we were OK before they got upset and thought the worst. I then contacted a bunch of other people I knew who were here at the festival to make sure they were OK too — luckily, they were. A friend from LA happened to walk past Mohawk about an hour after the incident and saw police cars there, not knowing what had happened until I told him in the morning — evidently, the scene had already been cleared by then. When I spoke to a writer who lived in Austin, I wondered aloud what would happen now at the festival. He sighed and said, “Well, the show will just go on…”
I’d been coming to SXSW since 1999 and never heard of any incident like this happening here, which is kind of amazing when you consider how many people overtake a major city like this each March. Sure enough, when I ventured out for lunch on Thursday morning, people were leisurely walking around, ready to see more music. Long lines were already queued up at about noon for some daytime shows.
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Thinking back to what happened on Wednesday night, I was seething about the driver and the poor people who were needlessly killed or hurt. Usually, I’m a bleeding heart who thinks that the death penalty is barbaric and needs to be abolished. For a moment, though, I wanted that bastard to get fried slowly in an electric chair, just like you see in the movie “The Green Mile.”
I felt bad about going to Mohawk to see the place for myself again, even if it was for my journalist duties. When I approached it, I noticed that there were extra police and barricades up, for good reason. There were also a few reporters and cameramen, talking about the incident. The entrance of the club itself looked quiet and somber — if there were any day shows planned there, it didn’t look like they would be happening. I was expecting to see maybe some flowers or some other acknowledgement there, but maybe it was too early or maybe, as my Austin friend said, the SXSW show just goes on.
I guess that includes me too. I have some panels to see, some bands to see, some photos to take and tweet, and then a post-festival wrap-up to write about all the stuff I saw (and missed since it’s impossible to see everything worthwhile here). When I called my mom, I reassured her that I was OK but admitted that I was a little shook up about the news, especially since I’d been around where it happened not long before. I know that when I walked over to Mohawk to take some photos, along with feeling bad about snapping pictures outside a tragedy, I also felt a little scared when I crossed the streets now, worrying about cars. Earlier on Wednesday, I had dodged several vehicles to cross the streets, just to make it to shows on time, testing my abilities as an expert jaywalker, seasoned on the streets of New York. Now, I’m much more cautious, thinking about the Mohawk incident.
I also noticed as I walked back to my hotel that the Doritos Stage was being set up, with an enormous wall of hundreds of bags of salty chips on display for a big blowout show in the evening. And the show just goes on.