You know how to tell when a giant indie-music/movie/tech festival has jumped the shark? When there is a relatively high chance you’ll run into a congressman, senator and/or a White House surrogate or two.
The South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, which is under way now, has been a mecca for music geeks the nation over since it first kicked off in 1987. Over the past couple of years, however, the indie festival has expanded and gone more than a little bit corporate, with sponsors such as Doritos and AT&T. It’s not just about the music any more. “South by,” as the kids call it, is now a giant three-pronged behemoth — SXSW Music, SXSW Film and SXSW Interactive — and the whole show is put on by a company called SXSW Inc.
This year the festival may have out mainstreamed itself, with Washington, D.C.’s nerdiest invading the hipster scene to talk public policy. For example, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is tweeting and Instagraming up a storm from deep in the heart of the Texas state capital. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was at the tech-side of the festival chatting government transparency.
Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Mark Warner, D-Va., also participated in the tech festival portion. They were at all sorts of events focusing on policy, entrepreneurship and innovation and trumpeted support for legislation to benefit startups and crack down on intellectual piracy.
The White House also has a presence at the festival. The administration sent Brian Forde, senior adviser to the U.S. chief technology officer, to talk about the importance science, technology, engineering and math students have on innovation.
All of these topics are important and critical to our nation. But how rock ’n’ roll can SXSW be if leaders of the U.S. government are hanging there?