SXSW: Faith edition

The next ten days are a special time in our hometown of Austin, Texas. For it’s the time of an annual festival referred to as SXSW (said “South by Southwest” or “Southby” by locals) that is one of the biggest events of its kind in the U.S. and many say one of the most significance in the world for the cross-section of new music, internet, and film.

The festival is about 20 years old now and, in its early years, was dominated by the music portion of the program. But, over the years, as Austin became more of a high tech “third coast,” the festival has attracted the software and internet crowd to the point where the Interactive portion is arguably equal to the Music portion of the festival in importance to its industry.

In recent years, film too has grown, due to great efforts by Texas-born film makers, investments by Austin leaders and other developers in studio infrastructure, and the lower cost of producing a film in Texas. It doesn’t hurt that a few high profile celebrities, with recent Oscar winner Sandra Bullock perhaps currently at the top of that list, call Austin “home.”

So, in the light of such a pop culture, media-intense gathering, it is so interesting to observe the picture that one can gather of faith, spirituality, belief at the event.

The good news is that it is by no means absent. For example, there are interviews of a couple of musical acts that have a faith-based dimension to them (in both cases, Christianity) featuring the groups Deer Tick and Superdrag. There is even a music panel on the subject of spirituality, entitled “Spirituality for Nomads.”

You might find the description of the “Spirituality” panel interesting. It says: “Touring has been described as 23 hours of drudgery for every one hour of on-stage high-energy bliss. Life on the road can be exhausting – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Find practical ways to recharge your batteries and enjoy better relationships with band members and your industry support team.” What a cool theme!

A couple of other faith-based highlights worth mentioning include a nice touch of hospitality by the Southby staff to mention locations for worship within walking distance of the main festival venues (although there are only two referenced and they are both Protestant churches) and the Carver Center’s screening of a program of films for free admission, a couple of which have spiritual subjects.

One film of note is “Little Willie Eason and His Talking Gospel Guitar” (2005), describing how a man of belief takes the stage of the street and a House of God Church south of Miami to highlight the man who introduced the pedal steel guitar as an instrument to express his deep-seeded faith. It’s at 2pm on March 14th, at the Carver Center.

If there is any part of the festival that is a little disappointing (although not entirely surprising) it is the absence of any faith-focused panel or presenter at SXSW Interactive. You would think there would be something along the lines of “Church 2.0” or at least a major mainstream denomination speaker discussing how they are using social media to reach their millions of members. But, nada.

Looking on the bright side, there’s room to grow. And, in that light, I’m looking forward to learning as much as possible at this year’s SXSW festival; maybe we can get faith on the platform in 2011. Meanwhile, if you want to catch my musings through the conference, follow me on Twitter.

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