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Sidestepping the SXSW

Sidestepping the SXSW


Corporate sponsors? Big buzz? These homegrown Texas queers say "No thanks" to the South by Southwest hype machine.

The annual music industry hustle-fest that is Austin's South by Southwest came to a climax this past weekend, with most hangers-on busy trying to snag a spot at the Fader Fort, madly spamming the RSVP e-mail for Perez Hilton's secret party, or Twittering their thumbs off to figure out who knew who wherever there was any free booze.

Not everyone, though. While SXSW scene-stealers were busy bagging swag at events sponsored by companies from Scion to Levi's to Dell, a group of volunteers was hard at work decorating a stage that stretched across two huge dusty backyards in east Austin, miles away from the hubbub. The daylong counterfest, affectionately called GayBiGayGay, is now in its fourth year. It has become a community hub for Austin queers and their visiting friends looking to escape the largely hetero commotion on the final Sunday of SXSW.

"It's done our style, in our place, with our kindness and our talent," said event host and Austin drag icon Rebecca Havemeyer. "We have corporate gays, we have the fairy unicorn queers, we have the diesel dykes, we have the drag queens, we have kids. It's all underneath an umbrella of the most friendly environment you could possibly wish for."

Acts came from as far away as Philadelphia and Olympia, Wash., to play the festival. This year's headliner was New Orleans's Big Freedia, doing her best to underscore the bounce in "sissy bounce," a genre of bayou-flavored, drag-inspired hip-hop. Other notable acts included Portland, Ore.'s Purple Rhinestone Eagle, San Francisco's Excuses for Skipping, and Austin mainstay Gretchen Phillips, formerly of the groundbreaking queer rock band Two Nice Girls.

People were quick to point out that there is no hierarchy here: no guest list, no flashbulbs, and no jockeying for entree into the VIP area (there isn't one). "Everyone's just so nice and huggy," explained Chivonn Anderson, a programmer at Austin's iconic Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

Austin filmmaker PJ Raval, who shot this year's Oscar-nominated documentary Trouble the Water, said, "It's something I look forward to every year. It's one of the most amazing experiences, where you have a group of people coming together to celebrate a lot of artistic work. I think it really captures the spirit of Austin, and that's what South by Southwest is all about."

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