As a sea of South by Southwest Interactive attendees departed Austin on Tuesday, tweeting testily about long airport security lines, a guitar-toting inbound wave streamed toward the music portion of the festival that starts today.
"It's good to be here," said Steve Schiltz of the Brooklyn band Hurricane Bells as he opened his guitar cases in the oversized bag area at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, checking to make sure each guitar had arrived in one piece.
"Everything looks fine," he said. A few minutes later, though, he peered at the rain outside. "We thought it would be sunny."
Everybody did. The weather seemed to be the sole complaint of the arriving musicians.
"We just came from New York, where it rained for four days. We thought we would get here and see shiny sun, but we get this," said Eric Fuentes of Unfinished Sympathy from Barcelona, Spain. Not that the weather was a deal breaker. Fuentes and his band couldn't wait to get into Austin, grab a few winks of sleep and then hit the ground running. It's their first South by Southwest gig, but Fuentes has been to Austin once before and said he'd love to move here.
"I wish so," he said. "Spain is all right, but the music isn't as strong."
The Austin love wasn't pouring forth as freely from the departing SXSW Interactive participants, many of whom had to run to catch flights after languishing in security lines.
Airport spokesman Jason Zielinski said lines took as long as 45 minutes to navigate early Tuesday as "everybody showed up at once." Screening time was back down to its usual 10 minutes or less by noon.
Zielinski said 8,110 people were screened between 4 a.m. and noon. On a typical day, security screens about 10,000 people all day long. Zielinski didn't have any totals for outbound or inbound passengers, but he said the scene was similar Thursday, when about 16,000 departing spring breakers collided with an approximately equal number of arriving SXSW Interactive folks.
After leaving the airport, however, many musicians were greeted with even more lines. Music instrument and equipment rental stores Tuesday were bustling with business from musicians, concert promoters, and band managers and crews.
While guitars fly pretty well, drummers and sound engineers aren't so lucky. Many bands coming in from all over the world must rent their amps and drum sets from music stores in Austin.
"It's busier than Christmas," said Jamie Pender, a salesman at Musicmakers Austin. "South by Southwest is like our black Friday."
The colorful hair and tattoos of the musicians standing outside Rock 'n' Roll Rentals contrasted with the gloomy weather. The parking lot was filled with vans with license plates from Florida to Minnesota. While some musicians kicked back, drank coffee and smoked cigarettes, others fumed about the wait.
"I've been here since 10:30, when it was raining a whole lot," Rusty Kelly, a member of Austin band Total Abuse, said from the line at Rock 'n' Roll at 3 p.m. "It's a lot of frustration, but all of us are musicians, and we're dedicated."
Kelly was waiting for a projector and other equipment for a solo show at a SXSW party.
To punctuate the music folks' arrival, Austin-Bergstrom had a full slate of live music starting at 1 p.m. on the concourse stage. The ubiquitous Ray Benson was first up, and he immediately drew attention.
One man, having just cleared security when Benson struck the first chord, paused in mid shoe-tie, asked, "Is that Ray Benson?" and then scurried over to listen.
Mike Belluscio and Steve Zabrozny with the New Haven, Conn., record label Fake Four were drinking beer at a table right in front of the stage. They'd been there an hour and showed no ambition to leave the terminal.
"This is awesome," a smiling Zabrozny said.
"We're tired," Belluscio said. "The second part of our flight was really wretched. We sat for an hour, then it was a three-hour flight on US Airways with no booze except for the little bit I had in my flask."
Belluscio and Zabrozny were dreading having to go find their hotel. It's in Round Rock.
"I hear it's a $20 cab ride," Belluscio said. "I mean, that's four beers."
The two said they don't know exactly what the label will want them to do here in Austin, but they're glad they're here.
Matter of fact, they'd — of course — like to move here.
"Oh, in a heartbeat," Belluscio said. "Connecticut, you know, it's not laid back. Nobody has any fun."
Update: This story was edited 3/18/10 to correct the spelling of Jason Zielinski's name.