The stretch of highway from the Nashville airport to Manchester, Tennessee — which, if you’ve ever, even once, even accidentally, heard a Phish song, you might recognize as the home of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival — is, for the most part, as standard as they come. There are a couple of deviations: for one, instead of just your regular McDonald’s and Burger Kings, roadside Krystals and Chick-fil-As beckon as well. Oh, also: Say you think, at first, you’re listening to a radio station that’s soberly analyzing Middle Eastern geopolitics. What you’re actually hearing, it turns out, is a conversation about whether or not recent clashes in Damascus mean the biblically prophesied end of days are nigh. And they will break out the appropriate Book of Revelation verses to compare and contrast. Welcome to the South!
Before I actually arrive at the campgrounds, I get a phone call from a Bonnaroo rep: Would I like to check out rehearsals for a Superjam? If the term sounds familiar, it might be thanks to one of last year’s iterations, when Questlove lured beautiful recluse D’Angelo onto the Bonnaroo stage for an instantly legendary set of Hendrix and Zeppelin cuts. This year, Bonnaroo has put together its first hip-hop Superjam. On hand will be: RZA, Solange, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Schoolboy Q, Pharrell’s partner in crime Chad Hugo, and, serving as the spine of the operation, the long-serving funk band Lettuce. Of course, I answer "yes" immediately, turn the car back toward Nashville, and find — tucked between Civil War–era Fort Negley and the local Dianetics Center (“How does Scientology work? Come in and find out!”) — SIR Studios.
South by Southwest will always be the place where it all began.
My first trip to Austin for the festival, last year, was my first big assignment. The objective: go, do things, write about them. That's all. While that was important, it also was the first real example of my Internet world coming to life. Mysterious, funny Twitter handles suddenly drinking beers, wearing tank tops, and ferociously taking notes together on their phones. Finally.
After last year's 10-day bender came to an end, I knew that in addition to the new real-life colleagues whom I now refer to as "friends," I had also found my happy place. My adult summer camp. My extremely tiring vacation oasis. And, more than anything, I knew I was coming back the next year.
The lead-up to last year's SXSW was a very confusing time for me, because I didn't know what I was doing. About a week before the festival, fellow Grantland staffer Amos Barshad graciously sent me a giant spreadsheet that was making the rounds of every single thing that needed to be RSVP'd to, along with the amount of free food and drinks that would be supplied and which musicians would be in attendance. I was eternally grateful, because up until that point, I hadn't ventured beyond SXSW.com.
This year, I made the spreadsheet. I was ready, and even though the time between SXSW 2012 and 2013 had seemingly taken six years off my life, I was convinced I could do the full 10 days again, but even better. And if the high right ankle sprain, hoarse voice, wristband tan, scruffy face, and occasional dizzy spells are any indicator, I'd say that my goal was achieved.
Grantland's DIVAWATCHologist Jay Kang writes, "There's a level of Divadom where the public stops seeking out contrarian profiles or "shocking" revelations about your character. As long as you don't say something horrifically bigoted, everyone will still line up to buy your albums. (Only R. Kelly Status is higher.)" Good news: This new Bond theme from Adele contains not one bit of racism.
Why am I writing about the BET Awards? Because I love Televised Entertainment by Blacks (TEB), that's why. Also, they were awesome last night. Perfect, no. (The censor was drunk, I'm sure of it.) A few embarrassing moments, yes. (Someone needs to spank this kid. Oh, Beyoncé, you're on it? Cool.) But overall, awesome. Still super-proud to be black, 25 years and counting.
By my count, there were four main highlights. Let's talk about them right now.
Rembert Browne: The rise of the celebrity DJ is a thing that exists in this world, and if I can be frank, it’s one of the larger scams that exists in an already scam-filled entertainment industry. In spaces across the country (and the world), celebrities are paid big bucks to stand onstage and “DJ,” whatever that even means anymore. As for the rest of us, we’ve been trained to assume, just because they were on a sitcom a decade ago, that they know how to rock a party. Do these feelings stem from a dark but shallow, hater-esque place? Of course, mainly because my dream job is to get paid to inflict my musical tastes on others. But that’s not it. There’s also the fact that the power of celebrity is so strong, we excitedly assume they can do things beyond the scope of their profession simply because they are famous.