Next week the population of my city will increase by 50,000 people for two weeks. The internationally known music and interactive festival SXSW will draw people to Austin, Texas, from all over the globe. Even President Obama and First Lady Michelle will also be here.
And the city becomes transformed into something unrecognizable.
The first SXSW I attended was in its early years, maybe 1987 just before I entered the music business myself. Austin’s favorite venues were booked to showcase all kinds of music genres with bands from allover the world. As a badge holder, you could walk in and out of shows and pop in and out of restaurants safely at an enjoyable pace.
Being in downtown Austin during SXSW you were guaranteed to see musicians with instruments in hand. It’s almost like a championship football game with fans filing into the stadium each carrying a fiddle, a squeeze box, a keyboard or a guitar.
To close out the festival weekend my pals and I joined in the finale SXSW Softball game having our fill of Texas bar-b-q.
The fest has grown so much so that nowadays it’s prime for celebrity sightings. Not to mention the pop up side events that are ‘unofficial’ meaning you don’t have to have a ‘SWXW attendee badge’ to get in.
One of my all time SXSW highlights was getting invited to the Rachael Ray SXSW Feedback party. Yes, I like to think I was invited, I mean I did get what looked like a personal email from the Food Network star.
Maggie Mae’s, an elder venue on historic 6th Street hosted Rachael’s Southwestern themed party.
A hostess with a tray full of B-Side Mojitos, a refreshing passion fruit concoction, greeted us at the door.
Two stages were filled with rock music and headlining was the Cringe with front man John a.k.a. Mr. Ray.
The real star of the party was the food. On the menu, Seven Layer Sliders, Ancho Chicken Tacos, and my utmost favorite of all time Austin Mac & Cheese Suiza.
We couldn’t get close enough to Rachael for the photo op but in the words of the celeb cook, the food was delish. It was well prepared and you could tell the integrity of the recipe was upheld, they cut no corners.
Fast forward to today. The festival has grown so much that public safety is a real concern, for music fans, festival goers and locals alike.
Every parking lot and vacant venue or sizable room in the city gets booked, reserved for something. A showcase. A free for all. A sampling of this or that. Things are completely re-branded by the big brands of the world today.
There’s no question that change is inevitable and the economic impact to our city is massive. But the festival seems to have lost its way. No longer is it really about discovering new talent or spotlighting budding artists. It’s become a brand fest.
I’m glad for the day when my city can claim it’s birthright and celebrate its namesake as the Live Music Capital of the World, but not at the expense of everyone’s safety.
I love a good conference but I wonder what happened to the music? Oh how I long for the days of humble beginnings.
In the meantime let’s make this and savor the memories.
Austin Mac & Cheese Suiza
1 pound cavatappi or other short pasta
1 pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed and halved
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon cumin (about 1/3 palmful)
1/3 cup cilantro (a generous handful), finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 cup vegetable stock or broth
1 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
2 cups crushed tortilla chips, preferably flaxseed
1 cup pepper Jack cheese, shredded
1 cup crème fraîche or sour cream (optional)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, then return to the pot.
While the pasta is working, using a food processor, pulse the tomatillos until chopped. In a medium size saucepan, heat the EVOO, one turn of the pan, over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeños and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatillos, honey and cumin; season with salt. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and lime juice.
In a medium size saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour for 1 minute, then whisk in the milk and vegetable stock; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the Swiss and Monterey Jack cheeses.
Pre-heat the broiler.
Add the cheese sauce to the pasta and toss. Spread half of the pasta in a 9-inch x 13-inch baking dish and top with half of the tomatillo sauce; repeat the layers. Sprinkle the chips and pepper Jack cheese on top. Broil until browned, 3-5 minutes. Serve with the crème fraîche, if using.