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From Athens to Austin: SXSW 2015, Days 1-2

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This week, Ohio University School of Media Arts and Studies Instructor Josh Antonuccio is leading a class of 24 OU students on a week-long trip to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

Follow Antonuccio’s adventures at or via Twitter @woubarts.

Every year, South by Southwest breaks barriers in art, media, and tech. This year is no exception.

So far, one of the biggest stories out of SXSW has not been a band, but an app: Meerkat. Meerkat enables users to provide live stream footage, directly to their Twitter followers, through the click of a button.

It’s been one of the many tech stories that has dominated this week, alongside companies like Samsung making headlines with exclusive events this week featuring D’Angelo and Mary J. Blige.

I arrived on Monday during the last portion of the Interactive programming, getting glimpses of where tech companies are aiming, specifically into areas of virtual reality, big data and 3-D printing.

With a strong bent towards disruptive technologies and innovative startups, many musical acts have come early to interface with the tech crowd (The Flaming Lips hosted a tech showcase the previous evening). As technologies such as streaming continue to grow, many tech companies’ representatives are sticking around for the music portion.

The Ohio University class arrived throughout Tuesday and enjoyed a stellear lineup of panels and interviews. Punk icon Henry Rollins was on hand for an exclusive interview, while elsewhere, panels covering every range of film, tech, and music were in full swing.

I got to catch a bit of a panel with the production crew of the film Boyhood, discussing the post-production process of the 12-year filming. It was really interesting to hear the challenges they faced, which included massive changes in film technology as they were making the film and some unforseseen hard drive failures.

The cast of NBC’s new show Undateable was on hand for a conversation about the new season, while next door I caught a panel on the many ways that virtual reality will reshape the concert industry (imagine being able to virtually experience any show of your choice, from any vantage point, including being on stage with the band).

The day before, I was able to catch a panel with digital producers who are transforming how filming for TV and film is being carried out, with virtual sets and backgrounds being applied in growing measure. In all, it’s been an incredible journey into this new tech which is poised to transform the way that audiences will engage with their favorite entertainment.

The first official music night is always a startling reminder of the staggering amount of great music available here and how little time (or stamina) there is to see it all. The students and I enjoyed the ritual of a first night meal at Iron Works BBQ and then headed out for the evening.

Early highlights included a set by The Barbarettes, a Korean all-female acoustic trio that perfectly captured the dream pop of the ’50s and early ’60s.

From there I headed to Cheer Up Charlie’s for a set by breakout band Sweet Spirit who dominated their set with an assault of ecstatic and guitar/horn-driven songs, with female vocals and a wall of guitars.

Later, I spent some time at The Mohawk for the House of Vans show, which boasted an incredible lineup. Guitar maestro Steve Gunn, emerging songstress Torres, Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee and disjointed Boston band Speedy Ortiz split the bill, all delivering stunning sets with new tracks from forthcoming albums.

The night ended with a majestic performance by Angel Olsen, who performed a solo set of new songs and selections from her critically acclaimed 2014 album Burn Your Fire For No Witness.

The showcase drew a slew of music journalists, including NPR’s Bob Boilen and The Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot, and was easily one of the best schedules so far at this year’s SXSW.