sxsw: Schmoozing with Ed Ward, et al.

SXSW involves a lot of something called "schmoozing"

Ed Ward, Curra's Grill, 3/12/11
Ed Ward, Curra's Grill, 3/12/11 (by Martha Grenon)

For beginners, it's best to start schmoozing with someone you already know. At worst, you may be bored for a few minutes or bore the other person. But then you move onto the next schmooze. If you're lucky, you'll become engaged in a wide variety of conversations. Talk to old friends and make new ones.

Since I was a little schmooze rusty, I had my first 2011 SXSW schmooze with Ed, because he's someone I already know. Every SXSW since 2004, journalist Ed Ward and Plutopia Productions' Chief Digital Officer Jon Lebkowsky have hosted a Saturday morning breakfast schmooze. For every year except one, it's been held at Curra's Grill on Oltorf.

Lately, Ed has been suffering some from Tex-Mex deprivation, so Curra's was the perfect antidote. You see, these days, Ed lives in Montpellier, France, a diverse university town that has a music festival of its own, but alas no Tex-Mex. Ed said he's been able to go to local markets and find just the right ingredients to come up with a salsa that tastes like Pace Picante Sauce. To see Ed cook with limited ingredients--it's like some sort of MacGyver thing.

Because he's such a good cook, food has been the least of Ed's worries lately. He has a neurology professor for a landlord who fancies himself a big time gangster. Lately, the landlord's strong arm tactics came in handy. Ed's anarchist neighbor decided to let a heroin-dealing homeless family move into the building. This made it hard for Ed to get to his apartment, what with the family and their child sleeping on the stairs. The last straw was a loud, middle of the night party. "The head anarchist was a drama queen," said Ed. "I don't know what happened, but he flipped out and threw the family out."

The next day, Ed had been out of the building most of the day doing business. When he came back and heard a lot of yelling and screaming. "Then I heard somebody coughing and retching, somebody pounding on the door, walking up and down the stairs. I was working by an open window. All of a sudden my eyes started to burn. I thought to myself, 'What is this all about.' And it got worse and worse and worse. I had to give up working and leave the house." It turned out the authorities must have thrown teargas into the building. This made it hard for Ed to work on his blog or prepare for his next segment on Terry Gross's Fresh Air.

For a much better and more accurate account of Ed's anarchist dilemma, see Ed's blog "Live From Montpellier, It's Lunkhead-dämmerung!"

Shortly after Ed finished his apartment story, in walked Charles "Scoop" Sweeny. He is the director of event production services at Plutopia Productions--the same place that Curra schmooze founder Jon Lebkowsky works at. He told us that Jon was running late and took a seat next to me. After brief introductions, I admitted my ignorance and asked him about his company. He told me that Plutopia plans events that highlight futurist thinkers and inventors.

"So far, I am overwhelmed by SXSW," said Scoop. "I'm getting to meet and hang out with a lot of cool people. There's this real atmosphere of success and really sharp people sharing great information. I've been talking with people who are making great innovations. Jon (Lebrowsky) and I want to discuss social media's effect on people's lives. People are starting to realize that technology isn't the problem--it's how people are using technology."

Involved in SXSW for the last couple of years, they specialize in events that stimulate the senses and engage participants. They also run a news service called Plutopia News Network that promotes future technologies. After some brief schmoozing, I learned that Scoop and Ed go way back to the 1960s when Ed was working at Cream Magazine. Back then, Scoop was working at a place called the Zodiac News Service, which produced syndicated radio shows about music and in effect catered to magazines like Cream.

This year, Plutopia is sponsoring an event at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 14 at the Mexican American Cultural Center on March 14 (www.plutopia.org). Glancing at his handouts while taking another gulp of Oaxacan coffee, I am intrigued by one of the exhibits in particular. Called "Scenoscosme" from France, it involves "living musical plants" and you in high tech terms you could call it "interactive biomechanical vudiovisual." Scoop explains that if you touch the leaves, a sound is produced. Since the event is open to the general public, I mark this on my calendar as a "must attend" event for my 13-year-old son and me.

About this time, Martha Grenon joined our table. A former art director for the Austin Chronicle, Martha took many photos over the years that have graced the pages of the paper. In fact, a good percentage of the photos chronicling the history of SXSW are now on display at the Austin History Center. The exhibit, 5X5Y, celebrates 25 years of SXSW. She also has an exhibit of her photos from the Austin music scene, Eye for Music, at Studio 2 Gallery through April 2.

Shortly after, I met Lisa Shawley, who apparently knows Ed from Europe, even though she used to live in Austin. With Michael Shay, Lisa is part of a world fusion musical group called The Just Desserts. She plays accordion, flute, and piano. Michael plays cello, guitar, bass, tenor banjo, keys, Venezuelan cuatro, and sings. When she is not performing music, Lisa provides music therapy for seniors, people with Alzheimer’s, and people with developmental disabilities and mental disorders (she has a bachelor's in music therapy). Depending on what part of the world they are performing in, they take in other collaborators--they seem to spend most of the time on the road, throughout Europe or in Ecuador. After a brief discussion on accordions, I learn that we both briefly took lessons from the same accordion teacher, the last Hanni Strahl.

Their music can be best described as world fusion--Latin, Balkan, Middle Eastern--you name it, they've interpreted it. After playing several years in unofficial SXSW events, The Just Desserts are performing at "official" SXSW venue on Saturday, March 19 at Copa.

Before I knew it, Ed was about to head out. The Breakfast Schmooze was coming to an end. Three hours had passed so quickly. Wish I could make his panel discussion, "I'm Not Old,Your Music Does Suck."

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw. Sign up for our South-by-specific newsletter at austinchronicle.com/newsletters/ for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest Tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

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