Sonoma is beautiful. We followed the directions and found ourselves on a winding country road. The deep greens blended into the dark browns as we drove through alleys of trees. Our friends' house, built onto the side of a hill, was stunning. It was surrounded by the rich colors of the landscape rolling down and out from the back porch of the house.
Soon after we arrived and said our hellos, I was on the phone calling the offices to find out what was happening with the Chronicle, but, more importantly at this time of year, SXSW.
Talking on the phone, I was given the message. The colors faded to grey, the landscape leveled off to a thin black line. There was a feeling of nothing and one of pain. I didn't know what to do. My friend, our friend, Dewey Winburne, was dead.
Dewey Winburne first exploded into my life in late 1993. We were working on the first SXSW Film Conference and Festival (held March, 1994). We had already talked about doing a multimedia conference and had geared some of the film conference toward cutting edge technologies. One day we got a phone call. Dewey Winburne had some ideas for some multimedia panels, he had already spoken to Roland Swenson, and was following up with us. Nick Barbaro, Dewey, and I met. Being Dewey, in no time he had us meeting with others. Soon we had a multimedia track that at the first 1994 SXSW Film Conference proved to be as popular as the rest of the conference. The next year SXSW debuted a multimedia conference to complement film and music (Hugh Forrest, working with Dewey, actually ran it).
Driven by Dewey, the idea was that here would be a place for the Austin new media to gather, meet, and interact, and also serve to showcase them to a more national audience. Dewey was all about meetings, about ideas, about connecting. If there were three people in a conversation, Dewey would suggest six projects they could do together in various combinations.
If Dewey had one idea it soon blossomed into a half-dozen more and those ideas all spawned new ideas. The best way to achieve those ideas was to connect people to each other. Dewey did as much of this one-on-one as he could manage but he was always looking for ways to bring more people together. Helping to found the Austin Area Multimedia Alliance was one way. Working with us to create SXSW Interactive was another.
SXSW provided the opportunity to meet the locals he didn't know, to introduce everyone he knew to each other, and to try and attract national attention to our flourishing interactive/new media scene.
Somewhere in there, I started getting to the office early in the morning, long before anyone else. This had to do with dropping my son off at school but it gave me a quiet time in which to work. Dewey began dropping in regularly and we would talk about everything, about SXSW, about family, about his life and his plans. At the time he was riding high on a stunning victory when CD-roms he had produced with his students at the American Institute for Learning won national awards. The future seemed limitless, though Dewey had more than enough ideas to fill it up anyway.
There was a gentle presence to Dewey, something soothing in the love and joy he exuded, as he tried to hide the troubled waters running deep inside him. These mornings were special. Filled with possibility and ideas, Dewey was hot. He knew everybody. Everybody wanted to work with him. There is nothing as exciting as launching a new event and there was a genuine thrill to this adventure.
Over the years, we grew apart. My involvement with SXSW Interactive became marginal as Nick Barbaro and I concentrated on SXSW Film. Dewey, though also a consultant for SXSW, had become more and more involved in his own projects over the last few years. We saw each other rarely. We hugged when we met. There was a deep warmth and real love but no time. We talked hardly at all.
When we did talk the news was not always good. Dewey had so many ideas and so many good ideas. Translating them was not always so easy. Business developments kept getting in the way of vision and possibility. When we did talk he would always speak of his deep love for his family and his excitement about the future.
I was in Sonoma and missed the funeral. Friends estimated over 1,000 people had turned out. If only, in the minutes before it ended, Dewey had called out for those who loved him and cared about him. Certainly, they would have reached out. I know I would have gotten back in the car and headed to the airport if I got that call. There are so many people, all over the country, who would have dropped what they were doing if Dewey somehow had called. Dropped what they were doing and come by to ask how they could help, to say they loved him. Certainly that incredible interconnected community that is spread out over the city and had mostly Dewey in common would have preferred to have gotten together with him alive, rather than at the church after he was gone, to celebrate his life.
Standing there in Sonoma, looking out the window, I remembered Dewey sitting across from me, carrying the bag/purse that was always with him, his eyes alive and his mind going full speed in every direction. Talking like a hippie in a TV show, he radiated affection. The building was usually empty then, but even now, when full, it rarely feels as alive as it did those mornings when Dewey Winburne was going full steam.