We Have an Issue: Speeding Toward Normal

In this week’s issue: How Greg Abbott’s Great Unmasking puts state and local leadership at odds yet again, plus the SXSW virtual experience

Photo by Jana Birchum

On the first day of South by Southwest 2021, my hair still wet from the shower, I watched Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins and Emmy-winning composer Nicholas Britell talk about a cicada's influence on the soundtrack for their upcoming series, The Underground Railroad. UPS delivered a box of cheese – that's for a virtual tasting with Nick Offerman on Thursday. I set a pot of freshly made soup to simmer before I tucked into a competition film, hitting pause every once in a while to stir. And I squeezed the day's keynote address in at bedtime; I meant to drift off, but Stacey Abrams and N.K. Jemisin had me riveted.

There was no queue for the bathroom, I never once worried about a parking ticket, and I got to experience more SXSW programming in a day than I have in ages. The Chronicle is SXSW's official print sponsor, which means we produce a mountain of coverage before, during, and after the Fest – reviews, interviews, recaps – and I'm always at the office working on it. Which is all to say, selfishly, I'm enjoying the heck out of this all-virtual experience, which allows me to duck in and out of the programming without ever putting on my shoes.

But I miss the energy in the city during SXSW, when it feels like everyone is either actively attending the Fest, the unofficial shows, the crazy "branded experiences," the circus of it all, or actively avoiding it, which has its own pleasures. That energy is one of the "back to normals" I daydream about. Also: indoor dining, my beloved movie theatres, and working at the office again.

In general, the pace seems to be accelerating toward "back to normal." Nationally, the daily tally of COVID-related deaths is dropping, and daily vaccinations are rising. But that acceleration isn't happening for everyone at the same rate, and certain populations continue to be more vulnerable than others. That's especially so now that the governor has lifted statewide mask requirements – prematurely, most argue, including Austin-Travis County leadership – and once again state and local are locked in a battle over who gets to govern here. In this week's cover package, we look at the Great Unmasking – how we got here, how front-line workers are impacted, where we're at with the vaccine rollout, and whether or not we're running so fast, even heedlessly, at "normal" that we might just run ourselves right off a cliff.


Alto sax player Camilla George (Courtesy of SXSW)

Wall-to-Wall SXSW Coverage The all-virtual 2021 SXSW Conference & Festivals continue through Saturday, March 20. Find all of the Chronicle's continuing coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw, including...

Film Reviews ... Jenny Nulf calls opening night film Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil "a window into [the pop star's] psyche and ... a frank discussion about her addiction."

Music Showcases ... Raoul Hernandez reviews the London record label Jazz re:freshed set, taped at London's Abbey Road Studios: "Jazz re:freshed is jazz re:born."

Conference Recaps ... "What you're seeing is the deepest corners of anybody's brain": Derek Udensi files his report from the TikTok curators panel.

Kevin Curtin tries VR (Photo by Kevin Curtin)

The SXSW XR Experience ... VR newbie Kevin Curtin takes a simulated walk through Downtown Austin and encounters ... a talking banana?

...And a Freebie Wayne Alan Brenner previews the Future of Food track running Thursday-Saturday, free and open to the public.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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