SXSW Eco and TribFest: Festivals for the Rest of Y'all

Sate your inner policy wonk at these two fall favorites

SXSW Eco and TribFest: Festivals for the Rest of Y'all

Some people seek music for their festival pleasures. Some crave the communal solitude of the cinema. But when policy wonks want to get their fall freak on, there's something in Austin for them too. Two gatherings – SXSW Eco and the Texas Trib­une Festival – give them a reason to mix Barton Springs with informal briefings.

SXSW Eco and TribFest: Festivals for the Rest of Y'all

After debuting last year at the Downtown Hilton, SXSW Eco enters its sophomore year with a move to the AT&T Executive Education & Convention Center, Oct. 3-5. The environmental outrigger of the SX empire is the only part of the brand scheduled away from spring break; instead, it's the last stop for researchers and advocates on the summer convention circuit. No, there aren't any bands or red carpet premieres, but then, people made the same complaints about SXSW Interactive when it started. SXSW Eco enters into its second year following the same model as Interactive and the brand's other junior sibling, SXSWedu: Put the smartest and most tech-savvy thinkers in a room, and see what solutions they can innovate.

The big speaker will be former U.S. senator-turned-novelist Byron Dorgan, who has made a career of connecting the dots between outsourcing, vulture capitalism, and economic and environmental collapse. If he wants some advice on the SX format, he can just ask last year's keynote speaker Philippe Cousteau Jr. – grandson of oceanic eco-pioneer Jacques Cousteau and a powerful advocate for the environment himself. The Ryan Gosling of the enviro set returns to talk about the University of Virginia's new watershed simulator, the Bay Game, and sign his new kids' book, Make a Splash!: A Kid's Guide to Protecting Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands. For hardcore environmental number-crunchers, Earth System Science Center Professor Michael Mann will be explaining the pivotal "hockey stick graph" – the millennium-long analysis of climate data that shows exactly how horrific the last century has been for the planet. Expect an easier entry into the complexities of global climate change from Annie Leonard, the director of the Story of Stuff Project whose stick-figure animations help break the fight for survival into bite-sized chunks.

SXSW Eco and TribFest: Festivals for the Rest of Y'all

If you're looking for something with a more local flavor, on Sept. 21 the Texas Tribune continues its quest to become the state's one-stop-shop for policy talk with the second annual Texas Tribune Festival. The three-day wonk-o-rama gathers the great, the good, and, depending on your point of view, the worst villains of Texas political life together for verbal sparring and debate.

While SXSW Eco takes a global approach to the singular issue of the environment, this Texas-centric affair takes a provincial approach to a broader curriculum. It breaks down policy into six key sectors: race and immigration, law and order, trade and transportation, public and higher education, energy and environment, and health and human services. The Tribune may have secured Gov. Rick Perry as the keynote speaker, but the main event will undoubtedly be Cruz vs. Castro: GOP U.S. Senate nominee Ted Cruz goes mano a mano with San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, debating the political impact of immigration policy. Each man is being talked up as the hot Hispanic hope for his party, and after high-profile speeches at their respective national conventions, this could be a taste of battles to come.

Austinites looking for familiar faces will see the hometown crowd heavily represented. Council Member Mike Martinez will debate the future of light rail, while Sen. Kirk Watson and Rep. Mark Strama will try to predict the shape of the 83rd Legis­lature, and Rep. Donna Howard joins the debate on family planning. For a more somber examination of some of Texas' problems, three men who lost decades of their lives to the state legal system – Michael Morton, Billy Smith, and Kerry Max Cook – will discuss their criminal convictions due to faulty science and their exonerations through DNA testing.

For details on these events and others, see our Fall Arts Calendar.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 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.

Support the Chronicle  

Save the World With Bill Nye
Save the World With Bill Nye
SXSW Eco closing speaker thinks we're not a lost cause

Richard Whittaker, Oct. 18, 2016

Everybody vs. Injustice
Everybody vs. Injustice
Using hip-hop to build a just city

Annamarya Scaccia, Oct. 13, 2016

More by Richard Whittaker
End of an Era: Funko Lays Off Mondo's Leadership
End of an Era: Funko Lays Off Mondo's Leadership
UPDATED: Toys and records unaffected as prints team gutted

March 24, 2023

SXSW Film Review: <i>Monolith</i>
Film Review: Monolith
Australian audio-horror builds tone through sound

March 24, 2023


SXSW Eco, Texas Tribune Festival, TribFest, South by Southwest, Byron Dorgan, Philippe Cousteau Jr., Michael Mann, Annie Leonard, Story of Stuff Project, Texas Tribune, Rick Perry, Julian Castro, Julián Castro, Kirk Watson, Ted Cruz, DNC, Kirk Watson, Mark Strama, Mike Martinez, Donna Howard

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle