Even food-eating champ Takeru Kobayashi was in town, where he reportedly set a grilled-cheese-sandwich-eating record, with 13 in a minute. GroupMe sponsored the gorge-fest.
Hollywood types have more traditional reasons to make the trek, too. Last year, Time magazine asked the question: "Is South By Southwest becoming the new Sundance?" In 2009, eventual best-picture Academy Award-winning The Hurt Locker made its debut at the festival. And the film that won this year's Oscar for best documentary, Undefeated, screened at the festival last year.
SXSW has slightly fewer films this year, 132, but more world premieres. Among them: Bernie, which stars Black and McConaughey.
Even the weather can't dampen the gravitational pull of SXSW. "Like the Dublin Film Festival," is how actor Bradley Whitford characterized the climate at the red-carpet premiere for The Cabin in the Woods at the city's Paramount Theatre on Friday night. It opens nationwide April 13.
Cabin producer/co-writer Joss Whedon, whose upcoming film The Avengers promises to be among this summer's blockbusters, also joined much of the cast and crew on a SXSW panel Saturday.
Cabin director Drew Goddard said SXSW was "perfect" for the film's premiere: "There's a smart swagger to this town because of all of those elements" -- the convergence of tech, music and pop culture.
A particularly hot ticket Saturday night was a party hosted by actors DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Lukas Haas for their visual-media start-up Mobli.
But it's not just the parties at SXSW. "The party part of this I have zero interest in," says Reid Hoffman, often called one of Silicon Valley's smartest minds. The co-founder of LinkedIn goes to only a handful of tech shows, including TED, AllThingsD, TechCrunch Disrupt and LeWeb. "South By is a great convocation for (LinkedIn) and me as an investor and theorist," he says. "If I want to party, I can invite my friends over to the house."
Hoffman spent less than 24 hours in Austin but met entrepreneurs, investors and a few reporters. He's also plugging his book, The Start-up of You, co-authored with Ben Casnocha, about practical techniques and theory behind entrepreneurs.
For the music world, SXSW has become so important that Springsteen will be there with his new record. "With the big social-media burst that is involved, South By Southwest only gets more important," DeCurtis says.
Scores of newer musicians have ridden the SXSW wave to critical mass, among them Grammy-winner John Mayer, who played SXSW in 2000. And James Blunt was discovered there by producer Linda Perry in 2003.
Singer-songwriter Bon Iver, who played there in 2008, won best new artist and best alternative album at last month's Grammys. "As the music industry continues to fragment and splinter," DeCurtis says, "an event like SXSW is really one of the few times when the industry is at a critical mass."
Other entertainment royalty such as Jay-Z plans to perform at Austin City Limits tonight, at an American Express event. Springsteen delivers a keynote on Thursday, followed by a concert with the E Street Band later that night.
NPR Music's Bob Boilen suggests that SXSW "sets the tone for the year." The host and creator of All Songs Considered tries to see more than 100 bands at the festival. "That means little bits of a lot of things," he says. "That leads me down the path of when I get home to dig a little deeper into things that intrigued me."
Austin is 'utopian'
Austin, the city and its residents, help the festival to flourish. "I just found it to be utopian," says celebrity chef Rachael Ray, who for the fifth consecutive year will have a half-day mini-festival at legendary venue Stubb's BBQ. "There doesn't seem to be any ageism or sexism. Dogs are allowed everywhere, and it is a city that was green before it was hip to be green."
And key to the ambience is the dominance of locally owned businesses in the pedestrian-friendly downtown, she says. "They celebrate the individual and entrepreneurship."
The use of technology has emerged as an important aspect of the festival, too, Ray says. If something happens or something cool is shown off, "somebody hears that and then, boom, there's this flash mob there," says Ray, who will have the band Train and reggae legend Jimmy Cliff among performers at her Feedback event Saturday.
"It's hard to keep any surprises in the bag, so to speak, because everybody is plugged in at the festival," she says. "But that's the fun of it. The game is afoot."
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