The thunder started as soon as I stepped outside of the hotel.
Walking north along the I-35 frontage road, I started to wonder if this was perhaps a bad idea. It was 9:15 a.m., it was raining hard, and I was supposed to be meeting a group of complete strangers to play kick ball. More specifically, I was supposed to be meeting a group of strangers for the last-ever Kick!, organized by Anil Dash — the blogger, entrepreneur and technologist — as a sort of playful farewell to a certain notion of what the SXSW Interactive Festival is about. Or so I saw it. Maybe I’m putting it badly. Here it is in Dash’s words:
Ten years ago, KICK! began as the beloved informal and unofficial kickball kickoff to the South by Southwest Interactive festival. Since 2002, it’s been the most fun way to get to meet or re-meet your geek friends during Interactive weekend. This year, we’re going back to our roots with no sponsors, no distractions, just one last fun game before KICK! rides off into the sunset.
If one were looking for a handy metaphor to stand in for SXSW’s shift from small indie arts & culture festival to corporate swag & spendfest, one could do worse than Kick! Organized by Dash for the first time in 2002, Kick! embodied a lot of the low-key positivity that still gives SXSW its sheen of friendliness and personality. The exclamation point. The notion that no one gets picked last. It was good times and non-businessy and existed for no other reason than it appealed to its organizer.
So the fact that this was to be the last year Kick! happened at SXSW gave it some more significance, a bit of a a hook. SXSW Interactive has reached the stage of its cultural lifespan where the backlash against it is a main part of the story, important background for any conversation about it. Something can only be popular for so long in America before either going bad or getting rich, and SXSW got rich. With money came sponsored grill tents and elaborate parties and Jay Z performances.
Part of that formulation is just what I’ve gathered. Dash hasn’t explicitly said why he’s ending Kick! this year, instead pointing his Twitter followers to a post by Austin blogger and web developer Ben Brown, who isn’t attending the festival this year. He summarizes his position pretty well right here:
I am still excited, and I still marvel at what a weird thing we have all built together. I worry about how all of this money seems to corrupt it, turning a festival originally about independent creators into a branded hellscape of VIP-only, RSVP-only partypocalypse.
The world’s biggest hip-hop superstar is playing a concert at the same event where, a few years ago, my friend Dakota was the biggest name act.
You begin to see why Kick! needed to go bye-bye.
Anyway, this was all swirling in the back of my head as I doggedly trudged through the morning rain, hoping to arrive at Palm Playground to find a throng of folks braving the unseasonable rain and cold to play some good old fashioned American kick ball.
Instead, it was just me and a guy from the Denver Post, both hoping to write something about the final Kick! Neither of us had participated in it before, we just went to get something, a story and some quotes about a small, fun thing that maybe signified the end of a larger fun thing.
We should have checked Twitter earlier.