SXSW Reporters' Diary: 10 Secrets, Rumors and Random Observations

Dispatches From Austin

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Two Ad Age reporters embedded themselves at SXSW this weekend. (One reporter is still there -- pray for him.) They scribbled notes during their stay. Here are some of their dispatches from the front.

Apple appears. The quiet Cupertino company usually eschews tech conferences, but not this one. The company held a small event. And later, a couple of Apple employees floated around The Barbarian Group party. Musa Tariq, the digital director of Apple's retail division, who joined from Nike in August, reportedly held court at the Four Seasons, and tweeted frequently from the festival. But the Apple Watch did not appear; one employee let slip that the company, unsurprisingly, is not doling them out.

A libertarian meets the libertines. Spotted outside the raucous Pandora party on Saturday night: Sen. Rand Paul from Kentucky. In the few minutes Ad Age ogled him, exactly one person shook his hand. He did turn some heads though.

Sen. Rand Paul, right, shaking hands outside the Pandora Party at SXSW.
Sen. Rand Paul, right, shaking hands outside the Pandora Party at SXSW.

Shingy, denied? Word around the festival was that AOL "Digital Prophet" Shingy was turned away from the party YouTube hosted Friday night. No sweat for Shingy. He turned up the next night at R/GA's happy hour and at The Barbarian Group's soiree on Saturday evening.

Stelter, delayed. Blogger-turned-media-reporter-turned CNN anchor Brian Stelter wasn't turned away at the Tumblr "Fuck Yeah" party on Monday evening, but the long wait at the VIP line forced him to flee. Inside, all cell-phone shots turned on the cast of HBO's Entourage and comedian Kevin Hart -- until the founder of Meerkat, the buzzy live-streaming app, showed up. One man waiting in line narrated the startup CEO's entrance on Meerkat.

Old Media Wins Friday Night. The New York Times Magazine and Google each threw parties Friday night -- and the Times Magazine won, according to multiple people who attended both parties and said Google's was a snore. Of course, the Times Magazine bash was more or less the Manhattan media scene transplanted to Texas. They even served Shake Shack burgers. Best/worst pickup line overheard at the party: "Want to meet Maureen Dowd? Because I can make that happen." Wonder what Ms. Dowd thought of DJ Dan Deacon, who performed at the party.

NFL keeps its stars (close to) on point. The league has had some blunders with its biggest sponsors this year. At a Visa event on Sunday, where the credit card company re-upped its NFL partnership, a couple of those arose. Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald showed off the league's coaching: He twice mentioned Microsoft, which poured $400 million in to the NFL only to have its devices mixed with Apple's on air. And he softly chided his cohort on stage, Colin Kaepernick. The quarterback mentioned his costly predilection for Beats headphones, the non-official headgear. To which Mr. Fitzgerald responded: "Those Bose cancellation headphones look good on you." (One source told Ad Age Mr. Kaepernick certainly did not pay his own fines.)

Oddest sight. A long line of hipsters queueing up for a McDonald's event, where indie bands played beneath a giant tent across from the Austin Convention Center -- ground zero for everything SXSW. It generated a lot of buzz, but a few young marketers weren't lovin' it. (Sorry.) One person sniffed: "If McDonald's really wanted to be cool, they shoulda been more underground about it." The people taking this selfie with Ronald McDonald inside the tent would probably disagree.

Morris the Cat is much busier than you. The iconic feline spokesman was the center of attention at Mashable House, where people lined up to take a photo with the cat. Here he has a rare moment of downtime:

Rare moment of downtime for Morris the Cat at #SXSW. Not pictured: the crowd of people waiting to get photos with the cat.

A photo posted by Ad Age and Creativity (@advertisingage) on

Grumpy Cat is more popular than you (or most of your brands). HBO netted long queues for its building devoted to Game of Thrones geekery. But that -- and likely every other event -- was outmatched by the line of attendees waiting to meet the internet meme in the flesh and fur.

The line to see Grumpy Cat at SXSW.
The line to see Grumpy Cat at SXSW.

Nick Kroll, David Chang and a politician's daughter walk into a bar … Deep into the night on Sunday -- actually around 3:30 Monday morning -- Momofuku chef David Chang and comedian Nick Kroll shared a corner area at a house turned speakeasy somewhere deep in Austin. Also in attendance (though not at the same table): Alexandra Keating, co-founder of mobile service DWNLD and daughter of former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating.

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