SXSW 2009 surprise discovery – KatzenJammer girls

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When I learnt that I will have to shell out 470 USD to attend the fav keynote addresses and listen to some good music, I was literally heartbroken. And understandably so – after all it means almost 24000 Indian Rupees. Couple that with the bad weather in the first weekend of South by South West 2009 at Austin, I sincerely thought I’m in for a serial bad luck (I missed this year’s Mardi Gras despite being in Austin). Next weekend brought good news – luckily, there were plenty of avenues to find good music for ‘free freaks’ like me.

Having wandered through Austin Downtown streets in the last 2 days of SXSW Film and Music Festival, I could honestly say – KatzenJammer girls blew me away. They were the best of all the bands that were ‘free’ (Metallica wasn’t free). But, I actually just ‘bumped’ into them. On friday late night (well, technically it would be saturday), while wandering through the 3rd Street, we (Sankar and me) found four girls playing rather old school musical instruments. In the first song, all I could hear was ‘Oh yeah. All right‘. But the energy was infectious. A couple of songs more and we were hooked. After the little road side show, they said that they would be playing next afternoon at ThreadGill’s. Understandably, it was a must on our to do list for SXSW on Saturday.

KatzenJammer Girls at Threadgill's

KatzenJammer Girls at Threadgill's

Threadgill’s was packed as we entered. On a bright sunny day, people were sitting on chairs and on the grass -donning a cap, holding a beer can/glass/bottle in one hand and a camera on the other. I found a seat nevertheless and started doing what everybody else was doing – enjoying Norwegian Music.

The Audience

The Audience

The Norwegian girls played better than the ‘demo’ last night. And it was amplified by the sound system at the bar and made enjoyable by the high energy songs. An interesting thing was that the girls took turns on each instrument. With almost every song, they kept changing who’s playing what. The instrument with a smiley is called Contrabass Balalaika. The instrument on the extreme right is Accordion, and reminds me of the song from Amar Akbar Anthony [here’s the youtube video]. Something really funny struck me. In the movie song too, Vinod Khanna was playing 4 instruments too!

Katzenjammer - Players changed

Katzenjammer - Players changed

At the end of an hour long show, KatzenJammer did the crowd adieu. The audience gave the girls from Norway a high energy applause. They sure did deserved it. I enquired about a CD, but they haven’t had any with them. And that was a surprise indeed – this is a Music Festival for Christ’s sake!

High enegy applause for Norwegian girls

High enegy applause for the Norwegian girls

Please check out KatzenJammer’s videos on youtube, their Myspace profile where you can listen to the songs too, and their website. Trivia:  Interestingly, KatzenJammer is also a British Piano Musical Comedy duo.

If you like this post, please consider linking to it or sharing it with others. I’ll love to hear your comments too.

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Rowing at Town Lake, Austin

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Town Lake (also called Lady Bird Lake) in Austin is one of the Top 10 rowing water bodies in US. I was lucky that my first rowing experience is in this Lake. Wait a second – is it rowing or canoeing? Well, frankly it doesn’t really matter to me and shouldn’t matter to you either if you’re an amateur. There’s a 10 miles long hiking and biking trail along the Lake as well and thus, is a perfect place to spend a couple of hours a week while you’re at Austin.

The boat/canoe rentals were on the other side of the Lake, so had to cross this bridge. Here’s its sepia look:

Bridge over Lake Austin

Bridge over Lake Austin

The mild vibrations while standing on the bridge reminded me of LakshmanJhula in Rishikesh, though the vibrations are ‘visible’ in the latter’s case. It was enjoyable, not terrifying. The cool breeze, mild sun overhead, the view of lake on either side of the bridge and the sight of Austin Downtown building on the third side is a pleasant experience.

 

Lake Austin in an Overcast

Lake Austin in an Overcast

We were 4 guys – so rented two double boats. Rent was 15 USD per boat per hour. Being a first timer, I was off to a slow start and so even my not-so-amateurish partner couldn’t move ahead. The vessel moved absolutely in direction that we didn’t want it to go. As minutes passed, my rowing skills improved. We figured out that the best strategy to move fast and straight was – the rower in the back provides direction to the boat while the rower in the front ‘rows’; and after some time, vice versa.

 

Rowers

Rowers

Ducks, and birds of other categories as well, were having a good time – swimming, playing, surfing, flying low and eating insects/fish. In some areas, people were feeding the birds too.

 

Duck Tales

Duck Tales

The sight on both sides of the Lake was majestic, though the ‘point-and-shoot’ camera couldn’t do justice to the sight due to overcast sky. Several houses, surrounded by trees, lines the Lake periphery. Imagine sitting on your backyard listening to your iPod and gazing at the Lake from atop – priceless!

 

Woods Beside the Lake

Woods Beside the Lake

General Information: If you are new (or coming) to Austin and want to plan a visit to Town Lake for rowing,  canoeing, hiking, biking etc the following links will help you:

Note: All the pictures in this post are taken by Sankar Tejaswi (my co-passenger in the boat) and have been retouched by me using picnik.

Enchanting Mount Bonnell along Lake Austin

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Watching sunset on a clear sky evening is a bliss – be it on a beach, a coffee shop overlooking a lake or a hill top. A couple of weekends back, I had a chance to see the sunset from Mt. Bonnell.

Mount Bonnell is the highest peak of Austin. And, predictably, is a popular and free hangout for Austinites and tourists alike.  I found it a perfect place to spend couple of hours just sitting atop the rocks, overlooking Lake Austin and the Downtown. Also, this is one of the most romantic places you can find in Austin. Beat this – a couple sitting on a rock atop a hill overlooking a lake watching sunset, and without spending a penny!

About: There’s a short trail of .3 mile and 190 ft high (yeah, really short but enjoyable nevertheless). The place felt more like a tourist spot than a hiker’s paradise.  The trail begins at the stairs that leadup to the summit, and is marked by the waypoint “Trailhead” on the topo map. In early 1830s, a woman named Antonette jumped from this peak when Indians killed her fiance. In her memory, the place was called Antonette’s Leap then. Later, it got its current name from George W. Bonnell. Address – 3800 Mt. Bonnell Drive, Austin, TX 78731. Locate it on Google Maps.

There are 3 parts of Mt. Bonnell each with a distinct charming view:

Meandering Lake Austin

Meandering Lake Austin

At the first spot, you can see Lake Austin and houses built on each side. Boats wheezing along the Lake’s length, leaving a trail behind, is a worthy sight. The lakeside houses look pretty similar. Their backdoor opens up to the Lake. Just imagine – wake up in the morning, grab a cup of tea or cofee and sit on the porsche viewing the lake.

Sunset from Mt. Bonnell

Sunset from Mt. Bonnell

From the second spot you can see the sunset. Beyond the lake and over the horizon.  You can also see a Bridge and several towers (probably telecom ones) in a distance.

Lake side Dwellings

Lake side Dwellings

There’s a pavillon on the third spot, standing atop which you can have amazing view of the Austin Downtown. The pavilion, though, may be crowded at times – after all, who doesn’t want to see the sckyscrapers from such a far distance that they are even difficult to spot. However, there is a house just nearby on the hill that blocks off a part of the view. It is an eyesore for the visitors. But I’m sure the people in that hoise must be having an amazing view of Austin. Lucky folks!

In short, a must see place in the evening while you are in Austin.

Links

Websites: AustinExplorer, Austin City Guide,

SXSW Live Blogging

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7:15pm – Heading to Woodrow’s on the 6th Street.

6:05pm – Came out of ACC. Would walk down a couple of blocks to the hotel now.

5:35pm – Mocha is good. Lotsa folks tweeting using laptops. I thought there would be more iPhone tweeple than lappy tweeple.

5:32pm – A coffee joint. Getting Cafe Mocha with cream.

5:30pm – A lot of things going around – keynote speakers on marketing, web 2.0, entepreneurship and web 2.0 etc. But all need badges. Let me figure out what can I do for free!

5:15pm – Came out of SunBurn. Lemme check out other things.

5:05pm – T-shirts with ‘Geeky’ quotes being sold here.  Sample this – ‘SCIENCE. It works. Bitches’

5:00pm: People are playing games all around – kids, teenagers, young and oldies alike. Interestingly, can’t spot Strategy Games here – everywhere I see there is a Gun Battle.

4:50pm: OK, so it was about growing vegetables in your backyard. and in case you don’t, then buy them from local vendors sice you get the same stuff and the local farmers benefit more. The logic being, of 1 Dollar that you spend on fruits and vegetables, only 22 cents reach the farmer who produced them – rest is spent on packaging, transportation, marketing etc.

4:45pm: The guy at ‘Austin Green Art’ caught me. Had a conversation. He asks me ‘Do they grow vegetables in India’?

4:40 pm: A gallery of  ‘Into the Pixel’ looks cool. Especially the picture that shows Capitol being devastated in attacks. Cool game huh.

4:25pm: Checking out Games section at SXSW. ScreenBurn Arcade. More info.

4:15pm: Just spotted Austin Convention Center after quite some search. I noted 500 West Caesar Chavex street. Too bad, since what I found is a Waste Water Traetment Plant at that location! ACC is in 500 East Caeasar Chavez.

South by South West, Austin

Consider this: You’re in Kolkata and you come to know about Durga Puja only on night before it starts. Or, you’re in Mumbai unaware of Ganesh Chaturthi till you actually see someone shouting – Ganapati Bappa, Mourya. I consider it a cardinal sin.

I was close to commiting one. 

SXSW  (South by South West) is supposedly a kick-ass annual Music and Film festival in Austin. Too bad I came to know about it only a couple of days back and even then didn’t appreciate the enormity of the event – supposedly 4 million people from around the globe come here for a week. Though this figure is very small compared to what happens at Kumbh Melas , or even Durga Puja, Rath Yatra or Ganesh Chaturthi; it is a huge number for a small US city like Austin. My cab driver told me today the number today – I haven’t verified it at any website though. He was very excited when he declared – ‘You’ll hardly get any cab the next week. Everyone moves to downtown during South by South west. There is just too much money to be made driving a cab at that time.

I started surfing about it this evening and realized its importance only after that . You can look for sxsw tweets here. With so many things to plan for, I’m having a hard time finding out what to miss. The only glitch – it starts on Friday the 13th.

Just decided an hour ago that I’ll try and use the New Media to share the experiences. Will experiment live blogging in my blog and micro-blogging with Twitter. Tune in for the flavor.
Any suggestions on what to write about?

Kite Festival 2009, Zilker Park, Austin

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The word ‘Kite’ brings several images with separate connotations to my mind.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Courtesy Wikipedia

Kite Runner – ‘Kite’ reminds me of the book ‘The Kite Runner‘ by Khaled Hosseini (also adapted into a film of the same name). It is a story of a boy born into a rich family in Afghanistan in 70s who now lives in USA. He let a terrible thing happen to his best friends during childhood. Several years later, he gets a chance to redeem himself and in the process, visits war-ravaged Afghanistan. Kite Running forms an integral part of the story and several pages of the story are woven around Kite festival, children and adults flying kites, kite flying competition and running for the kites that befall during the competition. The protagonist gets a second chance, but the story almost makes you wonder, will Afghanistan get another chance.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Courtesy Wikipedia

Makar Sankranti – ‘Kite’ also reminds me of the festival of Makar Sankranti in India. The festival signifies the beginning of the harvest season in India and is called by various names in different parts of the country – Makara Sankranthi, Pongal, Tilgul, Yellu-Bella, Lohri, Maghi, Uttarayan etc. During pre teens, I used to stand on rooftops with a couple of friends (in fact every male tween in the neighborhood) and practice flying kites just as the New Year arrived. On weekdays, we used to practice after coming back from school – 3:30 to 5pm. And on the weekends, the entire day, probably just after ‘Shri Krishna’ on TV. Flying a kite was particularly difficult on cloudy days – January being the coldest time of the year no sun overhead meant a temperature of 12/13 degrees.

A day before Makar Sankranti, which is usually around 14th January, we used to buy several kites, long threads and ‘Manjha’ (pronounced Mun-jhaa and means glass lining some part of the thread) materials. Manjha is an art and is necessary for executing the kite cutting techniques – pull and release. Don’t know whether the art (of buying, sharpening the thread and flying kites) has changed these days – I know kites are even available online these days, but buying kites from the shops is an experience to cherish. Note to self: Write a full post on ‘Kite Flying in India‘ soon.

This time around, I was fortunate enough to witness Austin Kite Festival (I missed Mardi Gras!).

Zilker Kite Festival

Zilker Kite Festival

Austinites celebrate Kite Festival on the first Sunday of March every year at Zilker Park, thus called Zilker Kite Festival. Well, it’s a coincidence that Austin Kite Festival started on the same year as Oscars, in 1929. It is organized by The Exchange Club, which is an ‘all-volunteer, national service organization for men and women who want to serve their community, develop leadership skills and enjoy new friendships’. It seemed that the festival is immensely popular among Austin families – and also among tourists since it is open to all and free.

People: Several hundreds of people – families, singles, couples, young and old, gathered in an open ground. Kites of plenty of shapes, sizes and colors could be seen on the sky. It was an amazing sight to see kids not even 10 years of age flying huge kites. A few guys looked pro – their sleek kites were flying the highest. What amazed me was that no one tried to cut the flying kite of others. The Kite competition was a test of high-fly skill rather than a combat. And this was such a huge difference from the way kite flying is done in India. Even a no gooder like me could fly even lame kites pretty high and cut the thread of another high flier. Sigh!

An army of Kites

An army of Kites

Everyone wasn’t flying kites though. Those who weren’t, engaged in a variety of activities. Some watched other fly kites. Some others were busy in wall climbing, rotating rings around their waists (don’t know the term for this) or getting tattoo/mehndi/henna applied on their bodies – some on palm, others on the pelvic or tailbone area. Few spread out sheets on the ground and were eating or just lying around. Others were busy checking out different food stalls. I checked out a chicken kebab from a Turkish stall – kebabilicious. And it was delicious.

If you happen to be around Austin at this time of the year, do visit Zilker Park on the first Sunday of March for the Kite Festival. And a must see is the mass kite ascension at 3pm.

More Links

Inner Space Cavern, GeorgeTown, near Austin

 

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Intro: Well, I haven’t seen Stalagcites/Stalagmites. So, while driving back from Dallas to Austin, we (me, Tarun and Amit) stopped by at  the Inner space Cavern, 24 odd miles before Austin. It was a 45 odd min tour with 7 more people and a tour guide. So, here you go.

History:  In 1963, Texas Highway Department’s core drilling team was drilling test holes to check whether the ground can support large overpass. One of the drill fell 26 ft and this led to the accidental discovery of the cavern. The mining company sniffed opportunity and then made the place tourist worthy (safe). After some work, this place was made open to the public in 1966. Well, thats 1 million after it started to built itself!

The entry is via a train. We were late, so we walked in. It wasn’t tiring – I just wondered why they have a rail line in the first place. probably due to mining activities.

Model: Tarun Bansal

Model: Tarun Bansal

Some formations protruded and touched the other surface, causing a pillar like structure.

Stalactites and Stalagmites

Stalactites and Stalagmites

There were some paintings made by an artist (search for the name) after the cavern was opened for public view. The tour guide said that these animals were found in Texas long ago – mammoth (tusker), huge wild boar etc. Here’s a shot of the same:

We were here

We were here

Moon Lake –  lakes on moon apparently  appear like this, hence the name. Reminds me of Durga Puja pandals back home.

Moon Lake

Moon Lake

The photo below is a fault line running from Austin to XXXX. So whats a fault line? For those who forgot Class 7 geography lessons, here’s  a link. You can see here that the rock on one side of the fracture has moved with respect to the rock on the other side. This is apparently due to the shear motion of the earth’s crust.

Whos fault is this?

Who's fault is this?

I was bowled over by the color scheme of the place. The view gave a feeling that it would be very hot (looks like molten lava out of Discovery) but was indeed a cool place – 72 F (22 C). Here’s another one:

On the Rocks

On the Rocks

 

Tours: Inner Space Caverns offers three types of tours: the adventure tour (adults – $12.95 and children, ages 4-12 – $6.95), the new explorer’s tour (adults – $18.95, children, ages 4-12-$10.50) and another tour where you have to crawl most of the time. The 3rd tour costs about  $100 and you have to meet the eligibility criteria to undergo this tour. The explorer tour lasts an hour and 35 minutes and covers an extended 1.2 mile trail.

How to reach: Inner Space Cavern is located 24 miles North of Austin.  It’s entrance is on IH-35.  Simply follow  IH-35 North past Round Rock and take exit 259.  Go past the Candle Factory, turn left under IH-35 and we’ll be on your right. Get a map from maps.google.com.

Notes

  1. Take pictures
  2. Listen to the tour guide – she/he would tell you interesting stories
  3. At your exit, take a souvenir – you would be required to drop 1 cent and two quarters, a machine will press your cent and convert it into a oval shaped plate with ‘Inner Space Cavern’ written over it.
  4. Don’t touch the structures there – apparently the structures don’t grow any further if it comes into oil contact. They die too, you see!

All Photo Courtesy: Tarun Bansal

Links: