Hazy rain, slow shuttles and diffuse crowds dampened the first day of South by Southwest.
A steady drizzle fell from late morning to early afternoon Friday, leaving some guests of SXSW Film and Interactive wet and shivering in downtown doorways.
“It’s been slow so far,” said Kevin Nolde astride his Easy Rider pedicab. He spent part of his morning setting up his canopy. “Anyway, on the first day you have to find the rhythm of the action to get the rides.”
Satellite registration at Palmer Events Center and widely spaced venues helped disentangle the masses, but also spread out tens of thousands in expected registrants.
“There are no lines,” said Danijel Pančic, a Web developer for Zemanta in Ljubljana, Slovenia, attending this third SXSW. “Either last year something went terribly wrong or this year they did something extremely right.”
The festival that swallowed Austin expanded its contiguous girth to include the Topfer Theatre on South Lamar Boulevard as well as parts of the Rainey Street neighborhood southeast of the Austin Convention Center.
While many attendees walked around even in the mist, others took the brightly marked shuttles that stopped at well-signed locations all over downtown.
“The shuttle system is great,” said Laura Hancock, who is attending SXSW to learn more about social media and digital design for her job at the Auburn Opelika Tourism Bureau in Alabama. “But Austin traffic is bad.”
In fact, while sidewalks were generally clear, auto traffic began to snag around noon.
Later in the day, those taking shuttles were delayed as long as an hour, causing some registrants to miss their panels, speeches, presentations or movies.
Once safely dry and registered, however, festgoers sung the expected SXSW praises.
“It’s not as pretentious as other festivals, even though it is vast,” said Maria Soccor, an actor and producer from Union, N.J., whose short film, “Play House,” was scheduled to premiere this weekend at SXSW. “You guys have this kind of Southwestern hospitality that’s so relaxed and natural.”
Her new friend, Brooklyn-based filmmaker Dekunle Somade, said the social mix at the fest helped.
“At other festivals, it’s just people with films in the fest,” he said. “Here, the music and interactive folks form a more representative audience.”
Big crowds checked out games from Nintendo and many other companies at the Palmer Events Center.
David Porter of Washington, D.C., had attended a music festival in Atlanta before signing up for the film and music sections of SXSW.
“I heard this was 10 times or maybe 50 times better,” he said. “I thought I might as well come out.”
One relatively new addition to SXSW is the Create tent, filled with interactive inventions and educational applications.
“This is like somebody opening a big box of Christmas presents,” said Rishi Athaninkar, who helps out Procter & Gamble with social media in Cincinnati. “I’ve already found three apps that we could be using.”
Also inside the Create tent was 11-year-old Harry Ziegler, attending the festival with his father, Austin Post editor Tim Ziegler.
“All the projects are cool,” said the young Ziegler, who is working on a 3-D printing experiment at home. “There are tons of mysteries to be discovered and when you do find out the answers, it feels awesome.”
Late in the day, plenty of visitors had discovered South Bites, the food trailers curated by “Top Chef” winner and Austinite Paul Qui and drawn into a circle on a lot southeast of the convention center.
“We don’t have any trailers in our community,” said Fred Rose, a social advertiser from Norfolk, Va. “This is my second time here today.”