Anahita Tajmaher curled up on the cool grass of the Capitol grounds.
“We just wanted some open space,” said the New Yorker who was in town for South by Southwest. “I came here two years ago. Not too many people have discovered it yet.”
In fact, dark-clad visitors for the SXSW Music, Film and Interactive festivals have sought out the peace and quiet of the Capitol grounds in greater numbers this year. Tens of thousands of official visitors — plus stray followers such as Tajmaher — have ambled far beyond the original SXSW stomping grounds in central downtown.
“Our only problem was finding a place to park,” said Arturo Ponce, a physics professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, whose group lunched under the massive trees. They came with no badges, wristbands or other SXSW paraphernalia. “We want to see that big free concert down by the river.”
For the past seven days, fest fans have packed the sidewalks of the downtown grid, but they also strolled alongside South Congress Avenue, West Sixth Street and East Austin’s stretch of East Sixth Street.
Some visitors, easily identified by their bright beach or lake togs, are on spring break. (Music, film and tech types tend to wear crepuscular clothing day and night.) The spring breakers seem barely aware of the band showcases, movie premieres and industry panel discussions.
“We are just out exploring,” said Kyle Randle, who with fellow University of Texas at Arlington student Chizuru Waseda paused on their spring break on a Capitol grounds bench. “We’ll visit museums. Maybe catch a band.”
Streams of SXSW pedestrians spilled off sidewalks and into the streets this week. On South Congress, that tendency was complicated by little kids darting among the ambling adults. On East Cesar Chavez Street, visitors hoping to join the hard-edged Viceland party tussled for spots on the narrow sidewalks.
Nearby, in the Rainey Street area, the crowds appeared more relaxed at South Bites, the popular congress of food trailers curated by “Top Chef” winner Paul Qui.
At night, practically every surface parking lot, club or empty building houses a pop-up party, shop or demonstration. Lines for the most exclusive free events stretched up and down blocks.
Back at the Capitol, festgoers were joined by families with squirming children, legislative aides in suits and folks who looked ready for a day at Rodeo Austin.
Denis Vusik, originally from Russia, basked in the sun near a statue of a vaquero. In Austin on international business, the West Sacramento, Calif., resident confessed to having little knowledge of SXSW.
“We have a capitol, too,” he said. “It’s smaller and white. This is the No. 1 best thing we have visited here.”
Wayne Sables and Mark Shenton, SXSW filmmakers from Sheffield, U.K., picked the Capitol grounds for a picnic.
“Right now, we are designing a website for our next film company,” said Sables, flipping through a notebook. “I came here last year and plan to come back every year.”
Ignacio Rivas of the New York-based electronic pop band Computer Magic thought about touring the Capitol building as he lounged with friends Tajmaher and Maureen Goodman on the grounds. His SXSW showcase was scheduled for Lamberts later Thursday night.
What drew Goodman here?
“The grass,” she said. “And the chance to get away.”
Not far away, Nadya Guerrero and Andrew Bernard of Albuquerque, N.M., spooned out canned food — tuna salad, spaghetti — washed down with bottled ice tea.
“We are trying to budget travel,” Guerrero said. “We were just wandering around.”
Guerrero and Bernard had lived, at different times, in Austin before.
“We’re on a nostalgia tour,” Bernard said. “Then we found this refuge from the mayhem.”