Anyone serious about scoring free food or booze at Austin’s SXSW Conference and Festivals knows to follow @thefreenoms and @OpenBarATX, two Twitter accounts that have helped freeloading SXSW attendees and locals keep their bellies full since 2009 and 2011 respectively. The two accounts combined have over 47,300 followers, but few people realize that the guys behind the accounts are gay.
As someone who plans their SXSW around free grub and hootch, I reached out to Ian Carrico, the guy behind @OpenBarATX, to ask him how he and his friend Luis Mendoza created the accounts, the time SXSW threatened to sue them and the pressures of keeping everyone drunk and gluttonous.
Why did you start @OpenBarATX, how long has it been running and what keeps you running it year to year?
We started in 2011 and have been doing all but one South By since then. What really keeps us going is the excitement of SXSW and we want everybody else to be able to make the most of the week. We’ve been blown away by our following and never expected it to get this large. We just passed 16K followers and are humbled that people care this much about what is going on.
SXSW sent you a cease-and-desist request when you first started. Why and what happened?
We started with @sxswfreedrinks, but then quickly realized that we should move to something else when it started becoming popular. We then moved over to @sxdrinks, following the hashtag that was organized by the community — but a year after, SXSW proper copyrighted the “SX____” and sent us the letter informing us of the copyright. Overall, we’re really happy with the new branding we did — and haven’t had any issues afterwards.
You and the @theFreeNoms are both gay. Do you think most of your account followers know this or would be surprised by it?
I don’t know if any of them know, although we will promote some specifically queer events. I don’t think it would be surprising, although it was to us when we met each other the first time.
Another popular SXSW Twitter account that helps people find easily accessible music shows is also run by a gay guy. Is it strange that three of SXSW’s most popular Twitter accounts are gay-run?
Yeah, @atxconcert is gay as well. We’re a very passionate group, and I don’t think it should surprise anybody that some young, passionate, gay youth have their eyes and ears on local culture.
Can you walk us through the set up and execution of the account’s tweets before and during SXSW? How much time does it take each day and over the entire 10-day festival?
I lose track of the amount of prep time that it takes — but really it is daily checks of Twitter, various sites and lots of emails to PR firms starting in January. Then, week of [SXSW] we are usually spending much of our mornings doing more schedules and finding recently announced events, etc.
You might not continue the account forever. What will help you decide when to stop, who will take up the mantle and will the festival suffer if the accounts end?
The accounts are a lot of work, and SXSW takes a lot out of me for the week. I love being able to see what we do and checking out all the creativity that is around Austin, but I am not sure if I could continue this forever. At this point, I am not sure if I will give the account to somebody else or stop altogether.
As for the festival, SXSW thrives on it’s constant change and new things coming out. There are so many people out there with a passion for the festival that I don’t think any single twitter account will harm the festival, certainly not mine. If so, I am sure somebody will pick up the mantel in my stead.