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FROM AUSTIN, TEXAS The novelty of standing in line for more than an hour, inching closer to stages through sweaty crowds, and subsisting on whatever domestic beer is being given away can only last for so long—certainly not for an entire week.
People need to be able to escape from the din long enough to rest their feet, collect their thoughts, and, in the case of the throngs of media and musicians who descend on the South by Southwest festival every year, get some work done. This year, backpack brand Eastsport teamed with the BMF Media Group to create an environment where they could do it all, safe from the distraction of live music.
Looking for an opportunity to tap into the SXSW crowd with some sort of café, Eastsport senior vice president of advertising and marketing Joseph Janus turned to BMF, having seen the production company’s work on hospitality lounges at similar events like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. The result: the Eastsport Café at Austin’s iconic Moonshine Bar & Grill, which ran Thursday through Saturday during last week’s festival.
The café was intended to fill a hole that has long existed at SXSW. “People have to do interviews in hotel rooms or have meetings in the bar at the Four Seasons,” said BMF’s Bruce Starr. “It’s inconvenient, and it can get expensive.” Moonshine was chosen for its location (right next to the convention center) and its rapport with SXSW vets. “People who come to SXSW know Moonshine,” Starr added. “This is an opportunity for Eastsport to build a relationship with the festival.”
BMF brought on Strong Events to create a Garden of Eden atmosphere in the small courtyard beside Moonshine, where the bulk of the action went down. They also took advantage of the bar and several adjoining structures for the many nooks and branded booths that made up the café. The invitation-only venue allowed talent and media to conduct interviews, eat, milk free Wi-Fi, and learn about Eastsport and other sponsors like Adriano Goldschmied Jeans, Café Bustelo, Altoids, Don Julio, Izze, and Warner Bros. Records. The hundreds who stopped by the café included the likes of Moby, Evan Dando, Sia, and Perez Hilton, and VH1 even used the restaurant’s carriage house as an on-site studio.
Customer favorites were culled from Moonshine’s regular menu to make up the lunch at Eastsport café, and though all meals were complimentary, guests were encouraged to make donations to the Ben Jelen Foundation. Jelen, a singer-songwriter, recently started the charity to benefit green causes like the fight against global warming. The environmental consciousness behind the café was also noticeable in the playlist of earth-friendly musicians that looped during their three-day residence.
The Eastsport Café is just one of many efforts BMF has made at music festivals in the past year, and Starr thinks it’s because the future of branding opportunities at festivals is shifting from film to music. Both certainly have their merits, but Janus has his own take on why SXSW worked so well for the Eastsport brand. “Music is instantaneous,” he said. “These people are all on tour, and if they’re getting on a tour bus with an Eastsport backpack, kids are going to see that. They are the influencers to teens.”
When the café closed up shop on Saturday evening, BMF still had two more events lined up. The firm partnered with Perez Hilton to throw his “One Night in Austin” showcase on Saturday night, which boasted performances from N.E.R.D. and Swedish pop phenom Robyn, and it helped close the festival with a Men’s Vogue party at Austin’s Cole Haan on Sunday night—though by then many concertgoers had already blown the Lone Star State for their respective coasts.