FROM AUSTIN, TEXAS Smack between two warehouses, a good two miles east of downtown Austin, Red Bull set up shop for the 2009 incarnation of its South by Southwest pop-up venue and invite-only concert series, the Moon Tower. Thousands will pass through the venue by the time it ends its four-night residence this Saturday.
Just over two dozen performers, including the Crystal Method, Lady Sovereign, and Erykah Badu, are scheduled to make appearances on the solitary stage during the late-night event, which runs from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. nightly. Guests show up in droves to catch the enviable roster or hang out in the several tented bars surrounding the outdoor venue.
Now in its second year, the concealed pavilion off of Cesar Chavez Drive is easy to miss. Cabs zip by, brake, pull U-turns, and circle back slowly, looking for the address—which seems odd considering the Moon Tower’s size. Red Bull's temporary compound spreads out over half a football field's worth of an industrial lot, and that's just the parts guests can actually see.
Five custom bars, each shaped like satellites and space ships fashioned out of Red Bull cans, dot the yard facing the stage. Video installations on different shaped screens pulsate with music, and a live feed from the complimentary photo booth projects images of guests onto one of the nearby buildings. More than 50 lighted cubes, made from recycled plastics, fence off the space and change colors sporadically, while an equalizer responding to the live music anchors the back of the stage.
To woo the swarms of journalists, out past deadlines and bedtimes, Red Bull's command center has a media lounge with free Wi-Fi and a constant supply of fresh tacos and bottled water. The rest of the guests have to pony up for their snacks at a truck from local vendor Wahoo's Fish Tacos parked behind the stage. Drinks are free for all, though: 42 below vodka, the party’s official booze partner, serves up a constant supply, mixed with Red Bull, of course.
For guests wishing to return for multiple visits to Red Bull's four extremely late-night shows—it's the only act in town officially open until 5 a.m.—there's an easy way of avoiding another trip though the intimidating lines. Every attendee is branded with a removable tattoo at the door. Reentry on any night is as simple as flashing some skin, though a flyer advises that guests not wash it off and be “prepared to uncover whatever body part you put it on.”
Someone who arrived on Wednesday could feasibly go back nightly through Saturday but would have to weigh the benefits of easy entry versus the costs of the limited bathing demanded to keep the tattoo in place. March in Austin can be quite steamy.