McDonald’s is back at SXSW 2016 with a music venue and free food
McDonald’s showed up as an unexpected presence at SXSW last year. They were one of the main sponsors last year, with a large pop up venue that included live music, free food and swag.
This year McDonald’s is back and they have expanded their presence. They have a lounge for badge-holders in the Convention Center where many of the SXSW sessions take place. It’s oddly classy. There are flavored waters, flat screen TVs, chairs, and Wi-Fi. Quiet people in somewhat serious clothing are sitting and working on whatever it is they work on.
The big deal event here is the McDonald’s venue at SXSW. It’s right next to the Convention Center on Red River Street. The venue is called “Textile” and includes an outdoor patio area. The smell of burgers and fries emanates from blocks away.
There is a line that varies depending on the time of day. During the day, “guest pass” (a free pass available to the general public) holder can stand in line and be admitted as capacity allows. It’s a popular place to be. At night, it’s badges only, in general.
Walking in from the bright Texas sun requires a few moments of adjustment. Once the eyes adjust a carefully-curated world is revealed. Like many companies this year, McDonald’s has a VR station available. People can paint in virtual reality and have a picture taken that shows them and their creation. It’s probably better to do this station before eating or drinking.
Eating and drinking are also popular activities at the McDonald’s venue. There is a soft serve ice cream sundae bar. The ice cream is served in a tall plastic cup, generously filled with the ever-so-familiar McDonald’s vanilla soft serve. Various candies, cookies, M&M’s, Oreos, and all the standards are there to hit your sweet tooth right in every weak spot.
McDonald’s has also brought the McDonald’s classic fare. There is a food truck setup where guests can request whatever their fearful heart desires. Within reason. There is a designated menu. At this moment it consists of:
There is a second window where guests can pickup fries, Cutie brand oranges and tiny bags of apple slices. Because McDonald’s cares about your health.
A couple of people are walking around in uniforms carrying trays of fries and condiments, like the cigarette girls of old. They are ready with that second helping of fries, should you need it.
There is also a bar with free drinks. Pretty par for the course at SXSW, but this means that McDonald’s is rising to the expected level of extravagance. They have also decided to pay their musicians this year, minus the drama that surrounded last year’s “to pay or not to pay” dilemma. They even took it to the next level by having a table setup and dedicated to HAAM (Health Alliance for Austin Musicians) a charity that helps musicians get health care.
The stage is in the outdoor side of the venue. The area is entirely covered in a tent-like structure. There are wooden picnic tables so that people can sit down to enjoy their free food and music. There are tables to stand by, for those that want to be close to the music. The audience is engages in a range of appreciative behaviors ranging from selfies to slight dancing movements.
The bands are pretty good. Solid setup, decent sound. And they seem pretty happy to be there. Brief discussions with a couple of musicians reveal that some of them were surprised to find themselves playing the McDonald’s venue, but are pleasantly surprised by the legit setup. Some of them were also surprised to learn that they would be paid.
There’s nothing to say about the food. Most people know what McDonald’s tastes like. That’s the whole point of McDonald’s. But there is something here. It’s sitting down with a nostalgically familiar flavor, listening to a couple new songs.
SXSW is all about walking miles a day. That leaves you hungry. This dose of hangover soaking fast food hits a particular craving that sneaks in at this sort of place. It just might be the right snack for this particular moment in time. No doubt that McDonald’s has effectively marketed to a demographic.