Editor’s note: Last Monday, we published an article titled “ACL Festival may be Austin, but it isn’t weird,” written by CultureMap staff member Ryan Lackich. In it, Lackich expressed an appreciation for the festival but pondered whether it had lost the uniqueness that defines Austin events. When we received a letter in response, we asked its author, Kalinda Howe, if she would turn it into a guest essay that we could publish. She agreed, and here it is.
Anytime you declare yourself something of worth, inevitably there will be those who question the claim. Long ago, Austinites labeled ourselves weird. And as we grow and change at an exceedingly rapid pace, faster than we’ve ever seen, amid towering sleek condos and corporate headquarters, often we residents question if we are losing our “weird” to a homogenized form of another large city.
When I read CultureMap’s October 7 article “ACL Festival may be Austin, but it isn’t weird,” it seemed like CultureMap was struggling to say something contrarian about an overly covered local topic. I was disappointed that the article appeared to criticize simply for the sake of trying to be different, and didn't actually spark thought or demonstrate an appreciation of the festival, an annual event that has become what some may call an (albeit a relatively "new") Austin tradition.
In fact, it made me, a native Austinite, resident of over 30 years and concert attendee since the second year, question the author’s “Austin credentials.”
I would just like to remind natives, people who consider themselves native because they've lived here for so long or new arrivals of all tenures that "weird" in Austin is a spirit.
But native snobbery aside, I was really motivated to respond to stand up for my city’s brand after the last day of the festival’s cancelation. Where, if you were looking for the definition of the "weird" spirit of Austin, you simply needed to hop on social media or walk around our central business district — or if lucky enough, drive to your close friend's living room — to see many of the acts that were canceled on Sunday. Through the support of this community, the people of Austin literally kept the festival going. In the middle of a record-setting flash flood event no less!
I would just like to remind natives, people who consider themselves native because they've lived here for so long or new arrivals of all tenures that "weird" in Austin is a spirit. It is a metaphor to encompass the indomitable, entrepreneurial magic that this community can create in the face of adversity. Weird is defined in how we manage to still appreciate this fine city, 90 emergency water-related rescues and 12 inches of rain in 24 hours or not.
So next time you need to question the "weird" in Austin, or find yourself seeking it in an iconic local event, remember, much like is said of pornography, I can't define "Austin weird" for you, but I'll know it when I see it. And if I have learned anything in my 32-year tenure, if you're not appreciating this city for what it is and spend time pointing out all that isn't "weird Austin," you just may miss it — and know what? It won't look the same the next time as it did yesterday, nor the time before that. Why? Because it's unique and, dare I state the obvious? WEIRD.
Kalinda Howe is a native Austinite, born and raised (credential check: Seton hospital, 1981 Memorial Day flood weekend). While constantly traveling to other cities, she never found one that called her from home. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and currently a vice-president at a local Public Affairs firm, she is a staunch advocate of her hometown, equal rights and turning out local voters. She enjoys the variety of local events in Austin, Longhorn football, personal fashion, good local food paired with great wine and/or cocktails, politics, trail runs and challenging yoga.