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Celebrate music

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By The Staff

When I first heard about Ice Cream Man I knew I wanted to do a documentary on him. The guy’s goal in life is to give away half a million free ice creams; what a story that is. Well, I got the opportunity to shoot the Ice Cream Man in action at South by Southwest (SXSW), a music festival in Austin, Texas, the second week of March.SXSW is not a typical music festival. It’s not a huge, outdoor, crowded, hot, loud scene with thousands of people milling about. SXSW is the biggest new music festival in the world that takes place in 68 venues with more than 1,700 bands over a period of five days and nights. Imagine 12,000 registrants, 12,000 wristband holders and thousands of other music fans competing to see the musicians. There is also a trade show that has hundreds of speakers heading panel discussions about the music industry. SXSW has been happening since 1987 and Austin is the perfect place for the festival – it has more music nightclubs in a concentrated area than any other city in the world.In the five days that I was at SXSW, I shot as much video as possible and saw as many bands as I possibly could. I also slept very little and kept a diary as I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember everything I did and every band that I saw. Here are some excerpts:March 11: Started the day at Dell Children’s Medical Center where the Ice Cream Man was doing an “ice cream social.” The Ice Cream Man gave away 500 free ice cream treats to children, their families and employees of the medical center. During an interview at a caf, the Ice Cream Man aka Matt Allen revealed he is a 33-year old from Long Beach, Calif., who travels the country in an ice cream truck giving away free ice cream.That evening started out by getting to know the town (the official festival hadn’t even started yet) and venues. Musicians were playing on street corners, young band members were giving away their CDs and trying to get music lovers to choose their performance from more than 70 others going on at the same time. Our highlights of the night were seeing Moby and Addictive TV, a DJ - VJ duo, that blew us away with their music synched to old film clips and cartoons.March 12: Began listening to bands at 1 p.m. Walked around downtown Austin, going from venue to venue trying to decide about the best bands to see. Not an easy choice. To make it more difficult, as we walked by bars there were hawkers outside trying to get people to come in to hear the music in their club. Saw at least 12 bands on day two, but my highlight of the day was when Lou Reed walked in and sat at the table next to mine. That night I got to see two bands I had previously discovered and really wanted to see – Simian Mobile Disco and Yeasayer.March 13: Observed the Ice Cream Man and his crew loading up the ice cream trucks and then I got to ride around in the ice cream truck. The Ice Cream Man drives the 1969 ice cream truck out from Long Beach to many music festivals in the country.The Ice Cream Man has a crew of more than 20 helpers – volunteers who work for him in exchange for free admission to music festivals or just because they love to give away free ice cream. They help load the truck, give away ice cream, photograph bands at festivals, write reviews of bands and maintain the Ice Cream Man website, which has turned out to be the biggest music website ever (www.icecreamman.com).The Ice Cream Man, his crew and I stopped at SXSW day parties, (there are more than 240 day parties during SXSW, which consist of free music, food and drink) and they gave out ice cream. Then we headed to the crowds of downtown. I was wearing my Chronic Future T shirt and members of Chronic Future saw my T-shirt and invited me to their private party and gave me their new CD.That evening was the “Body of War” show, an event for the documentary –“Body of War” about disabled Iraq war veteran Tomas Young and his personal relationship with the war. A great line of musicians mainly singing anti-war songs included Serge Tankien (lead singer for System of a Down), Tom Morello, Ben Harper and many more.March 14: It was about 90 degrees in Austin today. Austin bars already had the air-conditioning going full blast so the heat was tolerable. After seeing several great bands during the day – Division Day and Ra Ra Riot among many others, we decided to go to an unofficial SXSW venue. Sixty-eight venues are not enough places to showcase bands. Believe it or not, more than 20,000 bands apply for 1,700 slots, so alternative shows are held to allow several hundred more bands a chance to play to the same crowds. Ironically, many of the official bands also play these alternative concerts seeking additional exposure. The first place I arrived at was closed due to a fire hazard. We found out the party relocated to someone’s home under a big, old oak tree. It was a very nice casual atmosphere with friendly people and we saw the Japanese band Toddle and hung out with U.K. band the Voom Blooms. Later in the evening I made it to the British Music Embassy to see Furthest Drive Home and People in Planes. Finally, I arrived at the Pangaea Club in time to catch The Vines.March 15: Back aboard the ice cream truck. Followed one of the Ice Cream Man’s assistants through Flatstock Poster Exhibition and Collectors Show– an exhibit of thousands of music posters representing decades of styles, colors and techniques in an exhibition center where free ice cream was given to all the poster artists. Then we went to the Fader Fort, the Elks Club and then the French Legation where yet another day party was held. It was a great day to give out free ice cream. Then off to another unofficial music event “Mess with Texas” where 50 or so bands played on three stages. We couldn’t stop quite yet – it was the last night of SXSW so we concluded our SXSW experience by seeing Delta Spirit and SeaWolf into the wee hours of the morning.March 16: A closing interview with the Ice Cream Man. I asked him why he gives away free ice cream. He gave four reasons:• “Free ice cream makes people happy;”• “Because I know there’s a way I can give away hundreds of thousands of free ice creams;• “It’s the best job in the world (I think);” and• “Hopefully, it’ll inspire and motivate people to get out and do stuff, like fulfilling their dreams.”I knew I was fulfilling some of my dreams – to be able to experience SXSW and being able to begin an exciting documentary on the Ice Cream Man.