It started with a lot of meat—and it started at SxSW. In March 2012, Matt Goulding was sweating his way from Charleston to New Orleans on a heroic southern food tour with chef Sean Brock. On a quick side trip to Austin, Goulding met up with his R&K co-founder Nathan Thornburgh and they threw a quiet (if impressively provisioned) little launch party on Nathan’s brother’s terrace in Travis Heights, Austin.
Four years later at SxSW 2016, Roads & Kingdoms has gotten a lot louder. And if you weren’t able to be here to take it in, here’s a bit about what moves we’ve made so far and what we have coming up the rest of the week. It started with Anthony Bourdain, who brought some impressive boots, a brand-new scorpion tattoo, and some very big opinions to the Austin Convention Center on March 13. The line for our interview with Bourdain snaked across three floors and outside the center: more than three thousand people got in, but nearly the same number were left outside when the room finally hit capacity.
Then came two fireside chats with Bourdain the following day about the surprising life and business lessons that you can get from Japanese food. Though it is admittedly low-hanging fruit, there were also some Guy Fieri shots fired (Bourdain adlibbed that Fieri “looks like Billy Idol fucked a panda”, which is just an intensely accurate statement).
Later that night is when the amp really turned to 11. In keeping with our deep obsession with Japan (nb, our book Rice, Noodle, Fish was well represented at Austin Airport!), we teamed up with SxSW Japan House, a pop-up of androids and electric car technology housed at Vulcan Gas Company on 6th Street in Austin. The concept, first proposed by R&K’s Breakfast and Booze editor Cara Parks, was equal parts insane and amazing: a live band punk rock karaoke showdown judged by Goulding and Bourdain with the help of a murderers’ row of chefs—LA king Ludo Lefebvre, Austin’s favorite Laura Sawicki, and Spanish hurricane/genius José Andrés. It didn’t hurt that from the second-floor balcony, a tall stranger with a microphone began weighing in on the contestants as well: turns out it was Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, who started strong by chiming in with what Bourdain called the line of the night: “You put the taint in Tainted Love”.
The ten contestants left it all out on the stage, but none more so than the three finalists: Jason Rink went full Idol with “Dancing With Myself,” Ben Seligson crushed “Surrender,” but the ultimate winner was local musician, minister and zumba instructor (srsly, she’s all of those things) Erin Walter, who absolutely slayed “Where Eagles Dare” and “Bad Reputation”. Thanks to our sponsors CNN and Global Knives, the contestants and winners, none too sober at that point, all received the same Bourdain-approved duo of knives we sell on R&K. (Erin, for her part, got the megablock.)
Though the hangovers were spectacular, SxSW isn’t done with us yet. Tonight the Deadliners Club and Texas Observer are presenting an Evening with R&K co-founder Nathan Thornburgh, which will be a chance to talk about foreign correspondence and digital media.
And on Friday March 18, the lights will go up again as we’ll be presenting the first-ever Cuban music showcase at SxSW. It’s a ridiculously loaded line-up: Kelvis Ochoa, X Alfonso, Telmary, Daymé Arocena, Yissy Garcia, five artists who represent the full range of modern Cuban music at this incredibly pivotal time in our country’s relations (Mick Jagger and Obama headed to Havana, heyyyyyy.)
But what does all of this—the rockstar interviews and the stupidly fun parties and deep-groove music showcases—add up to for Roads & Kingdoms, or more to the point, for our readers? It can be hard to tell at SxSW, which always has its share of empty marketeering moments. But in the end, we got the chance to get our ideas across as a group of people that care about deep, fun, challenging, unusual journalism. We got to spend time with Bourdain, who is such a clear thinker about what makes good media. And we got a renewed jolt of energy for the real mission: to tell good stories, over the internet or across a bar, to as many people as will listen.