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In A Republican-Dominated State, Texas Democrats Share A Weekly Drink


We're broadcasting from the Texas Standard Studio at member station KUT in Austin. We've been here taking in the South by Southwest festival and conference because we wanted to get out of Washington and bring you some fresh ideas from someplace else. But after a while, we wanted to get out of the conference.

So we're in the lobby of the main conference hotel. It's a little crazy - lots of great outfits, lots of tattoos, lots of piercings. We saw the rapper Desiigner - this is the truth, I have witnesses - go up the escalator on a moped. But now we're going to head out and we're going to go in search of a different scene. This may come as a shock, but everybody in Austin is not loving this. So we're going to go to a place where Austinites gather to complain, and we're going to hear what they have to say.

We wound up at the Star Bar. That's where local longtime Democrats gather on the patio at least once a week to drink and commiserate. Jeff Crosby, Glenn Smith, Genevieve Van Cleve and Doug Zabel - they've all worked in journalism or politics over the years, and they call their little group the Out of Power Happy Hour. It was easy to get the conversation going just by asking, how do you feel about South by?

JEFF CROSBY: Well, you know, I like that it puts money in people's pockets. I like that it - you know, it helps people buy shoes for their kids. I even kind of little bit like what it does for the city. But we end up getting overrun by hipsters. And, you know, I'm an old fart. And, you know, I just - it gets much...

MARTIN: You're way over it. You're way over it...

CROSBY: I was at the very first one.

MARTIN: Really? Oh, you're going to admit that.

CROSBY: Oh, yeah. I'm that old.

GENEVIEVE VAN CLEVE: I like South by Southwest. I don't like those wax mustaches very much that those guys are wearing. And I don't - some of them - the Scandinavians always wear leather pants. And that's a terrible idea this time of year or really any time of year in Texas. And geez, Louise, you just - you're going to turn into a Rhode Island Governor, Chafee, by Wednesday.


MARTIN: And what about you? The pause was awfully long when I asked how you feel about it. In fact, you still haven't spoken (Laughter)...

GLENN SMITH: South by rather consciously took its name as an allusion to a Hitchcock movie, "North by Northwest." And you get a little bit of an impression that maybe another Hitchcock movie, "The Birds," kind of is like what happens when they descend upon us at South by time. But honestly, it's exciting. You can't have this many creative people come to your city wanting to do something new, wanting to make a name for themselves, wanting to start off on a creative endeavor without enjoying it. So the - the energy that it brings here is fun to be around.

VAN CLEVE: And Austin in a lot of ways is still a small town. So it's like - when South by Southwest is in town, it's like a medieval fair, you know? The gene pool deepens a little bit. You know, South by Southwest is a great time to quit your job and fall in love, I think. At least for a week...

MARTIN: For a week.

VAN CLEVE: At least for one week.

CROSBY: It's also a little bit like invading Vikings.

VAN CLEVE: (Laughter) That's right. In leather pants.

CROSBY: In leather pants and purple hair.

MARTIN: All right, Doug. Doug is like this. He's just shaking his head no.

DOUG ZABEL: It's good for the city. But I take ride-hailing and ride-sharing, you know? And, you know, forget it.

MARTIN: Do you think that - I'm also just wondering what it's like to be - and maybe this is a myth - like a sea - like a little island of blue in a sea of red. Do you at least feel some sort of comforting...

ZABEL: It's the - it's the - it's the blueberry in the bowl of tomato soup.

MARTIN: Oh, is that right?

VAN CLEVE: It's the diamond in the goat's butt.


CROSBY: Genevieve, that's...

MARTIN: We'll go with my metaphor.

VAN CLEVE: (Laughter) Fair enough.

MARTIN: So, you know, the little island of blue in the sea of red. Do you at least feel, like, some compadres, like, this week? You figure people will maybe share your politics a little bit?

CROSBY: Yeah. Yeah.

VAN CLEVE: Sure. Well, and I think this South by Southwest has definitely a political bent.


VAN CLEVE: You know, Biden was here. And one of the things I've noticed this year is that it's a lot more - a lot more diverse than it has been in the past. And thank goodness, because South by Southwest at first wasn't. And it was definitely a criticism. And I think they've taken it on board at some level.

ZABEL: South by is a pain in a lot of ways. But on the other hand, it's, like, the place to be this week. And that - you know, for me, I kind of enjoy the idea that all my relatives out scattered around the country are thinking, wow, Doug lives in a really cool place apparently.

SMITH: People are having movies in their backyards, bands in their backyards, parties - block parties in the street. You've got people wandering around, trying to find the room they've rented in somebody's house and don't know where they are.

CROSBY: (Laughter) Yeah.

ZABEL: Yeah.

SMITH: So it's really kind of a - I mean, it's...

CROSBY: But you don't want it going on next door to you.

MARTIN: So, Jeff, tell me what you want people to know.

CROSBY: Don't move here. We got enough of you. We love you. We love you to visit. But please, please, we - we're a little overloaded at the moment. So if you could just wait a couple years while we build about, oh, 100,000 miles of highway, then you can come.

MARTIN: OK. Doug, what about you?

ZABEL: I think it's a pretty good - pretty good time. People come down here and have a ball. But I'm like Jeff. You know, I hope not everybody moves here. Austin now is three and a half times the size it was when I moved here in the mid-'70s. And there's no way that the city's been able to keep up with that. But we're trying. So have fun while you're here, but, you know, leave money and go home.


MARTIN: There you go.

SMITH: Well, that's - that's friendly.

VAN CLEVE: Well, thank you.

MARTIN: That's friendly.

That was Jeff Crosby, Glenn Smith, Genevieve Van Cleve and Doug Zabel at the Star Bar in Austin for their weekly Out of Power Happy Hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.

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