When the Jay-Z American Express sponsored-show at SXSW Interactive was announced it instantly became the festival’s top marquee attraction. While SXSW Interactive is certainly a haven for tech nerds, social media mavens, game programmers and people promoting redundant start-ups, until now, it hasn’t attracted top-flight musical talent like its later-in-the-week counterpart. Of course, such a hot ticket meant that the hype at an event already founded on hype was unreal: even though entry was reserved solely for people who both purchased a SXSW Interactive badge and were American Express cardholders (who were then willing to further jump through the hoop of linking their Amex account to Twitter), the 2,700 person Moody Theater nonetheless sold out of tickets the morning they were made available.
Thus, thousands of Jigga’s biggest fans — who possess American Express cards and work at a high level in the tech industry — were positively stoked. In the lobby before the show started, three West Coast programmers enjoyed Texas beers and were giddy at the idea that their trip to Austin would include a Monday night performance from Jay-Z. They demurred on the specifics of their fandom and when asked if they were “big fans,” they responded, “Big enough.” (Though they failed an impromptu Jay-Z trivia quiz. They’d never even heard of Best of Both Worlds!) Still, the tone of the evening was set: This would not be a bad way to spend a Monday night on a business trip to Texas …
So what happens when you put 2,700 AmEx cardholders/techies in front of a strutting Jay-Z? A lot of the same things you’d see at any other show. Cell phone cameras. Tweeting. Watching the show through the lens of someone else’s cell phone camera. And because he hit the stage 36 minutes late (he needed a police escort to make it to the venue), the crowd had ample time to do some IRL networking, which is something that you don’t see everyday at a Jay-Z concert.
The show itself was a Hova greatest hits set, as they are these days. He played “Big Pimpin’” and “99 Problems” and “What More Can I Say?” and everyone loved it and sort of bounced along. Whether or not this was a typical audience for him, it didn’t really matter. For a self-aware dude like Jay-Z, the sight of a couple thousand tech nerds from the coasts brushing the dirt off their shoulders deep in the heart of Texas was a delightful one. At one point, a sample contained an errant vocal track, and he started the song over –it wasn’t a big deal. After all, he was the master of ceremonies at a big, nerdy party that was streaming on the Internet for all the world to see.