by Brian Clarey

The notion struck me as I was putting together the Weekender last week, considering the offerings of both Phuzz Phest, which ran like a distorted dream in Winston-Salem this weekend (see this week’s cover story by Jordan Green, beginning on page 16) and RiverRun, the now iconic film festival that plays through this weekend.

It’s the closest thing we have to South by Southwest, the annual cultural Valhalla in the city of Austin, Texas, I thought to myself.

And if we give these festivals just a little more juice, we could put something together just as cool. We’re already halfway there.

SXSW, as the kids like to hashtag it, didn’t become the country’s premiere music, film and what-have-you festival overnight. It began in 1987 as a project of the Austin Chronicle, that city’s alt-weekly, and they were thrilled when 700 people showed up.

Now it draws about 50,000 people to celebrate music and film, and also education and interactive technology, whatever the hell that is. It sprawls through more than 100 venues in the city, and at last count generated about $315 million for Austin.

My point is that with Phuzz Phest, RiverRun, and science coming from the Innovation Quarter, we have the raw materials for something grand.

I say fuse the elements together and let the events spread through every venue, allowing all the art galleries, bars, shops and public spaces on board with complementary programming and specials.

Throw in the talent and energy of Arts District, and this thing could be epic.

I’m not saying replicate SXSW, which in the last decade or so has been booking national acts and screening big-time, mainstream movies. The charm of Phuzz Phest is its allegiance to the local music scene, while RiverRun’s appeal lies in the curation of films we otherwise might not be able to see. None of that should change — this is Winston-Salem’s imaginary festival — but these components should be amplified and coordinated, along with a bunch of cool science stuff. I admit that part of the scheme is not completely fleshed out.

But I think I’ve got a name: The Camel City Innovation Xpo, CCIX for short. That’s also 209 in Roman numerals, which gives it the heft of an ancient civilization.

This may be the best idea I’ve had all year. And now it belongs to everyone.

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