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SXSW 2019: Murder, Mystery, and a 1930’s Dream at The Highwaymen House Speakeasy

It’s 1934, somewhere in Texas. I’m in a dark speakeasy with a cocktail in hand, playing poker with a Hollywood producer and a ranger. Both exchange whispers as a journalist leans in and scribbles down notes on her notepad. All of a sudden, a shriek rings from the back of the building, while shouts of “murder!” rise from crowd that quickly formed. The mysterious man who had been brooding in the corner is now dead. Who was he? What did he do? And more importantly, who killed him?

Photo by Leigh Kettle

Just a typical Friday night in Austin, right? If you attended Netflix’s The Highwaymen House during SXSW it is. For four nights, the basement of Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden transformed into a 1930’s speakeasy with plenty of photo opportunities, prizes, endless booze, and some killer music performances. If that didn’t draw you in already, The Highwaymen House also offered a fully immersive experience that captured the spirit of Netflix’s new film “The Highwaymen,” which tells the story of the two Texas rangers who put an end to Bonnie and Clyde’s infamous crimes.

We had the opportunity to attend the preview party on Friday, March 8t, and it was by far one of my favorite SXSW experiences to date. After receiving our Highwaymen wristband, we descended downstairs into the shadowy speakeasy. I gazed across the small establishment and almost had to do a doubletake – it truly felt as if we had walked back in time. We soon found a booth where we could take a personalized “wanted sign” photo and after doing so received “points” to our wristband. I looked at the booth attendant in confusion (points?!), and she proceeded to explain how certain interactions and engagements throughout the night could deem you a reward.

Walking around we saw many different characters, from a shady looking bandit to a Hollywood movie producer, a petite and bouncy journalist to a couple Texas rangers (who might I add were women – GRL PWR). We eventually saw a sign to a separate room called the “General Store,” and it was then that we realized it – we were playing a game. The points received throughout the night could be cashed out to redeem prizes, and I’ll say these weren’t some dinky prizes, they were BADASS prizes. Wrangler denim jackets, Stetson hats, customized flasks, bandanas, patches, pins, and even watches – the more points you got, the better prize you could get.

We quickly jumped on any and every opportunity to engage with characters, through games of poker to just walking up and saying “howdy.’ I’ll admit I’m not the best at this kind of stuff (I tend to get awkward because I don’t know what to say to the actors in character), but boy, oh boy. My partner Dylan thrives off of this kind of shit. At certain points in the night I thought people might even think HE was an actor given how much he got into the game.

The evening provided some twists and turns and soon unraveled into a full-on murder mystery game. Dylan and I had actually just recently attended a murder mystery dinner party, so we knew the drill. Though not everyone was required to play along, we had a blast finding clues and helping uncover the story. For that, we got ALL THA POINTS. At the end of the night we went home with tons of goodies – flasks, pins, patches, and even a denim jacket I had been eyeing.

Other highlights from the event included performances from two bands that I personally I love, Austin’s own rock band White Denim and singer-songwriter Phosphorescent. I’ll be honest with you guys; the music is what initially drew me into this event; I had NO IDEA it was going to be a fully immersive experience. All I heard was “open bar, White Denim, and Phosphorescent” and I was sold. Perhaps the surprise of it all made it even that much better though.

I could go on and ramble and get into the nitty gritty details about the murder mystery, but I’ll end with this: Netflix’s Highwaymen House was the one event you did NOT want to miss this year SXSW.

For more coverage on SXSW, click here, and be sure to check back in for more interviews, recaps, and photo galleries!

Featured image & photo gallery credit: Leigh Kettle/Shuffle Online

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