Demi Adejuyigbe
Demi Adejuyigbe Andrea Damewood

After telling people all week that I was headed to XOXO Festival this weekend for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to tell people. Is it a tech conference? An art festival? A giant meetup?

Following the first full day of events, I think it’s easiest to say that XOXO is like Vegas if Vegas weren’t awful, or like Burning Man with way less dramatic people, mostly because there’s just so much stuff to do and so much shit to see.

Art + Code
Art + Code Andrea Damewood

In five hours, I did the following: learned how coding can be used to diagram and dismantle racism; played a tabletop board game that involved making drinks for blindfolded strangers; saw a rough cut of Lisa Hanawalt’s (Bojack Horseman) new Netflix show, Tuca & Bertie; caught a hilarious set about jazz from comedian Demi Adejuyigbe; karaoked Janelle Monáe in front of more strangers; ate Tamale Boy; checked out a gorgeous new video game with cats; and talked to so many new people.

Lisa Hanawalt
Lisa Hanawalt Andrea Damewood

I’m 100 percent extroverted, but by the time the conference ended at midnight, I was cashed. Like Vegas or the playa, XOXO specializes in sensory overload.

Held this year at Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, it has expanded dramatically, from fewer than 1,000 attendees in 2016 (the last time it was held) to more than 2,200.

There’s growing pains—a lack of gender-neutral bathroom option is striking at XOXO, which is the most inclusive and diverse group I’ve ever seen—but overall, returning veterans say having all the events under one roof makes it easier to bounce around between the arcade, speakers, bars and other spaces.

Tech is usually synonymous with garbage humans (Hello, Elon Musk!) and mouth-breathing weirdos, but the way everyone here cares so goddamn much about their fellow human is genuinely refreshing—and this comes from the judgiest cynic out there (I mean, I’ve been known to mock children for Pete’s sake). There’s two more days of the conference, which is sold out. And while founders Andy McMillan and Andy Baio haven’t committed to another year, keep it on your radar in case it comes back in 2019.


Support The Portland Mercury

We'll be blogging about XOXO 2018 every day of the fest:

XOXO Fest, Day 1: FREE Carly Rae Jepsen Soda, the Albina Vision Project, Cameron Esposito's Rape Jokes

XOXO Fest, Day 2: Lisa Hanawalt, Demi Adejuyigbe, Is This Las Vegas For Nerds?