I’m not a big planner, and it’s screwed me in a bunch of situations. My trip to Spain last year suffered from refusal to buy a guidebook. When my friends and I traveled to Montreal for our spring break as seniors in high school, we didn’t realize that the city contained sites other than bars and found ourselves bored when in the daytime.
So when it came time to prepare for my first trip to South By Southwest this year, I assumed that everything would be figured out on touchdown. Bands would be seen, drinks would be had, and our trip would magically work itself out.
You might have an idea of what ended up happening: I was hot and sweaty constantly; my feet hurt; I spent too much time searching for bands; I missed bands I would have loved; and I hemorrhaged money. But even though I ended up sabotaging myself, I had a great time and I’m already excited for next year. If you’re planning on attending for the first time, learn from my mistakes kids.
Plan, plan, plan.
More than 2000 artists played in Austin over the course of the week in God-knows-how-many official showcases and unofficial parties. Before I left for the festival, I had this romantic notion that I would be able to walk down the main drag on Sixth Street and stumble into bands that I would fall in love with. Well, stumbling into good music is harder than I thought. For every good band I saw, there was at least one bad one. Also, set changeover times took as much time as the short sets themselves. My resolution for a year from now: Pore over websites to find the showcases I want to go to, map them out, and have a backup plan so I don’t get stranded in a joint blasting club bangers again.
Find your showcase and go to it.
“FOMO" (a.k.a. "fear of missing out") was the theme of the trip for me — I didn’t want to miss the bands that I came to see. The problem was that they were all playing different venues in different parts of the city. So I constantly spent time trekking to one venue to catch a twenty minute set only to head back in the other direction to catch another twnety minute set. With wait times and walking, I maybe caught about forty minutes of music in a two or three hour period. That’s not too great.
My best night by far was at Rusty’s on Friday night when I saw Friend Roulette, Marnie Stern, Cultfever, Pearl And The Beard, AVAN LAVA, and The Stone Foxes. The only walking was from stage to stage, and each band killed it. The lesson: If there’s a venue with an awesome band, chances are the other bands will be good too. And if they’re not or you’re not feeling the vibe, go to your backup plan.
Find the free beer.
SXSW has been much maligned in recent years for becoming too corporate. And sponsors were everywhere handing out free everything. While I’d prefer the festival to stick to its semi-homespun roots, I’ll capitalize on the situation while I can. What’s wrong with popping into a bar for a Jack and Coke on the house and poaching some Chevy sunglasses? It’s all free, and the alternative is being sober, broke, or both. 2014 will be the year of the free Lone Star.
Dress for the success.
I stayed at a nice little two-room bungalow on East 10th street, a good two mile walk from most of the venues. It was the only place my friends and I could find for $50 a night, and even then we had seven or eight people staying with us throughout the trip. It was actually great to walk everywhere, but oh man was it hot in Austin — a balmy 75 degrees for most of my trip, in fact. I didn’t think to bring shorts and I quickly sweat through my corduroys. (I was close to converting those long pants into “corts.”) My flip flops gave me blisters, and my only other pair of shoes were suede boots. Needless to say, I was hot when it hit 90 degrees on Saturday. Next year, I’ll be dressing for spring break.
Avoid Sixth Street on the weekend.
The Austin equivalent of the bridge and tunnel crowd comes out on Saturday night, Their primary goal: party. Music comes second. I’m alright with that -- I’m not completely snobby about my music -- but I felt like I would be swallowed up by the masses that poured down 6th Street over the weekend. Next year, I’ll walk around it as swiftly as possible.