For one short week in March, the entire music industry converges onto Austin, Texas. That’s no exaggeration. SXSW is the big event for everyone involved in music, from fans to industry elite, and artists that range from the mightiest of megastars to upcoming indie-bands. Because there are literally thousands of worthwhile things to do and see, SXSW can seem a little daunting. Here are a few helpful tips to help you maintain your sanity and have a great SXSW experience.
If there’s one mistake that people make at SXSW, it’s trying to see too many things. There’s a good chance that five of your favorite bands will be playing on one day at various locations across the city. Trying to see every band you want to see will only lead to stress, bruised feet, and un-ideal spots at the back of crowded venues. Pick two bands a day that you absolutely must see, preferably one in the afternoon and one at night. Better yet, find a single showcase that has a decent looking lineup and stick to it. It’ll save you the hassle of moving around and you might just discover some cool new music.
2. Be Flexible with Your Plans
Whatever plans you make will inevitably be dashed by schedule changes, cancellations, and the free flowing nature of the festival. That’s OK. No matter where you are, there is always something happening close by. Leave yourself open to chance and follow your ears.
Expect a full day of walking, so wear appropriate footgear. Yes, SXSW draws a fashionable crowd, but your tennis shoes are still more fashionable than the crazy blisters you’ll get otherwise.
In the controlled chaos of the festival, your cell phone is your best friend, so keep it charged and happy. If you’re with a big group, it’s nice to go off and see what you want to see, and be able to coordinate later through texts. It’s also helpful to get schedules and updates with the official SXSW app, or by searching the #SXSW hashtag on Twitter. Keep an extra charger in your bag for when you have some downtime and an outlet.
There’s a whole world of unofficial showcases that operate in tandem with the festival. These aren’t just grimy bar shows either (although there are plenty of those). Some of the most reputable music blogs and hippest products host unofficial showcases that attract big name artists, often ones that are also performing in official shows. To give you an idea of the quality of some of these unofficial shows, last year Kanye West put on a VEVO sponsored show in an abandoned power plant in what can only be described as one of the greatest shows ever. It may be a little trickier to find out about all the good unofficial showcases, but with a little research, you can easily get the full festival experience even if you can’t afford an official pass.
Wherever there are people promoting things, there is free schwag. SXSW is loaded with enthusiastic sales representatives giving away free promotional knick-knacks. These goodies tend to skew towards the cheap and useless end of the spectrum, but in some rare cases, the schwag can be genuinely useful. Stay away from buttons, whistles, plush toys, mouse pads, and the king of all useless shwag: pens. Items with a practical purpose are a much better idea. Load up on sunglasses, drink koozies, bottle openers, and the schwag motherload: USB flash drives.
Seriously. Get one. For those not familiar with the “waffle taco” concept, it is a treat made by wrapping a waffle around fried chicken, taco-style, and dousing the whole thing in syrup. These unwholesome delicacies are distributed by beloved local food truck Lucky J’s, which will be perched at one of various designated food courts during the festival.
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