I've noticed that there are quite a few of you who are eager to pop your SXSW cherries by attending this year's festivities and--because I'm not a total douche all the time--I thought I'd give all you ladies a few tips on surviving SXSW.
While I'm afraid this post isn't going to contain a whole lot of poop or vagina jokes like they usually do, I'm hoping it will at least be informative. In the interest of not boring the pants off of everybody, I'm not going to go too in depth into what this festival/conference is all about. I'm only focusing on the music aspect of the festival and I'm not going to bother getting into the details of the actual conference, mainly because I don't buy the passes and am not in the industry so I've never gone to the actual conference. I'm just there for the music and pah-tays .
I'm strictly basing this on my experience, so consider this a layman's FAQ on SXSW. If you're looking for a laid back, relaxing vacation, SXSW is definitely not for you. It takes a decent amount of pre-planning and research if you want to get the most out of your trip. On the flip side, if you're just looking for a place to party and drink and don't particularly care what bands you want to see, fuck the planning, apologize in advance to your liver, and go have fun.
I once read a quote (from where I can't even begin to tell you because my memory is abysmal) that said something along the lines of "if you're going to SXSW for the first time, don't expect to actually see any bands" and it's kind of true. It's THAT hectic and crazy. But it's also THAT much fun. The first year I went, I think I ended up wandering up down the streets, mouth agape and eyes glazed, overwhelmed and confused and awed by the sheer level of activity.
There are a shit-ton of bands that play SXSW--last year it was somewhere close to two thousand, I believe. They play in bars, restaurants, the corners of the streets, make-shift stages in parking lots and fields - just everywhere.
In order to see an "official" showcase, you have to buy passes. Let me be blunt - the passes are fucking expensive. Like, about $700.00 expensive. I'd have to suck a lot of dicks to be able to afford a pass and even then I'm not sure my technique will earn me enough to get a pass. Plus, the passes often include panels and discussions that are geared toward industry folk and not a shlub like me, though I've read about a few of the speakers and discussions and I'd really like to attend.
That being said, there are SXSW official shows and there are parties. You need a pass to go to the official shows but, for the most part, you don't need a pass to go the parties. True fax: nearly all the bands that play the official shows also play the parties. And lots of them. It isn't unusual for a band to play five or six shows in one day. Even better? There are many, many bands that are not part of the official showcasing that will also be playing the parties. It's a win-win situation.
Note from STY - this looks like indie rock mardi gras - all the fun, none of floats, beads, and frat boys.
I won't lie to you - finding parties/schedules/bands that are playing SXSW takes a little research. They won't start announcing parties until a few weeks before the actual event, but you can still go to their official website to see the list of bands, which will continue to grow.
The internet is your friend if you're going to SXSW and there is a treasure trove of information to be found. This website helped me a lot last year - Do512. Do a lot of Googling - there are hundreds of really informative music blogs on the net that should help you to compile a list of free parties if you are interested. Some of these parties require you to sign up or RSVP (and some are not free), so it's important that you do research. And just because you did sign up for something doesn't mean you will actually get into the venue.
Have a backup plan at all times. There is always the chance that the venue where Band A is playing might be totally packed and you can't get in, or you'll wait for hours only to have things become so horrendously crowded at the last second that you'll bail (ahem, we totally did this last year. I was SO disappointed.) Have a Band B you'd also like to see in the same time slot. SXSW is a huge production to pull together and shit will go wrong. Bands will be canceled or their stage time changed and venues will become packed to capacity. Last year, the only thing that saved me was a three-page spreadsheet I compiled of all the bands I wanted to see, with the address and name of the venue included. It also helps if you actually bring said spreadsheet with you -- I left it at the hotel room the first day and was desperately trying to pull it up on my Blackberry as I wandered aimlessly down 6th St., trying to remember which band I wanted to see.
Which brings me to the next piece of advice - dress appropriately. There is a lot of walking (and sometimes running) and you'll find yourself waiting in lines more often than not. Be sensible and don't show up in a pair of stiletto boots like Texas Katherine did last year. It's not a fashion show and no one gives a shit what you look like.
That last piece of advice I learned last year when I was shivering like a lunatic in a sundress in thirty degree weather with 90 mile per hour winds that had me recreating that famous Marilyn Monroe picture where her dress is blowing over head, only she looked good doing it and I ruined someone's lunch when I mooned a packed restaurant--Texas weather is a fickle fucking bitch. One minute it's ninety-five and the next you're huddled in the corner of an alley, freezing your fucking ass off.
Be prepared, people. That's all I'm saying. Oh, and bring hand sanitizer because I guarantee you will visit a port-o-john at least once during your visit. Just try not to fall out of it like I did. I blame it on the fact that the toilets were lined up on a hill. And all the beer I consumed, because basic rules of acceptable drinking times shoot right out the window the second you step foot in Texas for SXSW. Beer with breakfast? Yum! So, yes, it does take some planning but trust me, SXSW is worth every second of it. From what I recall, anyway...