Monday, January 24, 2011

Some Advice for a SXSW Virgin

As most of you know, I normally ditch Snarkier Than You and crew for a few days each March and head down to sunny and weird Austin, Texas for SXSW (South by Southwest) for four days of music, mayhem and booze.

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.

See? Texas Katherine doesn't give a shit...

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...


  1. Hope you have a great time and don't freeze your ass off this year!

  2. Thanks for the advice, I need it. I SO want to tell folks about your post, but you wrote "suck a lot of dicks" in this post and how do ones put nice warning for that in a tweet.

  3. Agh, I have never ever been the same since being exposed to TK's pink basque a la Austin style - gulp.

    Two pieces of advice from @AGirlintheSouth and I:

    1. Always be nice to your servers in your restaurant. You never know when you might need to ask them to drive you from the north side of Austin to the south when they have finished their shift due to the lack of taxis.

    2. Never stay on the north side of Austin EVER.


  4. Oh how I wish I could go!! I'm in Houston once a year but from what I've been told Austin is very unique to Texas. My friend had said "some people walk down the street with blue hair, blue hair!"
    I had to laugh and let her know that I have had had blue hair before so it must be my kinda town.
    The idea of wandering the streets for parties and bands sounds like my younger years and I sure wouldn't mind fucking Ork'n it and going to SXSW.

  5. I want to go so damn bad but maybe next year...trying to pack to many trips into this year and I'm gonna be brooooke. If anyone runs in to Jackson there (100 Monkeys are playing) throw him in your pocket for me and send him this way.

    I'm going to expect a full report of this awesomeness when you get back. Good thing there are no Twi-movies coming out this year during SXSW or STY would RAGE.

  6. Not seeing any bands on your first trip is totally true.. I think last year, @Team_Sixpack and I saw Roadside Graves and the rest of the time we really walked down 6th St. like you said completely in awe of everything going on! We did find a party hosted by a music site that we follow that was pretty awesome. There are so man things going on. And I take that back, I did go with @JenCokeley to a random venue to see a bunch of bands a blog had invited us to. But I'm with you, spreadsheets all the way this year. I have so much I want to see and not miss! Must. Plan. Must. Plan.

    and FYI.. my word verification is OFFING... that's pretty damn funny.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Tah...that deleted comment, that was me. Too much wine, I admit.

    This sounds like so much fun! In late Sept, we have an annual street fair/music fest in San's supposedly one of the largest in's pretty sweet. Wish I had time to spare for a mini trip to TX :(

    Can I just say that TK is leg-hump worth?! I saw that pic (I think) way back when.....oh how time flies.

    Love you twats.

  9. Um yeah...apparently the wine is still circulating..what is "Tah?" I think I mean to say "Yeah" or "yah" LMAO.

  10. @Twired Jen--If you think that's a good photo then I'm going to hump YOUR leg. I was sooo toasted. Jeebus. Working that damn hookah pipe suddenly became rocket science.

    SXSW is a ton of fun. And a ton of walking. Some of us can do a ton of walking in stiletto boots. Everyone should go at least once.

  11. @laxplays and @a Girl in the South - I still can't believe you fucking hitch-hiked.

    Poor TK, always getting thrown under the bus by me. At least she's used to it.

    I will probably do another informatio dump when it gets closer to the actual event.

  12. Well, I usually run away from home to get AWAY from SXSW b/c it's so crazy and my liver dies a little each year, but...may have to stick around for the pa-tay this time around. Espec since @TexasKatherine is working the Hookah.

  13. This festival has been at the top of my list of, um, festivals. I had heard it was tricky seeing shows but that music was everywhere so were still guaranteed to see/hear a lot of bands, just maybe not the ones you wanted to. And any place where you can drink beer with your breakfast is A-OK with me.

    Aside from making it to SXSW, I just want to visit Austin someday. Seems like a very cool and quirky place. I dig cool and quirky.

    Hope you have a fanfriggintastic time this year!

  14. Looks like tons of fun....someday perhaps....when my children are adults and I am an old lady. For now I will just have to live vicariously through you JJ.

    @TK--I couldn't walk a block in are a Cylon aren't you?....that or you don't have nerve endings in your feet anymore. What I am trying to say, is WOW.

  15. @Jenny Jerkface-I'm a photography major and doing a project for my essay class. So I was going through the SXSW website, planning my days in Austin for said photo project and this scrolled across my screen


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