If this is your first SX, don’t stress! This time of year, cases of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) are on the rise.
Let’s start your education now. You must first get the lingo down…it’s just “South by” (SX). If you hear someone uttering all four syllables, South by Southwest, you’ll know they are one of the 30,000+ out-of-town-ers.
Most locals don’t have the pleasure of directly participating in the conference, but we do like to take advantage of the byproducts this massive 27 year old conference produces. The music portion of SX is what typically gets the most attention, and for a good reason. With over 1,700+ performances over a 10-day span, there is something for everyone.
It’s likely you will find yourself running around the city trying to catch all the best shows and end up seeing nothing at all, that is, unless you have a game plan. Everyone has their “sworn” tips they’ve picked up over the years, but those tips change as the conference gains momentum and continues to grow. The biggest thing to remember is that SX should be about discovering new music, meeting new people and experiencing all the city has to offer. It’s tempting to get caught up in the hubbub and rumors of big acts that may or may not come to town. Simply remember to be open-minded, stay calm and music on.
Every year, my SX experience changes. I’ve tried wristbands, I’ve done free shows, I’ve tried RSVPing to hundreds of parties, I’ve seen big name performances and I’ve seen shows with almost no one in attendance. So here are my best tips on how to do SXSW like a local.
Pick a Venue – Pay a Cover
Often times, venues will allocate a few spots for non-badge holders and charge a cover ($10-20), but you have to get there early to take advantage of the open spots. Most venues showcase a certain genre of music, so choose a couple of venues each night that appeal most to your musical preferences. Pick one and stay put. You might end up seeing some awful performances, but you also might end up discovering a new favorite band.
It’s good to note that if you leave the venue, you might not be able to get back in. So do your research before picking a spot for the night, and always have a back up in case your top choice venue has reached capacity.
Buy a Wristband
To purchase a wristband, you must have an Austin zip code. While I had an overall good experience when I did this, it’s not my top recommendation. It’s a little pricey at $189, though when you break it down you’re only looking at about $31 a day over a 6-day span. If this is your first SX, a wristband might not be a bad option for you, as it will allow you to get in to see some bigger performances. While it doesn’t guarantee entrance into everything, it does guarantee a certain level of stress-free movement if you tend to get anxious in large crowds.
Regardless of whether you chill out at one spot or hop around, you’ll still want to do research and keep a list of 3-5 venues handy, in case you encounter a venue at capacity.
The Early Morning Shows
Taking place March 12-15, KGSR and KUTX will host early morning shows at W Hotel and the Four Seasons respectively. There, for a nominal donation which goes to charity, you get an up close and personal look at up-and-coming artists. Best of all? Both offer free coffee and the kryptonite of Austin…breakfast tacos.
This option is by far my favorite and the most “local” you can get. After all, what out-of-towner is going to start their day at 6 AM? Even if you only manage to wake up early for one show, it’s a great way to start your day!
Free, Free, Free
I’m sure this is the most appealing option for many, but don’t get all glassy eyed just yet. Free often brings out hundreds of people who also like free things. So while the thrill of “getting a deal” might be most appealing, expect lots of waiting and long lines. With 1,700+ official SX performances, there are hundreds more unofficial events going on around town.
The biggest free event which takes place every year are the free shows at Auditorium Shores. This year, with construction at Auditorium Shores, the event will take place across the street at Butler Park. Typically the acts slated to play at Auditorium Shores/Butler Park are larger names. While it may be cool to be able to say you saw Foster the People for free alongside thousands of your closest friends, it’s not the true essence of the festival, which is discovery. I don’t usually recommend this option because I personally like to keep my large scale outdoor musical events to ACL and keep my SX experience more intimate. However, if you’re just looking for a free taste of SX, this will be a good option.
Final thoughts? Keep your entourage to one or two friends, have cash on hand, be flexible and don’t overdo it, otherwise you might get the South by Southwest flu… and it’s awful. Keep your ears open and enjoy the ride.
What are your SX plans this year?