I wake up early Tuesday morning, the dawn of the SXSW Music 2014, to find out Jay-Z and Kanye West are playing a show for Samsung at Austin Music Hall on Wednesday. By 9 AM Tuesday morning, the line to secure tickets to the show had already been cut off. That’s the speed of South By. The viral nature of the festival and the speed of Twitter descend on Austin for 10 days each March.
Kanye and Jay-Z are SXSW regulars by now and their shows are notoriously difficult to get into. These big name acts are ruining the spirit of the festival, some say. It’s the evolving nature of a massive and truly unique 10-day conference, others counter.
I just want to see some music. I want to see up and coming acts make their mark on the national stage here in Austin. I want to see local favorites play in front of bigger audiences than they ever have before. I want to see random marketing campaigns like the Anchorman food truck and live talk shows like Jimmy Kimmel. And if I happen to get lucky enough, I want to see a big name act crash a party.
SXSW can be a lot of things to a lot of people. But if you are a fan of live music and you happen to be in Austin during South By, this is your Super Bowl week. Don’t get caught up in negativity or hype. Make this festival yours.
The following is a primer on how to get the most out of SXSW Music. You’ll find a quick overview of specific showcases to watch, Spotify links to artists who will be in town, and I’ll even include a few Twitter accounts that are essential for real-time updates throughout the festival.
Before we get started, three important things to keep in mind:
- You will miss out on an amazing show or famous act. There is way too much going on at once and everyone else wants to see your favorite act too. Be in the moment and enjoy the show you’re at. Don’t worry about what someone else waited three hours in line for, ’cause chances are they missed out on even more than you did.
- You will stand in line. We Austinites are already accustomed to queuing up, but it gets taken to another level during SXSW. Take this chance to get to know your neighbor. Chances are they are from out of town and they generally love to hear from locals.
- You’re going to walk. Don’t even try to drive anywhere near the Convention Center. It’s gridlocked from 7 AM-2 AM. Take a bike or park further north. Once downtown, it’s generally pretty easy to get around. Just be prepared to walk and bring comfy shoes.
SXSW Showcases and Mini-Fests
Virtually every major media company with ties to music will be in town showing off their up and coming artists and putting together amazing live shows. Pandora, Spotify, and iTunes will each be putting on their own multi-day showcases, on top of the various magazines and record labels.
The Spotify House – The Green House is back this year with a fantastic mix of local talent and up and coming artists from around the U.S. 901 E. 6th St. doors open at 11 AM and the first show starts at 12 PM. RSVP is requested, but not always required. If you are willing to wait in line a bit, this showcase is generally accessible and has free drinks. The full schedule is at the link, but here are my picks for each day, along with a suggested track to check ’em out:
- Wednesday 12 PM – Hozier [Take Me to Church]
- Thursday 2 PM – G-Eazy [Marilyn (feat. Dominique Lejeune)]
- Friday 12 PM – Shakey Graves [Roll the Bones] <—Hometown Favorite!!
Pandora Discovery Den – The Pandora Den has built up a reputation at SX of kick-ass day parties that go well into the night. This year they will be live streaming the entire show via their website. Pandora is taking over The Gatsby on 6th from Wednesday-Saturday, with shows starting at 2 PM, access will be easier for the day shows, and much more difficult for the night shows. Picks are below:
- Wednesday 11 PM – Charli XCX [What I Like]
- Thursday 9 PM – People Under The Stairs [Acid Raindrops]
- Friday 12 AM – Lucinda Williams [Are You Alright?] <–A lil Country Music love at SX!
- Saturday 9 PM – Moon Taxi [Morocco]
101X @ SXSW Live Broadcast – I don’t know how 101X does it, but somehow they find a way to mix big name acts with the up and comers and somehow maintain a chill vibe. It probably helps that they focus mostly on day parties and don’t serve free alcohol. Their SXSW shows are always 100% free and open to the public and are also simulcast on 101X. Shows go from 1-5 PM at Buffalo Billiards on 6th Street. There are some good ones here:
- Wednesday 4 PM – Sir Sly [Ghost]
- Thursday 3:30 PM – HOLYCHILD [Happy With Me]
- Friday 4 PM – Foster The People [Coming of Age]
- Saturday 3:30 PM – David Ramirez [Fires]
This Post Is Getting Long, But I Need to Mention These Showcases
As mentioned, there are tons of others shows that are free, accessible, and open to the public. I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention these:
- SXSW @ Butler Park – Free and open to the public, Butler Park takes over Auditorium Shores’ normal duty of hosting free SXSW shows. Arrive early; these will get packed. Think of Blues on the Green, on steroids.
- Waterloo Records Day Parties – A SXSW staple now, some of the biggest names at the festival make an appearance every year at Waterloo and this year is no exception.
- Music by the Slice – Home Slice can always be counted on to put together a laid-back showcase that is always free and open to all ages.
Who to Follow on Twitter
SXSW is a dynamic, live festival where things can change in an instant. Artists can play up to a dozen shows during the 10-day stretch and poorly planned events may not get as much exposure as their star-studded casts would typically command. So event organizers take to Twitter to announce open lines and free drinks. The following accounts give real-time updates on what is happening throughout SX: where the free food and drinks are, what to avoid, and shows that open up to the public.
- @SouthByFreeNOMS – I’ve followed this account over the last few years to find free parties that have free drinks and food. You gotta be quick to react to tweets as they are posted. Almost 20K people are following him, so there is a good chance others will beat you to the punch.
- @CameronAtSXSW– Cameron is simply always in the know. Follow him for updates on the shortest lines and the showcases to avoid.
- @CoolinAustin – This is a year-round follow as this tumblr account always posts great info on free invites around town. They step up their game during SXSW and post a fantastic list everyday of the top free parties to check out.
SXSW can be a beast, but it can also be one of the best weeks of live music in Austin all year. Keep a positive attitude, don’t get overwhelmed and you’ll be sure to have an amazing time. Feel free to reach out via Twitter or say hi if you see me at one of the shows!
Are there any other shows open to the public that you think would be worth checking out?