How to Lose Your SXSW Virginity Right

Dead Sara at the Austin Jump off, Mar. 18, 2015.

Congratulations Austin! We have survived another years of the South by Southwest madness. Good Job!

To be honest, I’ve never done anything for good ol’ “South By” until this year. I know, crazy for a music lover living in Austin. There were a number of reasons (work, money, ignorance, abhorrence of crowds, etc.) but that all changed this year. Even though I didn’t have a badge, I have learned a few lessons this past week that I’d like to share to make you feel prepared for your first time (or second, third…)

  1. Get online!

When looking at everything SXSW has to offer, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are so many events going on in so many different places, it’s hard to keep track of what’s official, what’s unofficial and what’s going at each place. Do512 is a website that lists all the SXSW events and whether or not it’s official or if you have to RSVP. Another site I found called Schedule.org, also lists all the official and unofficial events and you can search the matrix to see other times a specific artist is performing. Super handy if you miss them performing at one place. For other unofficial SXSW events (keywords) dig around on Twitter and Facebook- you’ll be surprised how many events offer free food, and more importantly, free booze. Once you see what’s out there, go ahead and….

  1. Make a plan!

I found it useful to make a small schedule for each day. I’m sure there are other apps out there, but I just used a google doc and pulled it up on my phone (ALTERNATIVE: save the events to your Goggle Calendar or iCal).  One thing that I wish I had done but didn’t, is list all of my alternative events that I RSVP’d for in addition to the events  I wanted to attend, but more on that later. When it’s finally time to hit the streets…

  1. Pack accordingly but don’t overdo it.

Pack all your essentials: camera, sunscreen/umbrella, portable charger for your phone, etc. But leave space in your bag for swag, because you’ll need it. While I didn’t end up with free bottled beverages until the last day, I did get multiple pairs of sunglasses, stickers, ear plugs, and a pretty freakin’ sweet canvas tote. Don’t forget some cash for tipping the bartenders serving free drinks, and although the establishments usually frown upon it, bring a snack (something small like a cliff bar). One bar I ended up being in all day, didn’t serve food and I was more than famished by the time I left. Most importantly be sure to…

  1. Bring Business Cards…..

Regardless if you go downtown alone or with a buddy, you will end up talking with strangers. It may be a moment when you’re waiting in line, waiting for a band to go on, or hanging at the bar. No matter what your actual job is, you never know who you will meet. Life is all about the quid pro quo and networking. Have the cards handy so you can connect with a possible client or employer.

  1. ….Or samples of your music.

South by is one of the largest music events in the United States, possibly the world. Thousands and thousands of people swarm Austin each year to hear a ton of music. If you are an aspiring musician, bring CDs to hand out, or mix in with the swag at events. Heck, leave it on the streets, curious people will pick them up (I did). You’ll never know who’s hands it will end up in, and at the very least, you may get a few new fans.

  1. Skip the hassle, use the public transportation.

While we aren’t perfect at it yet, Austin does offer plenty of alternatives than using your car downtown. Trust me, you don’t want to kick off your afternoon by driving around downtown in circles looking for a place to park. It’s frustrating and annoying having to deal with being rerouted and the pedestrians. Here’s what will happen: you’ll still have to park further away than where you wanted, have to pay upwards of $20, and then have to worry about driving out of there at the end of the night. Again, skip the hassle. Call a cab, catch the bus, jump on the metro rail (which drops you off literally in the middle of downtown). Alternatively you can use Uber or Lyft, or if you’re close enough, hop on a bike. Don’t waste your time by driving when you’re on your way to free shows. Speaking of which…

  1. “Free Shows mean arrive early” (Say it with me!)

You may be tempted with the following thoughts, “Oh, It’s the middle of the week in the middle of the day, there can’t be that many people out there,” “people always skip the openers, they’ll arrive later,” or “there’s so much going on, it won’t be that bad at the place I want to go.” These are false, and will ruin you if you choose to believe them. If you are really hard up to see a certain big name band, get there way earlier than needed and be prepared to camp. Example A: Kid Cudi performed a free show on Mar. 13 at Stubb’s. I waited in line for hours before they told us to go home and that they had reached capacity. I was so disappointed. Which leads me to numbers eight and nine.

  1. Be flexible

Remember those plans I suggested you make? It’s great to know what you want to do and who’s playing where, but you will probably end up missing out on some stuff. Get over it. If you’re able to go with the flow and figure out what your other options are, you’ll enjoy your week so much more. So…

  1. Have backup plans

My first day of South-by, I arrived hours early for the first act that I wanted to see (Gorgon City) at the Spotify House. Low and behold there was already a huge line that wasn’t moving. I figured my time would be better spent elsewhere than in a line. Unfortunately, my itinerary didn’t include backup plans and I wasted 20 minutes messing with my phone, trying to figure out what else was going on where. Eventually, I surrendered to the chaos and just picked a bar I saw people going into. Which leads me to the last, and probably most important, advice on this list…

  1. Do not fear the unknown.

As awesome as it was to see Kevin Devine play live (since I am a huge fan), some of the best acts I saw were artists I had never heard of that put on a fantastic set. Piggy-backing off the previous two points, if you’re open minded and your backup plans include all artists you haven’t heard of, don’t let that deter you. If you’re not able to see the group you wanted, and you’re wandering around lost… say “what the hell?” and check out the place that has free food/alcohol with the artists you don’t know. The worst that will happen is you’ll have to bounce to another party, but on the other hand you may just have a hell of a time, and find your next favorite band.

So what all do you think? Anything you would add or suggest? Leave me a comment! Also, check out the photo gallery below to see the photos I took!

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