It’s the time of year that serious music fans look forward to: SXSW Music starts Tuesday and runs through Sunday. The festival is in its 27th year and I’ve been attending for at least seven of them.
I love the festival because it utilizes so many venues all over Austin and caters to diverse musical tastes. You can see bands from all over the world with styles ranging from folk, to indie, to hip hop, rap, punk, pop or rock. It’s a phenomenal chance to enjoy a lot of music and discover new bands.
I once stumbled upon an unannounced Snoop Dogg show at a warehouse. I can’t remember who I was on the way to see, but I sure remember that Snoop show.
But since the festival continues to grow every year, it can be overwhelming for the first-time visitor. With that in mind, I've compiled some useful tips I’ve picked up along the way to help maximize the time spent seeing bands and get the most out of the experience.
1. Sit whenever possible
I can’t stress this enough. You will be on your feet for hours, so if you have the opportunity to sit you should rest your legs. If you are standing in a line that is going absolutely nowhere then take a seat. Your legs will thank you later.
2. Get there early
If there is a band you really want to see it’s worth it to get there early. If there is a buzz about a band, the long line to get in will reflect it. I have gone to some amazing shows and walked right in because I got there before the line became impossible.
3. Don’t worry about seeing big name bands
Unless it’s your favorite band or a show you just can’t miss, don’t worry about seeing the big name bands that come in because you are going to miss the opportunity to see a band at a small venue that will be a big name in the future. A friend of mine saw The Black Keys at a small venue while operating under this theory. How awesome would that have been?
One of my best friends and partner in SXSW crime met her significant other at the festival one year. They are getting married in July.
4. Drink lots of water and pace yourself
Dehydrated people are tired people. It is entirely possible to see 14 hours of bands in one day. There is free alcohol everywhere. If you don’t pace yourself and hydrate frequently you will miss some great music. Do you really want to be the person who missed an epic show because you overindulged?
5. Wear comfortable shoes
You will be walking and standing a lot. I normally am a fan of impractical footwear but not at SXSW. I break out the Toms and don’t worry about my 5-inch heels.
6. Ride your bike
It’s impossible to park or drive in Austin during SXSW. The best way to get around is by bicycle. There are several places available to rent bikes during the festival and Austin is a bicycle friendly city.
7. Be flexible about your schedule
This is super important. I spend a good deal of time researching bands and preparing a schedule of bands I want to see, but if you are inflexible about your schedule you will miss some amazing experiences. I was once heading from one show to another and stumbled upon an unannounced Snoop Dogg show at a warehouse. I can’t remember who I was on the way to see, but I sure remember that Snoop show.
I have gone to some amazing shows and walked right in because I got there before the line became impossible.
8. Use social media and carry your charger with you
People at SXSW love to tweet their whereabouts and to check in on Foursquare. There are also a lot of places that offer cool stuff if you check in. This is a must-do because a lot of the good parties and shows are word-of-mouth. Also, it’s a good idea to carry your phone charger with you. A lot of places will have charging stations but you don’t want to be disconnected from the people on social media who are dying to tell you where the party is at!
9. Make friends
This is a good rule for life in general, but especially true at SXSW. You never know who is standing next to you or what inside info they have on who is playing where. Also, one of my best friends and partner in SXSW crime met her significant other at the festival one year. They are getting married in July.
10. Be patient
You will be dealing with a lot of lines and a lot of people trying to see the same shows as you. This requires a good deal of patience. It’s worth it, trust me.