So what exactly is South by Southwest? Here’s a brief overview if you haven’t been, followed by some simple DOs and DON'Ts.
When people ask if you’re going to “South by” or “SX,” they probably mean the music portion of the festival. However, South by Southwest includes separate film, interactive and music conferences that take place every March in Austin. The “week” of SXSW is actually 10 days long, spanning from March 11-20 this year
Interactive: March 11-15
Film: March 11-19
Music: March 15-20
We’ll focus on the music portion. SXSW is one of the largest music festivals in the nation, with over 2,000 performers playing in more than 90 venues around Austin. Although it’s officially centered around the Austin Convention Center downtown, most of the bands play in bars and clubs downtown and around the University of Texas campus.
Anyone can go to SXSW, but some enjoy a more elite status: badge or wristband holders.
Badges — which get you into the most things — run from $595 (if you bought early) to $1250. Badges provide free entrance and first dibs to any showcase and also allow access to really boring but really important conferences about the music industry and what not.
Fans can also purchase wristbands, which run from $150-300. A wristband grants entrance to any showcase (which cost $8-25 for individual tickets depending on the venue), but you have to wait in line behind badge holders if the show is especially crowded.
A few aspects set SXSW apart from other indie music festivals like Bonnaroo, Coachella and Austin City Limits:
1. Shows at small venues
Bands perform in bars and clubs rather than giant stages in open fields.
2. Up-and-coming bands
You won’t find the Eagles playing here, but you may discover the next Sleigh Bells before your friends do. (Tell me you’ve heard of them?)
If you’re not obnoxious about it, you might be able to party with your favorite band. Most of them are crashing at hospitable Austinites’ homes or cheap hotels and don't have any airs about sharing a pitcher with strangers.
3. International acts
4. All day and all night
Outdoor music festivals often shut it down early (9 or 10) due to city noise ordinances. SXSW’s day parties span from around noon till 5 or 6, and the official showcases last until 2 a.m., followed by after-parties.
5. Free stuff
You're not trapped on festival grounds with watery $8 beer. In fact, during the day a lot of the beer and food is free. More on that later.
DOs and DON’Ts for SXSW beginners:
DON’T buy a badge.
They average $700 and simply aren’t worth it unless you're interested in attending the lectures and workshops. If you can obtain a badge for free because your cousin owns Sub Pop! records or something, then, by all means, get one.
DO consider a wristband.
Depending on how many and which showcases you attend, you may end up dishing out around $200 on admission anyway. Also, you won’t have to wait in line and almost always get in (unless the venue is full). If you’re paying cash you’ll need to get in line at least 20 minutes before a showcase starts.
DO RSVP to the unofficial day shows.
The day shows and parties, though not officially part of SXSW, are just as good as the night showcases. Admission is free, and there’s often free food and booze.
Although it’s tedious, most of these parties require that you RSVP with an e-mail address. It gets tricky to keep track of them, as there are 15-20 parties per day. As the music part of SXSW nears on March 15, CultureMap promises keep you posted on the best day parties and how to send your RSVP.
DO have a game plan.
Scribble down the names and addresses of a few of your favorite day parties and official showcases.
DON’T set your plans in stone.
If they run out of free Flying Dog beer or it rains at Cedar Street Courtyard, you’ve got to have a backup plan. (This is where sending RSVPs to multiple day parties comes in handy.)
DON’T drive anywhere near downtown.
If you must drive, park at 8th just east of I-35 and walk downtown from there. You're unlikely to get much closer.
DO walk, ride a bike or take a bus.
DO bring comfortable shoes and a warm coat.
Even the cutest flats will kill your feet when you’re walking five miles a day. And although Austin is usually as hot as Houston, last year a cold front blew in, sending temperatures down to 32 degrees with wind chill.
Bassists played from sleeping bags, girls wrapped blankets around their heads. It was madness.
DON'T complain about hipsters.
When you go to a golf tournament you don't complain about the preps in polos and golf shoes. So when attending SXSW refrain from rolling your eyes at the tattoos and unkempt hair.
You're in hipster turf now, and when in Rome bring your skinny jeans.