How to Navigate South By Southwest
Overwhelming is the adjective which best describes the interactive conference, annual music & film.
South By, which was once a quiet, little festival, has morphed since the late 1980s. South By Southwest, which boosts the already booming Austin economy exponentially every March.
The same can be said for Austin, which was a sleepy town a generation ago. Austin & SXSW are now Texas big.
The latter is full of traffic jams and corporate headquarters. The former attracts a myriad of music industry types and fans from around the world.
Austin’s famous Sixth Street, which is closed to walking traffic, was as gridlocked as nearby I-35 during last year’s South By. It’s not easy but it’s more than possible to navigate South By Southwest, which is slated for March 9 to 18.
Book a flight to the capital of Texas. Southwest & American Airlines are the dominant carriers there. Don’t be afraid to burn points if need be.
Stay in Austin
This is where it gets tricky. Most downtown hotels and those on the city’s periphery have been long sold out.
However, Airbnb is the way to go. It’s affordable and you’re not going to be holed up where you’re lodged for very long anyway.
South By starts at 11am & runs through the week hours of the morning. But good location helps. Try to avoid rental car distance.
It’s difficult not to imbibe at South By since alcohol, much of it free at the endless array of parties, flows like the Rio Grande. Check on lodging opportunities around nearby University of Texas, since it’s spring break for the Longhorns & some students procrastinate when it comes to renting out their apartments.
Check the Weather
The weather can change dramatically in Austin just before Spring arrives; the mercury once dipped from 78 to 36 degrees within four hours at South By.
A Tornado hit 10 miles out of town as the sun disappeared and rain dropped in near-biblical fashion. It’s usually summer-hot during mid-March, but you never know what might happen in Tornado country. Make sure you’re coated with hydrated & suntan lotion.
What to Bring and Wear?
Bring Suntan lotion, a reusable water bottle, extended battery pack, perhaps a sun hat & charging cords for all of your devices and a backpack.
The latter is for the surprising amount of swag (Guitar picks, T-shirts, Posters, etc), you’ll score. You’ll want to look as hip as possible but go with sensible shoes. Don’t forget ear plugs since you’re going to be bludgeoned aurally for a few days.
Who to Catch?
I caught the one of finest SXSW performances was The Fugees in 1995.
Bluegrass prodigy Billy Strings, the sexy Sharkmuffin, who combine glam and garage and London’s poppy but powerful Superorganism are among the can’t-miss acts.
If you have a badge & are attending the conference, don’t miss the Breeders Kim Deal interview Steve Albini, who is one of the most provocative producers alive. It will worth it just to catch anecdotes drawn from Albini’s experiences producing Superchunk Nirvana & the Pixies.
The next big thing is always be on the lookout.
You may find out years from now that you were one of a few dozen people in the audience for a band of nobodies who then became rock stars.
Be Ready to Call an Audible
Unannounced shows happen at South By.
2 years ago, Garth Brooks popped into the charming but tiny Broken Spoke, where he debuted more than three decades ago as a virtual unknown. Brooks shocked patrons by playing a set. The SXSW app, which you can download from the festival’s official site, has updates for shows.
However, for some pop-up events the only way to find out is to keep your ear to the ground.
Parties are Ubiquitous
Most bands that play South By showcase about 9 times during a four-day span. “Day parties” are free events featuring recording artists, which perform during the evening.
Food & Alcohol are often on the house; all you need is an ID to enter most of the events. A few days ago, SXSW icon Cary Baker took care of the voluminous party list but it’s just way too much for one man to tackle and now it’s a constantly updated site.
You will never want for parties at this festival.
Post Fest BBQ
South By is capped by a softball tournament on March 18 at Krieg Softball Complex.
Have Shiner Bock & one last round of BBQ before leaving the live music capital of the world.