Around this time last year I had heard of South by Southwest (SXSW) , but that was the extent of it. I am one of those people that will pack up a car, jump on a plane, you name it. Just be gone the next day, to do whatever it is my mind has chosen was a good idea. To say this way of living has always been a great choice would be a lie. However last March, my decision to get in a car along with 3 friends and drive to Austin, Texas for SXSW was one of the smartest impulses I’ve ever followed through on (Above: The Chain Gang of 1974).
First, driving from Chicago to Austin, with a stop in Memphis, while very enjoyable, was not the smartest move. Especially, when all the parties involved have jobs they need to get back to and with the mix of construction, a popped tire and everything else that could get in the way, turns a 13 hour drive home into a 23 hour drive. This year I am flying.
Second, if you are the type of person that likes things very planned out and are easily unnerved when they don’t work out, this might not be an experience for you. Lollapalooza is my staple for comparing all other music fests; one weekend, you buy a wristband or hop a fence, large open outdoor space, bunch of stages, food, port-o-potties, easily planned sets to catch and your overall day can be figured out weeks in advance. SXSW is not a normal music festival.
What I learned very quickly when I got down to Austin is that SXSW is not only music. It is also interactive and film, with each category getting several days. Music ends the whole extravaganza. There are badges that can be purchased with different rankings based on price. They gain the badge holder access into shows, showcase, and other official events. These are on the pricey side, but keep in mind this whole event is mainly for those in the industry to either find new talent, check up on their already signed bands, or to network. For all the official bands, there are set showcase times and venues. That can help with the planning aspect for some, but getting into the showcases is not guaranteed. Those with badges get in first, then those with wristbands. Wristbands for this years event are sold in limited number and can be bought online prior to the event, but they are sold only to Austin residents. The wristbands ensures not having to pay a cover to the showcases but does not guarantee you’ll set foot in the actual venue. Last to enter the venue are those who are willing to pay the chosen cover for that band and who are lucky enough to enter before capacity for that space is filled. That is just for the officially sponsored showcases. To give you an idea out of four days last year I only went to one of the showcases and that was for Dawes and Deer Tick as Deervana.
Dawes and Deertick as Deervana
There is a large outdoor stage where masses flocked to in order to see several larger bands. I saw The Strokes with thousands one night and the next day Bright Eyes, Middle Brother, and Dawes took the same stage.
So what else was I doing if I wasn’t at showcases? At any given moment there are tons of bands simultaneously playing sponsored events all over the city. Many of these are free events until capacity is reached, others require a RSVP either on Do512’s website or the bands list itself. There is so much free music to be listened to, from any and all genres, that it can be quite overwhelming. This is the main reason why planning doesn’t really work. I would hear someone mention a band was playing a set down the block. but I would never actually get to it. Because in the process of walking there, I would hear another couldn’t miss band playing and get sidetracked.
Lastly, keep you eyes and ears open. On a normal day if you heard a super model was in the bar, Ludacris was in the hotel room next to you, Jack White is on the street corner with an acoustic guitar playing covers, you would think who ever told you these lies was on some sort of drugs. Not at SXSW, these things were all very true last year.
Going into last year with no pass, badge, or wristband and with no preplanning, I had an amazing time. This year I am going in with a press/photo pass and with hours of prep targeting new bands to check out. Hopefully, I’ll have the same, if not better, results. Check back for my list of the Top 5 bands I’m most excited to try and see, as well as my actual coverage from down in Austin.
All Photos (c) Daniela Montelongo