So you’re going to SXSW.
Or, should we say, you are going to Austin over dates that coincide with SXSW. Because chances are, you’re not an official conference or festival “attendee” – unless you shelled out for a wristband or music badge (or like me, lucked out and got one handed to you on a golden platter). But it’s the wristband-free and badge-less I’m writing this for, and to them I deliver this message: do not fear. Because it can be done, and it has been done by many, many a poor or cheap music fan over the years. Which is why SXSW is as huge as it really is – because when loads of party crashers show up to crash a party, the party just gets bigger. And rocks even harder.
The truth is, you could have a blast from Tuesday through Sunday without ever attending anything that comes close to being officially endorsed by SXSW. While it’s true that most of the musicians and music-lovers that will descend upon Austin next month will be there to play an official showcase or attend the music conference, many if not most of those musicians want to make the most of their trip and play more than just one show. Plus, there are bands that aren’t even playing official SXSW shows that make the trek just to capitalize on the massive audience that will be available.
In both 2007 and 2008, I did SXSW on the cheap, without a badge or wristband. And here’s how I did it.
STEP 1: Keep your expectations in check.
No matter how carefully you plan your schedule at SXSW, it’s just not going to happen the way that you planned it. Don’t expect to hit every party you want to hit, don’t expect to see every band you want to see, and don’t even expect to find every bar you’re looking for. But the way I see it is this – picture SXSW as a delicious smorgasbord created by some of the best chefs from around the world. There’s absolutely no way you can eat everything that buffet has to offer, but you shouldn’t worry about it, because most of what you eat is going to be delicious anyway. (Plus you aren’t even paying, dude.)
STEP 2: Give yourself a few goals.
Having said all that about expectations and planning, keep in mind that if you wander around without a game plan, it might not be that different from hitting a few shows in your hometown. You’re going to Austin because SXSW provides a unique opportunity to see a bunch of bands you might not have the chance to see otherwise (at least not in the space of a few days). So take advantage.
For the past two years, what I’ve done is come up with a list of my top five “must see” bands or artists. For me, they were bands that I had never seen and bands that would probably never play Nashville – at least not in the foreseeable future, or without randomly opening for a bigger band. And you know what? On both my trips to SXSW I got to see my top five.
Keep in mind though, you should still be keeping your expectations in check. If you’re dying to see The Decemberists play their new album in its entirety, and they’re only doing that once, at an official showcase at a high-profile venue that will probably end up being badge-only, maybe you should pick a more attainable goal. Not that you can’t attempt to get into that showcase – but you’d probably have more fun if you didn’t spend half the day waiting in line.
Coming up in Part 2 - outline your plan of attack and plan accordingly.