Written by Patrick McNamara
We figured it's high time we really stretch and reach for our dreams and finally, for the first time in our 10+ years of existence, publish a survival guide to SXSW. After all, every other leading music blob is doing it. Why not us? Why not Whoa My Blobness? We have been going to SXSW since __________ (i.e. one year earlier than whatever year you say you started going) so we know a few things that would be of great interest to a highly niche audience.
The following insightful tips will help you survive a festival that's designed for almost no other purpose than for its participants to have fun (while somebody somewhere makes money off it). So the stakes are pretty high. But don't be scared about having a good time. We'll talk you through it. We promise. So help me blob.
What to Bring
Clothes, girl! But no seriously this is NOT the time to be joking around. I apologize for giving you the first impression that this digital article was going to be humorous in style and not to be taken too seriously.
What you pack on a trip to a music festival is super important shit. And let's face it, guy, the weather in Austin in March can be pretty prettyyyyy prettyyyyyyy unpredictable. Sometimes it feels like heaven, sometimes it rains, and that one time a few years ago I froze my fucking face off. Pardon my f$#%*#.
There's no safe play here, but I can tell you to pack less clothes than you think you'll need because a). you know your money outfit so why even attempt to rotate in anything less than your best? Who cares if it ends up smelling like homeless BBQ vomit? If your clothes don't stink when SXSW is all said and done then you totally didn't do it right. And b). ideally, you'll want to carry-on your baggage (assuming you take to the friendly skies on a real live jet plane - if you're driving to Austin, you might want to ask the fellas over at Rand-McNally to give you some sweet tips because I know nothing about that).
I say you should carry-on because once some Austin airport employee stole my backpack that I checked and was full of brand new underwear. I shit you not this 100% happened to me (I always purchase new underwear before SXSW - you should too).
But actually maybe you should risk it and check your bag because everybody's goddamn guitars are going to be competing for your overhead space. I don't know. Whatever. Pack what you want. This survival guide is starting extremely well. Shall we continue?
Should you rent a car when you're in Austin? Hell, no! There's no parking anywhere and if you like to drink free beer at free shows in the daytime, well, you know you shouldn't be messing around with no motor vehicles, man. Take a taxi from the airport to your hotel (this will be the last time a taxi will be available to you) and drop your shit off.
Then, if you're one of the special people whose hotel is near all the action, you must be a real VIP Music Industry Insider, so congratulations! You, of course, can walk everywhere (assuming you were smart and packed comfortable shoes - I guess I should have mentioned that in the “What to Bring" section - OOPSIES - if only there was a way to edit these things).
If your hotel is not in walking distance to the center of everything slothful, I feel your pain on that. I stayed right next to the airport two years in a row. It was great. Just great. There's no way you'll be getting cabs - during the day, late at night, whenever, never. They. Just. Don't. Come. So might I be so bold as to suggest you search out a branded street team's pedicab service to tootle you around? Might as well give enthusiastic college kids who aren't being paid shit some exercise.
You could also figure out the city's bus system. It's not too bad. Once I sat next to this guy carrying like three barrels of vegetables. Or, you could just never go back to your hotel and just stay out the entire time. I've never done it but that's not saying it can't and hasn't been done. You just need to solve that tricky time block between 5-10 AM when pretty much nothing is going on except for the noise of a bunch of garbage trucks, a few patrolling police cars, and some passionate regret.
How to See a Show Without a Badge And Also Eat and Drink For Free
This problem is super easy to solve because we came up with the solution ourselves here at Rockness HQ (which is also my bedroom!). We're more than just a music blob that gives you really good festival survival tips - we also make lists. Shooting for the stars over here. Living the dream.
And for SXSW specifically, we make a list every year of the best FREE shows and parties that you can go see without a badge because most have absolutely nothing to do with SXSW proper. They were just like, “Yo, SXSW, can we get in on this thing you're doing?" And SXSW was like, “No." And so the unofficial shows were like, “Well, too bad, sucka."
We also made a list of all the good shows and parties with free food (“ehhhhhh is there any gluuuuuuten in your breakfast tacooooos?" - some VIP Music Industry Nerd) and/or free drinks. Please remember: just because those nasty ass bottom shelf rum cocktails are free at that branded sponsored thing doesn't mean you have to drink (all of) them.
Many of these free shows also have RSVPs and we have conveniently provided the Uniform Resource Locator (bet you didn't even know URL stood for that - come on - be honest for once) to those where applicable. Your best bet is just to RSVP to everything - even those shows you have no intention of going to - because it's good to have options - and anyway, sponsors who make many of those free shows possible know the rate of attendance on RSVPs is like 0.000000015% or something which, fun fact, is similar odds to a current buzz band's chance of even still being together in 5 years.
How to Keep Track of All The Shows I Want To See - There Are So Many! - ARGGGH! - I'm Getting Too Old For This Shit!
These headlines are getting ridiculous. “My Rockness," man. It's always been about “My Rockness." Use this impossibly free service to save all the shows you probably won't end up going to to the calendar of your choice (I prefer the Mayan's but you might like that sexy NYC firefighter one) and have your whole plan of attack laid out for you right there on your digital screen. We worked hard to make it really easy for you because everything we do….we do it 4 U.
You can also use “My Rockness" to save bands and get email alerts from us when we list their new shows throughout the fest (more shows keep getting added all the damn time and we're really trying hard to keep up). But that's not all. You can use “My Rockness" not only during SXSW but also in the other fine cities we cover (NYC, LA, CHI, and to answer your question about the city you live in, yes, we have thought about adding _________ ). “My Rockness" - it's as simple as apple pie.™
(that's not our real tagline, obviously - have you ever tried to make your own crust? - it ain't no roll down Easy Street - what should our tagline for “My Rockness" be? - you don't have to shoot me suggestions right now - sleep on it)
Where to Nap
Hotel lobbies! They're everywhere near SXSW's center (which is somewhere around 6th street and Red River and I-35 but everything is going farther east and north these days so who can really say anymore when down is up and up is down). Some of these glamorous lobbies are more intimate than others so pick out a nice big one where nobody knows what the hell is going on and you can find a forgotten corner to snooze in relative peace. No room required. However, if some hotel employee does prod you with a last night's glow stick and says something like, “Excuse me, are you a guest of this hotel?" simply play dumb and in dazed way say, “I remember…………….. The Alamo." Do it right and you just might get a “yee-hawwww!" and a new friend for life. (It shouldn't be hard to pull this routine off as you were just in the middle of a hardcore nap when some corporate cowboy dressed to the nines in brief authority decided to wake you up.)
Where to Get Away
However many days and nights you spend at SXSW there will come a point when you just need a little goddamn space. Get that dorky ass badge off your neck and out of my face, wannabe VIP Music Industry guy. Step the fuck back, brands. No, I don't want to get a free temporary tattoo in the backseat of next year's latest sedan while receiving an exclusive new music listen from some buzz band playing their shit live from the front seat. I'll catch it on the webcast when I'm dead.
When you're irritated, tired, and sick of having such a good goddamn time, I suggest a few hours retreat where you explore just beyond SXSW's borders. There's no need to go far. There are several peaceful attractions a mere short long walk away (aka a longish walk that's also kind of shortish).
For example, you could go see former President Lyndon B. Johnson. Not the real dude, of course. He's totally dead. I'm talking about the interactive robotronic LBJ that's on display at his museum on the campus of sterile, ugly University of Texas (hook THESE horns). You'll love it. He wears a cowboy hat. It's a super quiet and peaceful place because nobody goes (who would?) and it's just like Chuck E. Cheese but without the animals and games and plastic balls and pizza and fun but WITH the painful backstory of LBJ presiding over the purposeless folly and grand tragedy that was the Vietnam War.
And when you're done hanging with robo-POTUS consider having a quiet lunch at this nearby place called Crown & Anchor because they make the best burger I've had in Texas. Crown & Anchor did not pay me to say this - they don't even know I exist. “Oh My Who in the What Now?" So I can assure you this recommendation comes from the #heart. After lunch, you could also go swimming at nearby Barton Springs but I've never done that because I always remember to buy new underwear for my trip but never to pack my swimsuit Oh well. Or, maybe take in the city's shopping scene and see if you can score this season's hottest normcore item - a “Keep Austin Weird" t-shirt. There's lot more stuff to do and see. You'll figure it out.
When Is It A Good Time To Think About Maybe Wanting This Festival To Be Over?
When you find yourself watching a band twenty years past their prime at something called the Holiday Inn Express Stage. You must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Damn those enthusiastic college street team kids and their pedicabs.
How Do You Know For Sure It's Time To Go Home?
When you start bitching to whoever else has also been wearing their badge THE ENTIRE FESTIVAL about how much SXSW “has changed." Pffft. Kill that noise. You're at a marathon party and you're there under your own volition (apologies if you were forced to attend for “work" this year ooooh the Music Industry is soooo hard, you guysssss).
There are more good bands playing for you in one week than anyone has a right to see in their entire lifetime, there's solid food and decent drink, people want to give you free shit wherever you walk, and you're standing around bitching about having to wade through all the crummy commercials? Come on. Of course that's part of it. Who cares. Have FUN or GTFO. It's a party, man - a p-a-r-t-y. And SXSW is what YOU make of it. If you forget everything else I've told you here today at least try to remember that. This one's on you. You want to survive? Have a positive state of mind. You're going to have a great time. I just know it. I believe in you, bb bae bae boo boo.
Why Am I Still Reading This?
Not sure, but I do hope this SXSW survival guide has been helpful - especially because it's the first one we've ever published. We thought we'd feel different now that it's finally posted but maybe it takes a little while for the euphoria to kick in. Nevertheless, we know you have a choice when you procrastinate from doing important stuff and we thank you for choosing Oh My Rockness.
Follow us during SXSW on Twitter @OMR_SXSW for show updates. We'll only tell you about the good stuff. So help me blob.