South by Southwest has always intimidated me. I'm a decidedly uncool person, and 6th St. in Austin is a pretty cool place -- or at least it's always seemed like one, considering I'd never been there before this week.
But after a few days, "intimidated" isn't the word I'd use. "Overwhelmed" might be more like it. I was lucky enough to spend a few days at SXSW Interactive and got to stick around for the music festival, but even after seven days in town, I still can't wrap my brain around the sheer volume of bars and bands here. My friends and I also didn't buy badges, which meant that besides having to figure out the good bands, we also had to figure out which shows we could actually get into.
On Wednesday (the first official day for the music festival), my friends and I started out at Touche with a forgettable singer-songwriter before deciding to track down the Thermals, one of my favorite bands.
Lesson #1 from SXSW: don't try to chase bands around town. By the time we got to Red 7, the Thermals were already finished, and we had to walk halfway across Texas to find them at Club De Ville and the Bitch Magazine/Kill Rock Stars party, and they weren't on for another hour. That actually worked out well, though, because opening for them was a great rockabilly act called Thao with the Get Down Stay Down.
As expected, the Thermals tore it up. Not a lot of crowd interaction, but Lesson #2 from SXSW: bands will cram as many songs as they can into a 30-minute set.
We tried to catch These Arms Are Snakes at Red Eyed Fly and later, the Decemberists at Stubb's, but quickly learned that without badges, high-profile showcase shows are overhyped and overpriced ($12 and $25, respectively). Considering the amount of awesome free music available, we skipped all the paid shows. That paid off in spades, since avoiding those shows led us to an unplanned visit to the Black Clover showcase, featuring Grieves, at Darwin's Pub.
Lesson #3: pace yourself on the drinks. Starting at noon gets expensive, and it makes it hard to blog about the bands you saw at the end of the night. I'll try to be better tomorrow.