I'm writing this blog entry from my basement couch in Overland Park. Besides the ringing in my ears and a pain in my back and ribs that I can't remember aquiring, this seems like a world away from the aural and visual shitstorm that is Austin during South by Southwest. But I mean that in the nicest way.
If anyone's looking for the expert's wrap-up of the hottest shows in Texas last week, you'll have to look elsewhere. My perspective was supposed to be different. My two friends and I (all SXSW first-timers) planned to show up without badges or much of a clue, for that matter, and try to see the shows we wanted to see. If that didn't work, we'd settle for pretty much any stage with a working microphone on it, and I'd blog and tweet my experiences as I went along.
So, without further adieu, here are my tips for all the newbies who might want some guidance on surviving one of the world's largest music festivals:
Tip #1: Feeling overwhelmed is normal. There are more than 1,800 acts playing over the course of five days and hundreds of venues throughout the city, and that's just the official evening showcase. If you count all the day shows, unofficial mini-festivals and street performers, it's probably safe to double that number. Just remember: you're not going to come close to seeing all the bands, and that's okay. I probably sat down and watched 30-50 bands, and although I'm positive I missed some great stuff, I also discovered some amazing new music, like Efterklang, Denmark's horn-filled answer to Sigur Ros.
Tip #2: Badges aren't a necessity. Unless you're only going to Austin to see the top-billed acts -- or if you have an aversion to waiting in lines -- badges aren't an absolute necessity. Spend some time in the weeks leading up to SXSW scouring the Internet for high-profile day parties, label- and corporate-sponsored showcases, and mini-festivals that overlap SXSW's 6th St. presence (such as the fantastic Red Gorilla Music Fest, which hosted Black Clover artist and KC hip-hop regular Grieves), and you'll have more shows on your calendar than you'll know what to do with. Just be sure to watch for online RSVPs; even some of the free shows require you to plan ahead.
Tip #3: Don't chase your tail. With the exception of some of the top-billed acts, a lot of artists play multiple sets. We wasted way too much of our first day schlepping around town trying to catch the Thermals, only to see them again at multiple showcases. They're one of my favorite bands, but after three shows in three days, I think I'm good for awhile.
Tip #4: Get the hell off of 6th St. I spent a few extra days in Austin earlier in the week for SXSW Interactive, and by day nine, I was thoroughly finished with the constant noise, people and all-around cacophony of the downtown institution. But just a dozen blocks east on the exact same street, I caught Astronautalis and Busdriver at Bird's Barbershop. It was a cool, uncrowded venue with shade and free beer, and it was probably the best showcase I saw all week.
Tip #5: Bigger isn't always better. Camera Obscura and American Analog Set sucked. The Hold Steady rocked, but it was crowded and the $2 all-you-can-drink beer had a 45-minute line. On the other hand, the teeny-tiny hip-hop showcase at the Back Alley Social Club (particularly Crew54) was jaw-droppingly good.
And with that, my first SXSW comes to a close. There a ton of things I'd do differently (namely, slow down on the beers the night before my flight home), but I had a great time. I really hope I can make it back to Austin again -- but I'm also thrilled that it won't be for at least another 361 days.