SXSWhat the F*ck Just Happened: A Guide For Future First Time Participants

By E. Max Bonem, Esq.

Welcome back nerds! Did you miss us? We certainly missed you, along with other normal life functions like getting a good night’s rest, feeling hydrated, eating “healthy,” and actually being able to catch one’s breath. Starting on March 8th (give or take a day and a few thousand brain cells), South By Southwest (or “South By” as the locals call it) took over Austin with a fury of people (be gone all you Los Angelese and New Yorkers!), music, and schmoozing. Thousands of people (up to 200K+ by some counts) suddenly appeared, clogging up downtown Austin and bleeding into the near-by East Side to partake in all that ATX had to offer: food trucks, a gazillion music venues, and an undying adherence to the “can’t stop – won’t stop” mentality towards all behavior ranging from drinking preposterous amounts of free booze to, uh, drinking preposterous amounts of non-free booze.

However, there were greater things at hand; the universe, as it always does, had it’s OWN plan. This, dear readers, was a culmination of months of anticipation and excitement, tumultuous amounts of planning and wonder, because the arrival of none other than fellow bro journier Matt Jared just happened to coincide with the beginning of SXSW. Oh yes folks, that’s right, SXSW became our first in-person bro journey since Christmas and let’s just say, this was a little bigger than sipping some Nati Lights and watching Matt’s love child Sundy attempt to destroy Matt’s old kitchen. Lucky for us (but mostly just me so I don’t have to do it) Matt has delivered to all y’all the complete run down of our first two weeks together and yes, it really WAS as epic as he tried to describe (Cheers Fuck Face!). So rather than regurgitate everything that Matt has shared with you (side note – getting thumbs up’d/waved at/peace-signed to by Forest Whitaker was even more dope than you can really imagine), I’m going to do what I do best and deliver you some fun filled tales in numerical form to simulate something close to a “how-to” list for SXSW newbs.

But first, a quick word.

As many (aka approximately 4.5) of you may have noticed, we haven’t updated/redesigned/lived up to any of the hype that we mentioned we’d have done by this point. Well, for that, we here at The Bro Journey apologize. We had incredibly high aspirations, but we encountered a bit of a situation. You see, when Matt arrived after months of brohorting through the blog and endless days spent on gchat together, we embraced in a hug that left us locked in each other’s arms for literally days.

Uh, it looked something like this...

Eventually after we had both lost consciousness, our dear #1 fan/intern/fellow Bobcat (OU? OH YEAH!) Jordan was forced to contact the authorities to have us forcibly separated. Um, good try Austin PD/FD. Eventually, she schlepped us out to a shaman’s (really just a hipster from Brooklyn named Sky Giant with an affinity for “herbs” and head-dressery) teepee in the badlands of east Austin and through the power of chanting and viewing of a few Animal Collective videos, Matt and I were once again separated. And then we realized that Bing and Nike had set up shop directly across from the street from my office.

“Dude bro, I think it’s open bar at Bing.”

“Shit, forrealz!? Bet!”

And so our SXSW journey began and this is where your’s, dear reader, begins as well. So I bring to you after days of bewilderment, exhaustion, and amazement, the (never) definitive SXSW for Beginners Guide (with added bonuses/funzies)

Prepare Yourself

SXSW, in total, is just short of two weeks long and is broken into three separate acts that all sorta blur together eventually with a teeny lull in the middle between interactive and music when it’s just the film festival that’s still active. Interactive, however, is the beast that kicks off the mayhem and with it comes the MOST overused four-letter acronym that you’re bound to hear during the entire circus of SXSW (yes, even more than what I just spewed out): RSVP. You see, unless you’re (aka your company) dishing out $900 for a badge to attend the interactive conference (held strictly at the Austin Convention Center), the only way for you to experience SXSWi is to RSVP to every single thing you can find (and yes, I mean EVERY). Every night countless tech startups and more established entities are BEGGING to give out free booze to you and your friends so that you’ll come schmooze and maybe listen to them talk about their new app/product that’s SURE to “change the way we (insert something deeply euphoric here (i.e. see the world, communicate, experience existence, live, etc)).” However, most places will try to insist on some sort of RSVP in order to keep numbers low/make sure all the “important” badge holders get in. Similarly, when the music portion of the festivities roll around, there are a whole mess of (sponsored) venues (i.e. Fader Fort, Hype Hotel, Pandora Discovery Lounge) that make you RSVP for a wristband, which you then have to spend an inordinate amount of time waiting for. Either way, if you plan on attending SXSW, start looking around the Austin blogosphere in early February for info on RSVPs, you’ll be amazed at how it can change your experience.

To Buy or not to buy?

Ah yes, the question that is bound to arise among you and your friends pre-SXSW, “should I buy a wristband?” Is it worth $150? Will I really need it? This, just like so many other aspects of SXSW, is completely up to you. Very, VERY few shows are badge/wristband ONLY, however, (almost) no matter where you go (unless it’s a venue with special wristbands specifically for shows at that location) having some sort of pass will help. Here’s a quick breakdown of how it goes at most showcases around town: badges get in before everyone else and then once badge holders gets in, wristband holders get in and then after them come the folks that have been waiting an irreconcilably long time to get in and there’s a good chance they’ll have to pay. I looked at this way, how many shows will I end up going to where having a wristband to jump most of the line will come in handy? Well, in total I saw something like 25 shows and although I haven’t really done the math, I’m just gonna say that not having to stand in line is awesome. If you can afford it and you’re really impatient (especially when it comes to waiting to see a band you’ve been blaring non-stop for months) then I would say splurge. I essentially paid $150 to see just somewhere between 20 & 30 shows where I never had to wait in line. That says it all.

Stay Focused (for a day at least)

SXSW Music is 100x more nuts than interactive. It’s non-stop, there’re always eight things going on at once that you’d ideally like to be at and frankly it can be a bit frustrating by the end. I went in with a solid list of bands that I knew I HAD to see and what’s so great about SXSW is most bands play anywhere from 2-10 shows while they’re here. Unlike most other music festival, SXSW eats an entire city alive and becomes a mecca for the entire music industry, where people go to be found and others come to find new talent. Every magazine, blog, and obscure publication you’ve never heard of is here trying to find that new it band (side note – if I had to pick one band that I think made the biggest statement while here I would have to say Cloud Nothings (from Cleveland of all places (woo Ohio (even if it is Cleveland…))), Gary Clark Jr. (everyone’s favorite hometown hero) or Detroit’s Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr) and because of that, bands aim to play as many times as they can in hopes that they’ll get the right kind of exposure. However, it is nearly impossible to stay on a rigid, focused, no-breaks schedule for four days (especially when you’re “working” during three of those days) and because of that, I recommend taking one day out of your SXSW music experience and completely dedicating it to see shows, whether anyone else wants to join you or not. Thursday was that day for me and I was able to see a total of eight shows (The Sheepdogs, Futurebirds, Alabama Shakes, Punch Brothers, Titus Andronicus, Trampled by Turtles, Cloud Nothings, and Say Anything), which is certainly nothing to shake a finger at, especially considering the fact that I’d been out until 2am the night before seeing Dale Earnhardt JrJr., Dr. John, and Gary Clark Jr. after working for most of the day. Woof. That being said, the following two days I saw fewer than six shows and spent most of the time fiending at free parties and then celebrating St. Patrick’s Day (Cheers Fuckface!). Lucky for me the majority of the bands I wanted to see all happened to be playing on the same day and none of their shows overlapped. Weird how that worked out…

Wear good shoes

This is really true for any music festival of any kind, but as Lieutenant Dan once said, “you gotta take care of your feet.” I did not take any care of my feet and I paid the price in blood, blisters, and a strong need to consume copious amounts of alcohol to numb the pain (or maybe I just felt the need to do that because of the constant presence of Matt Jared (Oy, cheers fuckface! (we were serious about the Ausi accents and murdering of such catch phrases)). Anyway, I know we all like to look stylish when thousands of the hippest young people on earth are all encroaching on one town, but just keep in mind that you replace most sitting at SXSW with dancing and overall boogying.

Have something better to say to someone from a band then, “hey you’re that dude, right?”

As many of you know, I’m a nerd and complete fan boy when it comes to certain bands (i.e. Louisville’s finest), but since graduating college and moving to a city frequented by celebrities and crawling with music, I’ve become much less enthralled by bands and SXSW only furthered that mindset. Unlike at other shows where you might stumble into a singer or guitar player from a band you really dig, musicians are straight chillin’ everywhere you go in Austin during SXSW. For instance, I happened to meet The Sheepdogs (Saskatoon’s finest) before their Thursday afternoon show at Beauty Bar. There might’ve been 100 people in the crowd, but it was probably closer to 50. I got to chat with the lead singer, ask him about how SX was treating them, ask about recording with Patrick Carney of The Black Keys, ask how they compensate for the lack of a touring keyboard player, etc. It’s definitely cool to be able to ask musicians all of those obscure questions about a particular note in a guitar solo or how they recorded a certain song, but whatever you do, don’t approach a musician with any observation resembling, “Hey, you’re dat dude yo!” If you respect them, they’ll (most likely) be kind enough to talk to you. Also, remember that most of the people that these bands are meeting during SXSW are members of the music industry and are often times seeing band x play because they want to be seen or because they’ve been told they HAVE to. Believe it or not, if you spot someone you’re really excited to see play and tell them that you’re just a fan ready to watch them shred, it might just brighten their day and give ‘em a little extra umph in their show. Sadly, I didn’t get to accomplish my one goal during SXSW, which was high-fiving The Boss, Bruce Springsteen. However, a coworker of mine did spot Eric Clapton outside our front door and after realizing this, he decided to point this event out to Mr. Clapton and it went something like this…

“Hey dude, you probably get this all the time, but you look dead on like Eric Clapton…”

“Oh, uh, I am.” (Walks away)

“Oh, uh cool…”

Outstanding performance to all.

Don’t be afraid to experience something new

Above all else, SXSW is about randomly coming across shows featuring no-name bands from just about anywhere and being floored/amazed/terrified at what you hear and see. Sure, there are epically touted lineups of bands playing at mega-sponsored events throughout the week, but you’d be amazed at how many great shows you can end up seeing completely by chance. Now I’m not saying that you’re going to discover your new favorite band this way (although it’s definitely possible), but you’re almost guaranteed to experience something memorable and/or interesting. So to all you SXSW newbs out there that are thinking of checking out our fair town next year, just remember a few things: keep an open mind, stay energized, and prepare for, uh, some memories.

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