Saturday, March 1, 2014

SXSW - TO BADGE OR NOT TO BADGE? THAT IS THE QUESTION.

SXSW wristbands
SXSW RSVP Wristbands
South by Southwest is upon us again, a week of music that never sleeps. over 2,000 acts representing over 50 countries at over 100 venues as far as the eye can see.  It's a wasteland for music lovers, and for a week, Austin becomes the music center capital of the universe. Any band who is somebody or is on the cusp of breaking out is here while other bands fight to be noticed by the thousands who roam the streets looking for free beer.  It's a feeding frenzy for bands not backed by major labels, fighting to be noticed by the thousands who roam the streets.


For first time attendees, it could be a culture shock to find yourself in the middle of, what could be best described as ordered chaos. It's really an unbelievable sight to see so many people on 6th St which is lined with back-to-back bars; each one literally hosting bands 24-7.   For those music lovers attending SXSW for the first time, here are some tips you need to know if you're going.  


BADGES ARE FOR SUCKERS!


Red 7 at SXSW
Red 7 at SXSW
Badges runs about $700. Wristbands around $200.  Does this guarantee you into a show?  Nope. Think about it.  SXSW sells over 20,000 badges and wristbands combined.  You wanna see Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at The Belmont that holds abut 900 people?  Do the math. Although badge holders get priority, you can't just think "Hey, I'll just walk up to the venue 10 minutes before  Macklemore takes the stage at 11 pm."  Nope.  Most likely the venue is already full to capacity as soon as the doors are opened.  
SXSW Empire Automotive
SXSW Empire Automotive


If you're a die hard fan then maybe the badge and wristband are worth it. It just gives you that much more of a chance to get into your favorite show.  

DAY SHOWCASES

...are the key to watching your favorite artist perform.  The true 'official' SXSW shows happen after 6pm and are listed on the website along with the venues they're playing.  It's also the time of day that the streets begin to flood with people. Kids get out of school, others get off of work and make their way downtown.  If you didn't purchase a badge or wristband, chances are slim that you'll get into a venue to watch your favorite band.  Expect to stand in line as you watch VIPs and badge holders walk in ahead of you. 


SXSW Waterloo Records
Crowds line-up for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at Waterloo Records
If you want to watch your favorite band, catch them during the day. Most of the time, bands will perform as much as 8 times during the week. Half of that will be day shows which are all free with RSVP.  It's still gonna be crowded but you're chances of watching them are much better.  The hard part is finding out when and where they play.  Venues, bars or promoters such as Vans, Fader Fort, Spin, Filter and Waterloo Records will post their day shows on their website, Twitter, Faceobook, etc.  Flyers all over Austin will also be plastered all over Austin (especially the convention center).  


BINGING ON AS MUCH BANDS AS YOU CAN


SXSW Holy Mountain
SXSW Holy Mountain
My first year, I tried to see as much bands as I could. I even made an excel document that detailed times, venues and distance between places.  In an ideal world, you can catch every band you wanted to see on your list.  The problem?  Showcases run behind schedule.  All you need is one band to run late or play over their allocated time and your schedule is pretty much ruined.  So my suggestion?  Write down the bands YOU HAVE TO SEE and cross out the bands who you can see anytime and see the bands you know hardly ever tour or come into your town.  That will probably be your only chance to see them for cheap.  

SXSW is unique in that bands play more than once in a given week - often as much as 8 times in a week. So if your conflicted between watching two bands playing at the same time, chances are that you can catch one of them later in the day or later in the week. Check their Facebook page or twitter to find their schedule.  
SXSW Pedi cabs
SXSW Pedi cabs

Wear comfortable walking shoes.  Pedicabs are abundant so if you need to make that show across town at Waterloo Records, be prepared to bust out $10/each for a pedicab to rush get you there in time or expect to hoof it which could take you 10-30 minutes to walk to your next show. 

BIG ACTS VS. SMALL ACTS

So you hear Justin Timberlake is playing Friday and Prince just announced a show on Saturday.  Awesome!!!  Actually not so much.  These shows are often held in small venues and to get into the show requires winning a raffle-style lottery.   And another thing.  If you want to see these big named bands, expect to sit in line ALL DAY just to get a good seat in the house.

Another example, for instance, is Perez HIlton's One Night In Austin show held every year. Although very popular, this event is put on for charity - usually for the VH1 Save the Music Foundation and the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network where tickets are sold for $20-$75 for guaranteed entrance. In the past, the event hosted acts like Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Katy Perry, Florence + the Machine and Mary J Blige.  It's one of the most highly anticipated shows of the week. The problem? Yep, you guessed it. It's not an official SXSW show so you need to purchase a separate tickets.  Sorry Badge and wristband holders.  You're out of luck...again.
SXSW showcase posters
SXSW showcase posters
But the true music fan will go out in search of something new. This is what SXSW is all about - discovering small up-and-coming bands before they become huge.  During the day, you can also find lots of showcases taking place in parking lots, rooftops and/or storefronts that are hosting parties that are free.  Sometimes, walking in and discovering a new band without prior knowledge of a bands is exciting.  And wouldn't it be a cool story to tell one day that you saw the next  HAIM, Strokes or Foster the People in a rinky-dink bar.  SXSW is probably the only time you can just walk up to an artist and just talk to them before or after a show so take advantage of that.  


FREE FREE EVERYWHERE
SXSW Empire Control Room

SXSW rooftop showcase

Good news is that there are a lot of free shit - beer, alcohol and food. You just have to know where to look.  Last year's Hype Hotel gave out two free drink tickets and Taco Bell all day and local beer breweries sponsor showcases and give out free beer while sexy Monster Energy Drink girls walk the streets handing out free samples.  These are just a sample of free stuff given out during the week.  A good site to check out is http://do512.com/free for free stuff.  


SXSW parking lot showcase


JUST HAVE FUN

Of course, the best way to experience SXSW is just to go bar hopping, relax, drink and enjoy the music.  There will be a lot of out-of-towners (from out of state and even from other countries). Make new friends and maybe they'll recommend some cool new bands for you to listen to and you can return the favor.  
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