so i just got back from a fabulous few days in austin, texas, where i achieved my bucket list dreams of attending the south by southwest music festival with my good college pal, gleni. and we had a BLAST eating, drinking, seeing almost 40 bands from wednesday through saturday. in that time, we developed a collective list of "10 sxsw commandments" that we think will be beneficial to future festival-goers (and us next year, because we're totally gonna try to make this an annual thing). enjoy!
1. thou shalt get free stuff.
calling sxsw a "free-for-all" is really no exaggeration. in fact, besides spending money for sit-down dinners, a few drinks and bartender tips, we often found ourselves realizing that we hadn't spent a cent by like 4pm every day. given the extremely high concentration of sponsored day parties with free beer and food, you can't swing a dead cat without being able to chow down and get liquored up for no cost. prime example - the free margaritas and food at the rachael ray party. i'm talking flank steak tost-achos, pulled pork tacos and chipotle sliders, people (see photo). it was highly depressing to go back to actually paying for things on monday. wahh wahh. also, work those connections! i never have any, but i tend to know well-connected people. thanks to gleni, we got into the badge-only barsuk showcase and badge-only sonicbids party fo' free, and drank in the VIP tent at the dig for fire lawn party. just sayin'.
2. thou shalt resist temptation to buy a badge.
despite my comment above about the badge-only thangs, SERIOUSLY IT'S NOT WORTH THE $700. those two events were rare in that nearly everything else we went to let us in, no badge, no wristband, no problem. i actually laugh now to think about the first night when we arrived and i meekly walked up to the bouncer of the showcase we had decided on. "do you need a badge?" "no, it's $8." works for me.
3. thou shalt stay hydrated.
one of my most-used words during the week was "WATER". a) you're walking and standing and all that jazz b) it's texas. it's hot. despite the fact that you're not sweating that much you're still getting totally parched. c) the alcohol combined with the heat can be a bad, bad thing. so thankfully, almost every venue has a huge water cooler that you can use for refills in between draaanks. or just ask the bartender. they get it.
4. thou shalt eat breakfast.
the fact that our hotel had amaaaazing TEXAS-SHAPED WAFFLES aside, even a habitual breakfast-skipper like me realized that i was going to need to fortify myself for each long day if i was going to survive. also, we really had no clue when we were actually going to eat next. so, dammit, we woke up by 9 every morning to make the continental breakfast...sleep be damned.
5. thou shalt sit down for dinner.
i was going to make this one "thou shalt wear comfortable shoes", but i'm not even sure your feet would make it out alive in even the comfiest of sneakers. seriously, my ankles and feet SWELLED UP. how does that even happen?! but i digress. the most appropriate plan of attack is to utilize benches and anything you can sit on during the day, and make sure you find a sit-down restaurant for dinner, even if it's super-casual. chances are that you ate your lunch from a truck, so it's important to rest the tootsies before the long night of showcase fun ahead of you.
6. thou shalt enjoy the weather.
omg i miss patios so much. while i guess it's typical for it to rain at least one day during sxsw, we had absolutely perfect weather every day we were there - sunny and 84 during the day, clear and probably in the high 60s at night. fortunately, while the festival is held in bars around downtown austin, you're not limited to dark dingy spaces - a bunch of the venues have patio or deck space for shows as well. try to go to some! you'll be reminiscing fondly on them when you're getting 4 inches of snow at the end of march upon your return (no, i'm not bitter). :)
7. thou shalt go with the flow.
with literally thousands of bands playing sxsw every year, plus hundreds of day parties, there's no possible way that you'd ever be able to see everyone and everything. gleni and i decided from the beginning that we would never let ourselves be in a place of "we're doing this, so we're missing that". and we definitely had a better time because of it! you should still make a schedule, if only to outline your options of who's playing when and where, so you can be prepared to decide what you feel like doing when that time comes. but stay open to random fun, too - we had thought that rachael ray party was invite-only, but wandered down to find out that they were letting just about anyone in. schweet!
8. thou shalt wear earplugs.
it may sound nerdy now, but your ears will be thanking you after you've seen about 10 million bands. even the cheap ones from walgreens or cvs will eliminate that terrible post-show ringing and if you have long hair (or some sort of shaggy 'do - you hipster, you) it'll cover the 'plugs with no one being the wiser if you're still embarrassed.
9. thou shalt make new friends.
sxsw, we determined, is a "rock 'n' roll summer camp by day, and rock 'n' roll mardi gras by night". and it's so true! in both of those situations, everyone's just out to have a great time and chat, and sxsw is no different. so talk to everyone - from bartenders to waiters, to shuttle drivers and passengers. ah, the shuttle. we had signed up for a shuttle from our hotel to and from downtown (dubbed the "drunk shuttle" at 2:30am) and it quickly became one of our favorite times. we took it once with a norwegian rock band who warned us not to be irish whores on st. patty's day, and another with a smart-ass san franciscan with whom i traded "that's what she said jokes", a wasted kid on the phone with someone he referred to as "drinking buddy" and more.
10. thou shalt tweet and update facebook statuses frequently.
f the jealous haters! sure, no one will respond to any of your tweets or updates, but they're reading them, and it's still important if only to keep a live blog of sorts with your adventures so you can remember them later. trust me, the 4 nights and 3 days become a big blur once you get to the end of them, so it's good to be able to look back for reference.