Sometimes I forget to realize that not everyone knows about SXSW. Maybe some people think it’s a vacation resort that hands out oval decals? Maybe they think it’s a sport? Possibly an airport? Before you get SXSW confused with OBX or LAX, let me be kind enough to explain (and fear not my friends, no question is a stupid question. I promise not to roll my eyes at you like the kid in tight jeans working the CD section at Best Buy):
SXSW, stands for South by Southwest, and believe me, the abbreviation is a lifesaver. Could you imagine having to type out South By Southwest a couple thousand times (talk about carpal tunnel)? SXSW (see how easy that is) is a music and media conference held yearly in Austin, TX. It begins with a film festival, followed by four intense days of music (Wednesday-Saturday). Originally, afternoons were used for attending music conferences and panel discussions, while the evening hours were reserved for taking in live performances from various up-and-coming bands. In the last few years though, it seems like acts –of all different stature and genres–are playing morning, noon, and night.
SXSW doesn’t have one main stage, instead, there are various venues in which artists perform. Upon your first visit to the festival, you’ll be asking yourself, “How does Austin squeeze so many live music venues into such little space?” It’s probably the only time in your life you can walk a total of five blocks and see three of your favorite bands in one night.
If you are attending your first SXSW this year, or planning a trip to the festival sometime in the future, here are some helpful tips:
Gotta start your day off right. A lot of the hotels in town have a good breakfast, but my favorite is still Las Manitas–an authentic Mexican diner that serves up huevos rancheros and freshly squeezed orange juice. It’s a bit pricey (for well-made cheap Mexican food), but every morning you’re guaranteed a tasty meal and the chance of seeing a handful of bands. It closes in the afternoon, so get there early.
The Pocket Guide
After checking into SXSW, you’ll be given a large canvass bag packed to the brim with sampler CD’s, magazines, flyers, and odd trinkets. Make sure there’s a “pocket guide” in there. This handy publication fits nicely into your back pocket, and includes a layout map of downtown and a complete music schedule. If you lose your pocket guide, you’ll be forced to refer to the official guide–which will not fit nicely into your back pocket.
Lots of good BBQ in Austin–take your pick. I’m a fan of Iron Works, not only because you get served cafeteria style (plastic tray and all), but they also serve the biggest ribs I’ve ever seen.
During the past few years, the “surprise show” has become all the rage at SXSW. This poses one big problem for the concertgoer–it’s a surprise–so you don’t know when or where the surprise band is playing. A couple years ago the Beastie Boys were rumored to be playing a surprise gig at SXSW. I talked to all my contacts, kept my ear to the street, and was still misinformed. Early in the evening I got a frantic call from one of my friends, “Beasties are playing at Stubb’s in fifteen minutes.” I managed to catch the show, but the fifteen-minute sprint across town was a tad stressful. Unfortunately (for the uninformed), the surprise matinee show is starting to become more popular at SXSW. Nothing I can tell you here–you just gotta get the right information from the right people.
The La Zona Rosa Dilema
Most of the venues in Austin are very close to each other, but La Zona Rosa is one of the few that’s a bit isolated. If you want to catch a 9PM set at La Zona Rosa, just know that you’ll probably miss a good portion of the 10PM show at any other SXSW venue. Is it worth it? That’s the La Zona Rosa Dilema.
Not Too Loud With The Name Drops
Last year I made the mistake of seeing former-120 Minutes pal Matt Pinfield at a restaurant and excitedly yelled across the dining room, “Hey Matt! What’s going on?” I didn’t realize that 30 people would turn in unison and proceed to grill the music master (shouting out Pinfield’s name at SXSW is like dropping “Chris Berman” at a sports broadcaster’s convention). If I see Matt this year, I’ll be more covert when saying hello. Otherwise he may not get to eat.
The Line at Stubb’s
Stubb’s hosts more of the bigger-profile shows at SXSW. In order to beat the long lines, you usually have to get there an hour early. This Wednesday, if you really want to see R.E.M. at midnight, you’ll have to miss all of the 11PM performances (the La Zona Rosa Dilema in reverse). Are you willing to make that sacrifice?
Hopefully this is implied.