SXSW 2015 Preview Pt. 2 | Survival

austin sqAs someone who has attended most SXSWs since I moved to town in the early 90s, I’ve developed strategies that have worked well enough for me.




6th STREET – AUSTIN (photo courtesy Austin Convention Visitors Bureau)

As someone who has attended most SXSWs since I moved to town in the early 90s, I’ve developed strategies that have worked well enough for me. Some of them are fairly standard, obvious even, but it’s worth having a few mantras to return to once the week’s mania kicks in. Have a plan, but be flexible. I tend to go with spreadsheets, myself, although the SXSWsocial apphelps to plan official night showcases. There are thousands of acts in town. Have a sense of who you want to see, and prioritize. There are only a few artists every year that I absolutely commit myself to, by hook or by crook. Apart from that, be aware that even a badge will not always be sufficient to get you into the most coveted shows. If a line outside a gig gives you second-thoughts, don’t hesitate to move on to your back-up show. Always have backups. And by all means, keep your ears and eyes open. Be ready to throw your entire plan out the window if you run into someone at the bratwurst stand who can’t stop raving about some must-see band from Greenland. And, yes, there are bands from Greenland. In terms of getting into the shows you expect to be in demand, it helps to show up an act or two before the one you really have your eye on. Most of the badgeholders plan their evening set-to-set rather than spending a significant amount of time in a single venue.


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Seek variety. You could probably do a SXSW that is all death metal bands or East Coast hip-hop or 90s nostalgia, but the glory of SXSW is that everyone is here at once. This is your time to see those seasoned veterans who were there when rock began alongside the next big thing together with international acts that rarely play dates in the states and an array of Texas-based bands giving their all, upping their game to show what we’re made of. Mix and match accordingly.

Day parties. What’s really fed the explosion in SXSW crowds, often to the chagrin of festival officials, has been the rise of sponsored day parties throughout the city that rival the nighttime showcases. Just about every act who plays an official showcase in the evening will also perform two, three, or twelve more times throughout the week, typically for free, at a day party. Figure these into your game plan, as they allow you to drastically increase the range of acts you can see, especially if there are scheduling conflicts at night. They often come with the bonuses of free food, drink, or miscellaneous swag. Some of my favorite ongoing day parties include the Bloodshot Records shindig at Yard Dog, a folk art gallery on South Congress ( ); the South by San Jose at the San Jose Hotel a few blocks north of Yard Dog ( ); and Roky Erickson’s Ice Cream Social at Threadgill’s a few blocks north of that ( ). Sixth Street is also a fair place to wander where you can have access to a range of venues with free music during the day. is my preferred reference to keep on top of this ever-expanding and constantly changing landscape.

Know your real estate. Part of the planning involves knowing how quickly you can get between any two venues. In some parts of the city, it’s easy. In others, a bit trickier. The SXSW activity grid might be broken up into a few distinct districts. Downtown there’s West Sixth Street and Red River, Fourth Street and the Warehouse District, Rainey Street, and East Austin (primarily East Sixth and East Eleventh). Most of this is walkable, although if you have a 10:00 show in East Austin and an 11:00 show in the Warehouse district, a pedicab or car might be worthwhile. There are also venues along South Congress, which is a bit further afield, but theoretically walkable in a half-hour or so from the middle of downtown. In terms of SXSW venues, some outliers include the Saxon Pub on South Lamar and the George Washington Carver Center on Rosewood in East Austin. These are great spots, but it will take a little longer to get there and away. And seeking variety goes for venues as well as acts. This is a great opportunity to experience a range of spaces where live music happens in Austin. Some of the most wondrous performances transpire in the downtown churches—St. David’s and Central Presbyterian. Go to the Red River punk dives as well as our indie flagship, the Mohawk. Check out the vast Moody Theater where Austin City Limits is filmed and great retro spots like the Continental. Or the Driskill Hotel, built by a cattle fortune and with an appropriately uber-Texan bar to match. LBJ went on his first date with Lady Bird there. And, though they aren’t official venues, I also recommend dropping in on one of the country-western dance halls or honky tonks: The venerable Broken Spoke on South Lamar, tiny-but-friendly Ginny’s Little Longhorn on Burnet, or the cool new kid on the block, East Austin’s White Horse.

bbqIf you heed the barbecue siren, know what you’re getting into. Nearly every dispatch from SXSW over the next week will carry a compulsory reference to barbecue and tacos. Yes, Austin over the past few years has become, arguably, the epicenter of Texas barbecue. It is fantastic. Manna from heaven. However, if you’re going for the top shelf, centrally located stuff (Franklin! La Barbecue! Mueller! Micklethwait! Kerlin!), you’re likely also looking at a line a few hours long that will take you out of the SXSW loop for a while. So, know what you’re getting into. Also, if you do brisket and ribs right, you’re going to need a nap, which only adds to the downtime. If barbecue is on your must-do list and you don’t feel like tailgating for it, you may want to head a little out of the center of things for barbecue that is in the same league, but not always on tourists’ radar. Stiles Switch on North Lamar is great for this. Live Oak in East Austin can also meet the hankering. Stubb’s has figured out how to serve quickly in the midst of the madness. Should Austin and SXSW get to be overwhelming, nearby but out-of-town barbecue destinations include Lockhart, Taylor, and Elgin. Or, try tacos. They’re more convenient all-around, and satisfying. Jason D. Mellard

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