SXSW is not for the feint of heart. There are 10,000+ events packed into downtown Austin over the course of 10 days spanning tech, sports, comedy, film and music. In order to navigate and make sense of it all, you need someone who has been through a few of these wars to give you the best advice to ensure you have the best time possible. While this is a very condensed guide, you should find it useful no matter if you are a nOOb or a grizzled veteran. At the bottom, there are some very helpful resources to track everything you need to know about before hand or real time at SXSW. Enjoy…
Go to sh*t you REALLY want to see 30 minutes before you think you need to
Everyone and their mother thinks that if they stroll up an hour before their desired artist they will get in. NEWSFLASH: Everyone is thinking the same damn thing.
Just show up 90 minutes before, beat the line, get some free drinks and then laugh at everyone else. #SXSW EntryRevel
Orrrr go to sh*t really late
This is the other end of the spectrum. If there is a line to get in and you showed up early and it looks like the venue will hit capacity before you get in, then show up really late. A lot of people will leave the venues early since they have actual “work” to do the next day or they have been out drinking for the whole day/night. It’s a perfect time to swoop in, especially at the larger venues, as the best artists are hitting the stage and the bouncers are too tired to regulate.
SXSW is a complete clusterfuck scattered all throughout downtown/east/west Austin. Official parties, unofficial parties, badge only, RSVPs, local wristbands, public admission, company parties, guest passes, you name it. Make sure to plan ahead by using the official website to favorite the artists and events you want to see, check do512 to see which day parties you want attend, and most importantly where you can find free alcohol and food. Know where the hotspots are and some of the low key events you may want to attend that are eligible for the credentials that you have. Wandering around without any sort of plan can make things very frustrating.
I suggest a Google Sheet shared amongst friends with the events people are interested in. The more brain trust you have, the better your options will be. I also suggest a separate email for all the RSVP’s that you will need send in.
But Not Too Much
You don’t want to place too much stress on yourself and sometimes the best shows you will see happen to be the artists you had never heard of before after you popped into some random place that had music coming out of it
SXSW is all about finding new cool gadgets, new music artists, hanging with friends and just generally have a great time. Just because you aren’t into R&B doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Go check out a showcase for an hour. Walk around, grab some free swag and enjoy the sunshine.
Just Because It’s Free Doesn’t Mean You Need to Eat It, Drink It or Wear It
For 11 straight days (if you do Interactive, Film, Music), you will most likely be offered a ton of free food, alcohol and swag (primarily sunglasses). While it seems great at first, if you don’t want it or need it, just turn it down. You don’t need to be walking around like a walking billboard as if you whored yourself out to an ad agency. Save your dignity. Repping the next great failed app doesn’t make you look cool. And while you are at it, get rid of those GOD DAMN WRIST BANDS that every place gives you. You aren’t coming home from Spring Break.
But Still Make Sure To Get A Bunch of Free Sh*t…mainly alcohol
Definitely take advantage of the free alcohol. It feels nice that after all the Tito’s you have purchased over time, it pays a very small dividend in the form of SXSW drink tickets. I hope you enjoy those awful mixers that tend to accompany them though.
Take A Break
It’s a loooong couple of days. Each day, you should take a little break and get off the beaten path to relax. At least sit down at a bar or restaurant that isn’t dealing with the hectic nature of SXSW. Your legs and sanity will thank you.
Get some sort of credential or just stay away
This goes without saying. In my experience, having a local wristband or a badge is a much superior experience than braving it with no credentials. While probably overpriced, it will at least let you enjoy some of the premium events SXSW has to offer. If you choose to go the free route, make sure that you set absolutely no expectations so that when you inevitably end up at some crappy event that you could have been to without SXSW that you don’t write off the event.
Understand you are not going to get into everything you want to
This is a fact of SXSW. You will be very excited for a specific event or events that you WILL NOT get into. Just accept it now and move onto the next thing on your list of activities. Dwelling on not getting into that secret Lil Wayne show won’t literally kill you.
Limit your crew
People have different interests and credentials. If you need to break out from your crew to see something you want, go do it. Just understand if it’s at night, you likely won’t see them again. However, you will not get into shit with a crew of 15 people. Try to keep it light and if the vibe is good, let your friends know and perhaps you will get to meet up. It’s much easier to make decisions in a smaller group and understand you will get outvoted in some cases. Just roll with the punches and pick your battles.
Don’t complain about lines and/or crowdedness
Just don’t fucking do it. It will happen.
P.S. Here is a great list of resources