Recent convos, shows of hands and blips in my Facebook news feed show a great many of you are making your own maiden voyages to Austin this year, many of you asking me for tips on how to make the most of this subcultural clusterfuck with minimal resources. This ain’t my first rodeo. In fact, it’s my fifth. The opposite of what I’m about to impart to you is best summed up by anonymous commenter “whatevs” at 3:27 p.m. on March 11, 2008:
“uh yeah. good luck with that. youve obviously never been to sxsw. you think youre gonna get free beer? a good time?
the joke is on you buddy.”
I’ve been waiting four years to publicly call that fool a dingus. However, reading it now, digesting its tone in hindsight, his or her intentions may have very well been facetious.
Chances are, you’re either on your way, packing your bags or wasting precious time before embarking upon the 900-mile trek — or two-hour flight (pansy). In any case, it’s a bit late in the game, but not too late, for the first step in the process: homework. Websites like Austinist, Austin360, RSVPster and a horde of others that you can uncover simply by Googling “SXSW 2012,” “unofficial,” “free,” etc., will deliver lists upon lists of bands you can see, food you can eat, and beer you can drink — all for free. I’m not gonna lie. It’s overwhelming to say the least. Most of them require you to RSVP. Some check the RSVP list, some don’t. But you should RSVP just in case.
Which parties should you RSVP to? ALL of them. Literally, all of them that you can. You never know where the wind will take you in this hipster hurricane, and if you heed my advice, you’re not likely to be denied access anywhere.
I'm in Austin. Now what?:
If you followed the instructions above, you’re probably asking yourself, “Um ... can I really see Bear in Heaven, Built to Spill and Pictureplane for free while eating complimentary BBQ beside an open bar?”
The answer is yes and no. These are free shows that anyone can attend. It may sound too good to be true, but the fact is, sometimes, it’s too true to be good. Gravy’s Law says, “If everyone can go, everyone will go.” Hence, unless you show up at 10:30 a.m., you’ll be met with a line that wraps around the block and all that booze and grub will be depleted by the time you’re in.
Pick your battles. You can’t have your cake and listen to buzz-worthy indie rock, too. Keep your eyes and ears peeled. Believe it or not, those hyped-up flavors of the month aren’t the only bands playing this monstrosity (chances are, they’re going to play Mercy Lounge at some point this year anyway), and these aren’t the only day parties doling out free shit. There are literally a thousand parties trying to lure you in with a cold one and a taco. If you’re hungry, find the one that sounds the worst. If the Welsh Folk Rock Appreciation Society Day Party sounds bloody awful, you’re on the right track. The club will probably be empty, leaving you with a buffet table and open bar all to yourself. By the time your belly is full and you’ve got a buzz on, the lines at those other, trendier parties will be much shorter.
At night, your options are hell of a lot more limited, as most of the showcases are official and require a badge, wristband or money. Fear not: There are still free shows. Hell, they’ll still have free booze, but you will still have to wait in lines to get to them. However, at this point, you’ll have nothing better to do. Your VIP friends may be watching this year’s Sleigh Bells or that amazing legendary band that just got back together and is playing a super-secret gig on the roof of the Owl Building — but they’re definitely paying for drinks at this point.
Pick the bus over a cab. It goes everywhere and it costs like $2. Better yet, bring a bike, throw it on the bus for those longer treks, and get everywhere 10 times faster. Your legs and feet will thank you. Even if you drove your car to Austin, bussing it will save you from the nightmare of parking your car downtown
Smart phones will save your life. Twitter can keep you abreast of any free shit that slipped past your radar. GPS will guide you to the next venue in time to catch the last 15 minutes of your second- and third-choice bands.
* If there’s any band you simply can’t miss — show up early.
* 10 a.m. is a perfectly acceptable time to start drinking in Texas.
* Bring a backpack. T-shirts, stickers, condoms, CD’s, matchbooks, soft drinks and every other variety of SWAG imaginable will be thrown at you every five minutes, and you’re going to need something to haul it in.
* Need shelter? Need to take a nap or charge your phone or something? The Austin Convention Center is your friend. It’s conveniently located and they let you hang out for as long as you want.