SXSW For Dummies: Keep That Beer In Your Pocket
Yes, that's Superbad's Michael Cera playing bass with Mister Heavenly at Bat Bar (wherever that is) Tuesday.
Photos by Stacy Schwarz
See more SXSW silliness from Tuesday in our slideshow.
It's time: this week, hordes of bands and interlopers will descend upon Austin and do their best to take it over, raging as hard as possible and filling the gutters with puke. So it'll be pretty normal for Austin, except for the swelled population.
The secret to SXSW is simply surviving it - by all means, enjoy the party. However, if Sunday rolls around and the seemingly endless hangover has erased all memory of the amazing bands that were seen, well, that doesn't do anyone any good. A pickled liver is a poor trophy to bring home, if it's the only thing brought back. Heck, it's about as useful as a Grammy.
That said, here are some time-tested tips to maximizing the SXSW experience.
The SXSW badge pickup area will not be this empty by the time you get there.
1. Plan, but don't plan. Track down one of the giant amalgamations of shows, and make up a schedule - some recognizable bands, labels, free booze or food: it doesn't matter what drives the decisions. Carrying around a paper copy of the day and night parties at Showlist Austin http://showlistaustin.com/ works well, or be fancy and slap it on that smartphone with Sched. http://austin2011.sched.org/ Don't feel bound to stick to that schedule, however.
2. Don't stand in line, doofus. Seriously, there are thousands of bands and hundreds of shows to be seen. Sure - wait in line all day just to crack the door at Stubb's by the time the day-party headliner takes the stage. That's fun, right? Forget that crap, and slip into any show anywhere. If for some reason that doesn't work, head to the next one. That's the beauty of this million drunk march - bands are everywhere, and the opportunity to take home a few new favorites is there.
3. Only pay for booze in extreme circumstances. Free booze is everywhere, especially during the day. It's completely possible - and acceptable - to drink from 11 a.m. until 4 a.m. each day. Start with the day parties featuring mimosas or bloody Mary's, then move through some of the other free liquors and beers.
Know that there will be plenty of Tito's Vodka, Lone Star, Dos Equis, and probably Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka available, plus a new wine or three that are either a) a celebrity's new vanity label; or b) benefiting charities. Bonus points are awarded for each bottle of wine snuck out in your bag. The quickest way to get drunk is usually on whatever new product is being promoted, but the Helldorado is always waiting at The Jackalope in a pinch.
4. Get off Sixth Street. Most of the bustle is downtown, on Austin's infamous Sixth Street or the surrounding blocks. Pockets of shows are everywhere, though - and the outliers are often full of smaller bands, copious booze, and less douchebags. Plenty of spillover happens east of I-35 now, and the stretch on South Congress has been happening for ages. A good cluster of shows happens around The Drag as well. Don't expect to take a cab from spot to spot, though.
5. Bring a bike. A bike is nearly essential for the experienced SXSW attendee looking to hit multiple locations. It is one of the clutch decisions that takes SXSW from a stellar experience to legendary - shows on the east side, South Congress, or The Drag are now mere minutes away - which means more time for listening to music and drinking, drinking, drinking.
It sucks walking from the Jackalope to Waterloo Records and back, so use some wheels. Don't be the dipshit trying to ride through the crowd on Sixth, though. Pro tip: Get a good lock, because bike thieves are always looking for easy picks.
The Civil Wars play Saturday at McGonigel's Mucky Duck after a string of SXSW shows.
6. Carry cash. Simply put, it's the most efficient way to pay for everything. Closing out tabs will take forever, and it's the only way to get in a paid entry show. Cash also comes in handy at Flatstock, the awe-inspiring poster convention inside the Austin Convention Center. Don't be fooled, Flatstock is accessible sans SXSW credentials, so get some artwork for those walls.
7. Tip your damn bartender. They are busting their ass trying to pop caps and pour drinks as fast as possible, so be kind enough to slip a dollar in the tip jar. That beer is free anyway, so don't be a complete cheapskate. Pro tip: Stranded in Austin with no money, but have bartender friends? Work a beer well for a couple hours if possible to earn some dough.
8. When taking a roadie, be discreet. Sneaking a beer out in a back pocket is fine. Riding that bike past three cops, while holding the beer in hand so it doesn't spill out of said back pocket - not too smart. Contrary to popular belief, it's possible to get ticketed for public intoxication on a bike.
9. No show is impossible to enter. When nighttime rolls around, the official showcases take over much of the downtown scene, and the wristband-less masses are left with fewer free options. While badges and wristbands offer premium access, it's still possible to see the packed shows. After all, where there's a will, there's a way. Whether that means sneaking in a back door, or palming 20 bucks for a bouncer, or faking a foreign accent and bluffing press credentials, any show can be the one you see.
10. Meet people. Keep in mind, though, that adopting a persona or accent to talk to the cute girl means holding to it all night - or at least until the next show. It takes commitment to the character to really pull this off, but pretending to be in a band from Liverpool really isn't that hard. Pro tip: If the girl is from Dallas, then staying in character doesn't matter.
11. Have an emergency contact. Joyrides in limos at 4:30 a.m. are fun, but a stressed-out driver from Missouri and five people screaming directions at him is not. Neither is slumping in the convention center parking garage at 5:30 a.m., whimpering away those last shreds of dignity because you left your car keys in the VIP section of the Purevolume house.
Make sure there's someone to call when everything goes wrong, because it just might. 'Tis better to crash in the corner of someone's room at the Hilton than pass out on the hood of said car, or worse yet, slumped against the tree with a locked bike on Sixth Street.
Finally, don't slam the whole festivities into one night, lest the following day be completely hampered by hangovers and shame. Or do, and see what happens. After all, it's just a big party anyway.