South By Southwest has arrived, prompting the small annual pilgrimage of Dallas music fans making the road trip to Austin. For the record, there is more than enough good music in Dallas this week to keep anybody happy. But if the lure of all the bands, buzz, and focus group-tested “weird” is too strong for you to resist, you should go prepared. Here are five tips for the Dallas music fan to survive (and hopefully enjoy) a trip to the music portion of SXSW, which kicked off Tuesday.
1. Find the free stuff. Whether it’s music, beer, or the very typical occurrence of a party featuring both, there’s plenty of the free variety to be found at SXSW. The festival has helpfully compiled a list of some free showcases, and if you spend any amount of time exploring, you’ll find a good deal more. Because 2015 is a great time to be alive, there is, of course, a Twitter account that provides a never-ending stream of all the free things to do. Free beer is a little more elusive, but just keep your eyes peeled. It’s out there, I promise.
You don’t need to sell your house to afford a badge for South By, just be prepared to RSVP a lot and have a fake email address ready to give to the marketing people. It’s also an inevitability that you’re going to be bombarded with mixtapes and whatever new energy drink is getting leveraged this year, if you’re into either of those things.
2. Befriend the locals. If you’re reading this now, the time to find an affordable hotel room anywhere near SXSW has long since passed. If you live in Dallas, odds are good you know some ex-pats in Austin, so now’s the time to butter them up and brace yourself for a couple of days of couch-camping. It beats sleeping in a car. Things on Airbnb out there also look pretty reasonable, and it’s a little less anxiety-inducing than rolling the dice on Craigslist. I’m not saying it’s ideal, but will say that I have used both services in lieu of a hotel in different cities, and was not axe-murdered by a psychopathic host either time. They were actually really, really nice.
Also, be nice to the Austinites. I’m sure they don’t like the crowds any more than we do, and they haven’t kicked us out yet.
3. Make a shortlist of the bands you really want to see. There’s too much to do, and you’re not going to do it all. Come to terms with that early on. The full official schedule makes me go cross-eyed, but you can narrow it down by genre or by particular acts you want to see. Lines and packed venues are going to be a fact of life for most of the bigger or buzzier bands, so either get to know the people around you or bring somebody you enjoy shooting the breeze with. Sticking to an itinerary isn’t the coolest thing to do, and I would never advise you do something uncool. But don’t miss your favorite band because you were waiting in line at a juice bar for a secret Kanye West performance only to find out it was Kanye’s less-famous cousin, Kanye East (not a real person, definitely a real lazy joke).
4. Spend some time winging it and just stop by a show. There’s going to be a band playing on every corner in Austin, and it’s worth moseying around to see if you find anything ear-catching. If you stop at a bar and aren’t impressed, move along. Musicians have thick skins, and you’re probably not hurting their feelings. Your new favorite band might be playing a secret gutter show off 6th Street.
5. Hydrate. You’re going to be walking around a lot, and all that music and beer (see No. 1) can be exhausting. The buddy system and other traditional adventuring safety tactics are important, but hydration is key. Have fun out there.