Know Why You're Going To SXSW
I will never understand why people go to SXSW to see the same big bands they've already seen or will have the opportunity to see in their hometown. Look, I get it, the biggest bands will have the largest crowds, but every time it feels like a group of zombies standing around and reassuring themselves they're witnessing something special because hundreds of people can't be wrong. One of the first things I do when planning what bands I want to see at SXSW is make three lists. 1.) Bands that I've seen before but love them so much I want to see again. 2.) Bands that I love because of their records and want to see live for the first time. 3.) Bands that I know little about but want to see if I should invest more time in. My goal at SXSW is to get a healthy balance of all three categories, and in previous years, it has always been a game plan that has allowed me to leave satisfied. Like with most things in life, if you leave Austin without learning something new, you've wasted a great opportunity.
Plan Your Nights Immediately
This is a tip only for those going to SXSW without a badge or wristband. You'll quickly learn that during the day, the world is your oyster. With tons of amazing free day parties, it's almost impossible not to find a great show. But being at SXSW without a badge is a bit like being Cinderella - at a certain point in the evening (usually 6:00 PM), the official SXSW shows take over, and everything turns back into a pumpkin. This isn't to say that there aren't still free non-badge events out there, but just that they're much harder to come by. What's worse, because so many people are looking for them, the lines go out the door and they're harder to get into. Before you spend a second trying to choose which mind blowing day party you will be attending, put a lot of time into finding three-four options for the night, and be prepared to plant at one of them instead of hopping around like during the day.
Go With The Flow / Stay In One Place
I made a rule last year that resulted in one of my more balanced SXSW's ever. I decided ahead of time that some days I would go on whims and some days stay put in a single location. There are positives with both. If you stay on the move, you're free to explore, free to try something new on the fly. Maybe you'll run into people heading to a show you didn't even know about and discover something totally amazing. By not committing to a rigid itinerary and instead going with the flow, SXSW becomes a big adventure. You'll meet new people, discover new bands, and fully embrace the spectacle that is this large festival. At the same time, hopping around is exhausting. I recommend picking two days where you know there will be a showcase that has a great mix between what you love and what you've never seen before. Plan on planting at those showcases, and giving yourself a low-key day or two to decompress. Everything slows down and you can really breathe and enjoy the music. I've done SXSW both ways - all out on a whim one year and all out just staying in one place every day the next. Take it from me and mix it up, but know before hand which days you'll be doing what.
Be A Good Audience Member
SXSW is prime for horrible concert etiquette. Everything seems to be in transition with people coming and going constantly, and it becomes easy to forget common courtesy. People will stream in and out of shows, creating a sense that all bets are off as far as respecting whoever happens to be on the stage. Well, they aren't. Remember when you enter a space where live music is playing to be respectful, not just for the band, but for the potential audience member who had been waiting years to see the said act on stage. You might enter a new space every hour, and those spaces might not feel as sacred as a venue at home with a set show, but I guarantee that at each show at least one fan will be dying in the front row... Don't take that moment away from them just because you randomly stumbled in. It will ultimately be paid back to you when you're front row and watching the band you're obsessed with. We all want to have fun and you don't want to be that person who ruins it, even if it's for just one person.
Bands. Remember Them.
We're a generation of music listeners who think everything is owed to us. This is exemplified at SXSW, where you can stumble around and see concert after concert without paying a cent... they even throw in free beer sometimes! Last year, I was devastated by how fans treated bands. As soon as a band/artist would announce their last song, crowds would stream out to get a jump on the next act they wanted to see. I get it, schedules are tight, but we're all there because of the music and it should be in the front of our minds at all times. There are two types of bands at SXSW. The first type is playing tons of shows and treated like cattle moving from one performance to the next. The second type are the bands that spend hundreds of dollars on gas and hotels just to play one, maybe two shows at SXSW. Both types deserve fans to let them know they're appreciated. Simply spending a little time after a performance and telling a band that put on a great show that they did well goes a long way during a week where most bands feel drained by the largeness of the festival. Buying a piece of merch at SXSW is like a golden ticket for a band because it cuts down their traveling costs and most importantly lets them know that someone cares about what they're doing. Music is why we're all going to Austin, let's not forget about the most important people there.
Come on out to the WLFY Day Party