A Guide to SXSW (with pictures!)

Full title: South by Southwest, thought it’s written out simply as “SXSW” and most everyone just calls it “South By.” Depending on your proximity to Austin and/or all things tech and pop culture you may never have heard of it, though it is fast becoming one of the biggest film, interactive, and music festivals in the world. Every March tens of thousands of people descend upon Austin and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy, and while plenty of those people pay for the conferences and events even more of them just show up for the days and days of free parties and music. Basically, SXSW is a big deal and SXSW is massive.

I actually moved to Austin in the middle of SXSW ’12, having never heard of it and having no idea why there were suddenly so many people downtown. I laid low that year but I caught on to what the festival was all about. SXSW ’13 even earned a mention in my blog last year, if only to say that I was entirely avoiding it. Big crowds + loud music = things not even remotely adjacent to my interests.

But seeing as it is a big deal and I do live in Austin, it seemed silly to avoid it forever, so it went on the 30 by 30 as one of those wildly-outside-my-comfort-zone resolutions: I would see a show at SXSW.



Step 1) The Metro. Expanded hours for SXSW means that public transportation here
is starting to approach actual usefulness and will give you the freedom to wander downtown
without having to worry about (mostly nonexistent) parking. Hurrah!



Step 2) Walk. Walk some more. SXSW is, like, 99% walking and standing
(in lines, at concerts, etc.) so comfortable shoes are pretty much essential.
To the woman above, I commend your style but I do not envy your feet.



Bikes are another option.


As is hopping a ride on one of the many, many pedicabs.


(for real, though, this one was the best)


Step 3) Watch the people. If you don’t at least give yourself some time to take in
the full cultural experience of SXSW, then you are really missing out.




This year, there was a march sponsored by Come And Take It Texas, which aims in part
to “Educate Texans on their right to openly carry shotguns and rifles in a safe manner.”

Personal opinions aside, it made for one of the more surreal moments of the festival.


[not pictured: the topless woman holding a sign that said "More Boobs, Less Guns"]




Step 4) See a show! That is, after all, what you’re here for (and the reason you’ve spent several hours
just this past week alone RSVP-ing to dozens of parties that you’ll never attend. That’s SXSW!)

So head on over to your first venue and hang out there awhile.




At least until it starts raining, and the electrified musicians have to cut the set short.


Ponder there, while waiting for the rain to clear, whether it will be worth staying for the next set.
Check your favorite artist’s Twitter and Facebook as well, hoping to get a lead on where they’ll be next.

Because this is SXSW, and being spontaneous is pretty much required.


After determining that if you leave right now, you’ll have just enough time
to catch their next show, head confidently in the direction of the venue.

And then, slightly less confidently, do an about-face when you realize that you’ve
been walking several blocks west when you should have been heading east.

(I mean, I’m not saying that you have to do it this way, but why mess with success?)


Arrive with just enough time to pick up your wristbands (and you didn’t think you’d be going to this party),
stand in a remarkably-short-for-a-Saturday-SXSW line, and…


…you’ve made it! That’s Kishi Bashi, right there on the stage in front of you,
totally amazing and totally free. Isn’t SXSW great?

Granted, a big part of the SXSW experience is to discover artists that you’ve never seen before
but sometimes if you’re very lucky – and have a very motivated SXSW-buddy -
you’ll get in to see someone you already know (and spend a lot of time dancing to in your car.)


And it will be awesome.


(Looking at him on stage, you’d assume his music would come out sounding a bit bluegrass. It so. does. not.)



The show is a blast and you love every minute of it.


Bonus performance: Lindsey Stirling!


Your SXSW goals fulfilled, you decide that now’s a good time to get off your feet and get some food.
You know that you’ve hit your max and you’re going to be pretty tired tomorrow, but still…

SXSW 2015 sounds like it could be fun.