South-by-Southwest 2012 (or, if you’re cool, “South-by,” as we soon discovered from the veterans), ended in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, March 18. I was in bed before this point, but that’s because I almost got puked on as I was walking out of a show at a great bar/club called Mohawk. It was St. Patrick’s day, and the merging of drunk hipsters show-hopping and drunk Austinites bar-crawling was a little too much for me. But I’m a wimp. Other members of WLFM were out partying until the festivities dwindled down, and trust me, there was still plenty for them to be doing. The group !!! was playing a show on the Doritos Stage while Nas was supposedly performing Illmatic at a stage that I’m sure was nearly impossible to get into (hey, life’s a bitch). If this all sounds incredible to you, that’s because it was. Don’t take my early sleepage as a sign that there was not enough to do at SXSW. If anything, there was too much.
Here are some of my general musings about SXSW-
Shows: I know this sounds dumb, but there were a lot of shows at South-by-Southwest. So. Freaking. Many. Any music lover’s first reaction is to try and see as many as possible in the four days that South-by hosts the music portion of the convention. By all means, try and see a lot of music. Just don’t get disappointed if it doesn’t work out. What I mean is, SXSW is not a festival. It’s a convention, and it’s a totally different experience than a festival. If you approach it like it’s a festival you may end up not seeing any music at all and just drinking and people-watching for four days. Know that it is way easier to get into shows if you have a wristband or badge. If I didn’t have a wristband, I probably would have had a crappy time. The wristbands allow you to cut in line, to get into shows that not everyone has access to, and honestly, to feel important. It sets you apart from the average show-goer. It makes you look serious. I was proud to have the wristband, because I am serious about seeing good music, and being around people who are serious about seeing good music. Case in point: I waited in the Fader Fort (an event that required an RSVP-I’ll get to that later), for 5 hours, sitting through sets by bands that I had never heard of while smoke was getting blown in my face so that I could watch Nicolas Jaar play a 25-minute set. If that isn’t dedication, I don’t know what is. Did I miss a lot of shows during the time that I was waiting? Yes. But if I would have been out seeing other shows, I would have run the risk of missing Nicolas Jaar’s set because the line at Fader would have been so long (a special “secret” artist was scheduled to come on after Jaar, which was what many of the smoke-blowers were waiting around to see. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out who it was). I knew it would be worth it, because Jaar was the one artist I was absolutely committed to see, and since I had missed his Pitchfork set, I knew this would be my last opportunity (it was 25 minutes of shear brilliance, by the way).
Did I see a lot of shows while at SXSW? No, I didn’t. A lot of it was due to the fact that I approached this whole thing like it was a festival; a fun party in a park where music is handed to you on a platter. It’s not that. It’s more like a mission to see music that you really care about. If you plan on going to SXSW I would recommend this course of action: plan out your schedule down to the very last show, even if you are not a planning kind of person. Find out what street every show is on. Remember, it takes over the better half of a city, and in some cases you’re going to have to walk several city blocks or take a taxi or find a bicycle dude to take you from Show A to Show B. Also, if you plan on trying to go see a hundred shows, I would reconsider. Choose a few. Choose the ones that are worth it, that you’re really committed to standing in line for for a couple hours to see (sometimes even those with wristbands had to wait in line). RSVP for the parties where the shows you want to see are going to be. This is a little hard to explain, but just know that in advance of SXSW there are parties posted on the internet that you have to RSVP to. You can pretty much get in as long as you RSVP and show up early. Earlyness is a big thing. Get there early, dude. Stick it out. It’ll be worth it.
Unofficial Shows: Be wary. I left a stage where Grimes was going to play in an hour because there was an unofficial show at a place called the 21st Street Co-Op where Dan Deacon, Andrew W.K., Doldrums, Grimes herself, and Maps and Atlases were all scheduled to show up. It seemed like the better deal, but in the end, I didn’t end up seeing any show that night. We waited outside the Co-Op for 2 hours where I proceeded to get drunker and angrier as I realized that we weren’t going to get in (we were later told that the line to get in exceeded 300 people). I took a risk for something that seemed like it was going to be better, but then ended up not getting anything at all. Stick to the shows where the press wristband holds some weight, because at least then the people who will be telling you that you can’t get into the show aren’t just some college kids who live in a Co-Op.
Promoters: (Skip this section if you don’t work at a radio station and don’t know what promoters are). If you want a way to get some free food, go to some cool parties, and get into RSVP shows without an RSVP, it would be a good idea to talk to the promoters before you go to SXSW. Let them know you’re going to be there, give them your number, get their number, and doors will open for you. Plus, it’s really fun to meet the people that you’ve been emailing/talking to on the phone for months, wondering what they look like in person. I got invited to a party by Rupam from AAM at a bar called Icenhauer’s. I still haven’t met Rupam (does he really exist?), but I know he was there. I did end up meeting one of my favorite promoters, Jenn Misko aka “The Band Mom,” at this same party, and kept in contact with her for a good portion of the festival. I also met Ruben from Hardly Art, who looked pretty indifferent to meeting me, haha. It’s a really cool opportunity to make some contacts in radio land, especially if you plan in getting a job at a radio station after school.
Being 21: I guess this wasn’t really a problem for me, because I am 21, but for those of you who aren’t 21, just know that things are going to be slightly difficult for you. They card almost everywhere you go, which sucks for minors, but it makes sense. The bars hosting the shows need to make money off of you buying drinks, since most of the shows are free. If shows aren’t 21+ a lot of the time you will end up paying a cover charge.
Food: Might want to talk to someone else at the station about how to eat cheaply. I spent the majority of my spending money at the Whole Foods truck because I am a pretentious food fuck/vegetarian.
Hipsters: South-by is basically two weeks of the year where counter culture gets to use culture’s stuff for a bit. Case in point: The Austin Convention Center was taken over by American Apparel vendors at several points during the convention. It seemed a little weird, like a porno being watched in a church or something. But it was great. I love hipsters. I am one, but not really, not compared to the average SXSW-goer. I looked pretty tame compared to 90% of the people there. It was some of the best people-watching I have ever experienced. If you thought Pitchfork was hipster, think again. This was the real deal. (Completely unrelated side-note: A fashion-blog photographer for WGSN Fashion took my picture for the blog. I guess a small town midwestern girl can stand up to the big-city hipsters after all).
Austin: This is a really cool place, I decided.
- The people there are well-dressed. Yes, this is something that’s important to me. Get over it. I am sick of Green Bay Packer sweatshirts and mullets. Have a little more self-respect.
- There are a lot of young people. Also a plus. Old people are obnoxious.
- There is good food. Whole Foods was frickin’ started in Austin, man. Also, I ate out with my friend Maggie at a place called Polvo’s where my meal consisted of fried bananas, beans, tortillas and rice on eggs over-easy. For breakfast.
- It is warm. And humid. Goddamn I love humidity.
- The people are really nice, and helpful, and polite. Perhaps this is just a southern thing, but it was waayyy different from Milwaukee in this respect, and it was a breath of fresh air.
- There is good music. Clearly, as it hosts SXSW. Also, we found several cool record shops.
- It’s a cool mix of new and old. The Austin Historic District, which took up like half of 5th Street, looked very authentically Mexican, and the new part doesn’t look douchey or tacky (Dallas, on the other hand…).
- It’s pretty! There is a river, and some pretty nice parks.
- It is biker and public transportation-friendly.
The only bad thing about Austin: It’s in Texas. This means that as soon as you step out of the city, you’re in…Texas. Yeah, Texas.
Navigating the city: As cities go, Austin is pretty easy to navigate. If you’re a suburban kid like me I would recommend figuring out the buses and stuff before-hand. I think a lot of the reason I didn’t make it to as many shows as I wanted to was because I really don’t know how to find my way around a city. And I don’t know how to read a map. Like, literally, I don’t know up from down on a map. Or, you know, have a Smart Phone. That helps too.
20-hour car rides: Really not that bad, as long as you’re with people who listen to good music, or, at least, like to argue about good music.
If I was Pitchfork I’d give SXSW a 9.2. Except not really, because that’s what Big Boi’s Sir Luscious Leftfoot got, and I would have given that a 10. So I guess I would give South-by-Southwest a 10. I had a great time. You should go. Everyone should go. It’s a great place to be a hipster, listen to good music, and be around good people. I was honored to be the in the first round of WLFM employees to go and scout it out. Hopefully we can be like ORC and keep getting tons of money for this shit every year. Because I think in the end going to a music convention and listening to good music is more productive than getting high and taking hikes. Even though I like taking hikes.