Forget Coachella and Bonnaroo -- SXSW might be the year's wildest music festival. With thousands of bands spread over hundreds of stages (and backyards, parking lots and Lance Armstrong's bike shop), planning a schedule is a Herculean feat. Fortunately, having a good time is much easier. As a veteran SXSW attendee, blogger and day party-thrower, here are my tips for making your trip to Austin the best week of the year.
Don't Pay For Anything
Already got a badge or a wristband? Great, you're all set for the official evening showcases and the panel discussions at the Austin Convention Center. But if you're rolling without one, don't fret: just head to the dozens of completely free unofficial parties happening alongside the SXSW-sponsored events. You'll find day parties happening generally from noon to 6 p.m. and the evening events kicking off around 7 -- check sites including Sched.org and Do512 for exhaustive lists.
SXSW has become a sponsorship paradise, for better or worse, so most of the unofficial parties will offer some combination of free alcoholic drinks, healthy water and juice options and even free BBQ or Ben & Jerry's. Plan ahead, and you won't spend a dollar -- except on bartender tips. Blogger Mollie Moore has put together a thorough list of some of this year's free options.
Except For Tacos
Make the trip down South Congress and eat a meal at Guero's, and head farther out to one of Torchy's Tacos' several locations. And don't miss the opportunity to pick up dinner at Home Slice Pizza, a restaurant whose pies make New York and Chicago blush.
When to RSVP
Many parties claim to be free with an RSVP, but many use it as a way to score your email address and won't be checking the list on the day of. Others will, though, so it's worth taking a half-hour now and signing up for anything special -- just in case. And remember, you can be on all the lists in the world, but they won't help you get into a capacity venue.
Use Your Network
The best way to get into a busy event (and they're all busy events) is to know someone on the inside -- a band or the event holder. Make sure you've exchanged numbers and they're expecting your text so they can sneak you in the back. Oh, and bring your phone charger.
Find a Home Base
Four-day parties are the new one-day parties, so if you're overwhelmed with options, you might want to make yourself at home at the Hype Machine Hotel, the Fader Fort or another weeklong event full of great bands and free booze.
Gotta Catch 'Em All
Almost every band will be playing multiple times during the festival -- some in the double-digits. Pick out your must-see bands and be strategic about where to see them, since you'll have better luck at a 2 p.m. show at Waterloo Records than at Stubb's later that night.
Don't Wait in Line
There are exceptions to this rule -- like seeing the Boss, who's also giving this year's keynote speech -- but for the most part, if you're in line for longer than 10 minutes, for anything, you should go do something else. There are 1,000 other bands down the block to discover, after all.
Get Up Early
Few people are ever awake for the 12 p.m. shows, but dozens of exciting bands will still be playing them. Chug a Gatorade and get back out there.
Go West (or East)
The heart of the SXSW action lies in the arteries of 6th St. and Red River St. The farther you get from that intersection, the less crowded the shows will be, plus you'll get to see cool spaces like Shangri-La and Malverde.
What to Wear
SXSW may be a gathering of the world's hippest hipsters, but before you throw on your Chucks and skinny jeans, keep in mind that you're going to be wandering around Austin and on your feet for 12-15 hours a day. Bring some comfortable shoes. According to current forecasts, Austin is going to be cloudy and rainy in the coming days, so plan a schedule heavy on indoor venues and pack a raincoat -- or at least one of those mini-umbrellas. Also, earplugs! Bring extra.