Every year, music, film, and techie fans make their way to Austin for the cultural event of the year, SxSW: a.k.a "Adult Disneyland." There is live music, outdoor film screening, themed lounges (Yes, GoT is returning!), and free alcohol everywhere. There's not really a "right" way to do SxSW, because just like the gold rush, you come to shift through the grit to make your own fortune. It is your very own experience to mold as you wish. That said, there are still ways in which you can win SxSW like a Pro!
Bring Clothes for Every Season
The myth of blazing desert heat and sunshine when Texas comes to mind should end here. In any given day, you can have rain, blistering heat, and cold winds. So, bring a jacket or a sweater, and definitely have a light raincoat or umbrella with you. If you can find a jacket that keeps the rain, wind, and cold away, bring that! It'll save on packing space. Any Austinite worth their tacos knows that you may be wearing a sweater in the morning, but by high noon you will be down to shorts and an ironic tee! Pack wisely.
Speaking of The Heat...
It does get really really hot down here. Some days, it can hit highs of 90 or more. Since the festival is mostly outdoors, whether you are going to see a live show or attend a tech event, you will find yourself standing in line or hanging out in mostly unshaded areas. Do your skin a solid and bring sunscreen. While you are at it, bring a good hat; and keep it apolitical.
Cash is King
I understand that this is no festival in the wild, but you can save yourself time by having cash on hand. If you do have to pay for anything including entry into an event, you will be served quicker and the people in line behind you will thank you. Most importantly, you won't always needs to hunt for the nearest ATM, which SURPRISE! has a line also.
If there is one things us locals know is that hot dogs or tacos don't normally cost $12. Everything is usually marked up for the festival! That goes for alcohol, which will most likely be watered down. Save your cash and bring some trail mix/healthy snacks that you can eat to keep your monster at bay. That way, you don't have to spend too much, unless you really really have to! If you are SxSW savvy, you will have already scoped out all the free food events and that would make you a real boss!
There Will Be Lines....Everywhere
It best that you come to terms with this little nugget of wisdom. The population inside the city limits practically doubles during SxSW. That means you will have to stay in line to pay, so you can stand in line to get in, so you can stand in line to reach the stage, so you can stay in a line to get a drink. Bring something to entertain yourself or better yet, make new friends while you wait. I have met so many amazing folks while waiting that are now long-time friends. If you are not into standing in line and wasting your what's left of your youth, I highly suggest checking out venues with no lines. If it seems quiet, give it a chance. You may be surprised to learn which musician decides to cameo in small indie shows.
Don't Be a Jerk and Cut Lines...
I think that section is pretty self explanatory. But to hit it home, I have seen the police and/or event organizers kick people out of the line for cutting in line. It would suck to be that guy. Don't be that guy!
Carry Very Little...
Almost every event will have someone waiting to search your bag. For what purpose? I don't know...since somehow people still manage to sneak in alcohol and weed. Great job, bouncer!
Keep your bags clean and light. If it is easy to search, you are getting in quickly. Alternatively, if you can carry nothing at all, do so. As with most festival, there is swag! So make space for that or get swag you can wear. Remember that not all swags are created equal. Be picky and you won't look like a bag lady come 4pm.
RSVP to Everything. Schedule Your Event. Have Your Ticket Ready
I generally roll to free event. I RSVP to pretty much everything I can get my hands on OR that sounds interesting. I am not that picky and I love to live serendipitously. I've seen some great artists this way and in some cases enjoyed free food and alcohol. That said, I keep my tickets organized in my Apple Wallet, under passes. I can scroll by day and see what I have signed up to. That way, my access is seamless and chances of me being turned back are low. Additionally, I put everything on a calendar, which is color coded by music or general fun/lounges. If I don't get into one or the line is far too long, I can quickly pull up the calendar and see what is nearby. Google Calendar is your now your best friend and you will never have to be disappointed during the festival.
Think Outside The Box
While you may want to eat Franklin's BBQ cause you read it in some travel magazine, please restrain yourself. Even on a good day, it is still a 3 hour wait. So you can imagine the lengths you will have to go to to get some during the festival. Obama you ain't! My solution is be open to eating in other less known places. BBQ is a commodity here and they do it well. You will find a wealth of great alternatives that are just as good, and dare I say better than Franklin's. To add to that, Austin is becoming a culinary oasis. We have such great fusion cooking and food from all around the world. Use this time as an opportunity to explore our diverse food truck culture and side-street restaurants. Take the time to go further out of downtown where you will find even more great cuisine: South Lamar, South First, East Cesar Chavez, East 6th-12th street, West Campus and more.
I've been luckiest when I go early. So yeah it doesn't start for another hour but I'm now first in line or I am in before they start instituting the "one in, one out" approach. Honestly, if you don't have a badge, this works in your favor. When things are slow, they are more likely to let you in.
If you are lucky to have one of those phones that lives for days, then good for you! If not, invest in a portable charger. There are great affordable brands out there. You will notice that all the charging stations are booked solid like July in the Hamptons. Having your own charger, means less time urging your phone to charge faster and more time dancing! I mean seriously, nobody wants to be stuck with a dead phone, downtown at 3am. It will make any grown adult cry.
Use Your Feet
Since the streets get busy, it is best to walk to your destination. It is the quickest mode of transport during the festival. B-Cycles, rental bikes, are also available but you may find the same problem as you would if you use a car. Pedicabs may seem like a great alternative; but unless you are willing to drop a ton of money to go a few blocks, I suggest you get comfortable shoes and walk to your next event. At the very least, you will get in some exercise to balance out all the drinking...
Take The Bus
Ride-share is a great invention but unfortunately, we lost Uber and Lyft a while ago. May that pink mustache rest in peace. While we have other alternatives, they may not be as robust as one would like. Even for the ones that are, they still get incredibly busy at that moment when you want to go home. Waiting for one to free up will take hours and if you have ever been the victim of surge pricing, you absolutely don't ever want to do that again! So take the bus. CapMetro's buses all congregate at 6th and Colorado/Congress late at night. I have found that the buses come frequently, I don't have to wait long, and I get home sooner than if I waited for a ride-share. I cannot say this enough, If you are not from Austin, please don't drive! We barely know what we are doing anyway. Take the bus. Don't drink and drive. You will have a far better time!
Your survival pack:
- A small backpack/purse
- Portable Charger
- Comfortable shoes
- A bottle of water
- Snacks (trail mix should do the trick)
- Tickets (if you RSVP'd)
- Bus Pass (7 days should do it and cheaper than an Uber)
- Straw hat or nice 5-panel hat.