We figured it’s high time we really stretch and reach for our dreams and finally, for the first time in our 10+ years of existence, publish a survival guide to SXSW. After all, every other leading music blob is doing it. Why not us? Why not Whoa My Blobness? We have been going to SXSW since __________ (i.e. one year earlier than whatever year you say you started going) so we know a few things that would be of great interest to a highly niche audience.
The following insightful tips will help you survive a festival that’s designed for almost no other purpose than for its participants to have fun (while somebody somewhere makes money off it). So the stakes are pretty high. But don’t be scared about having a good time. We’ll talk you through it. We promise. So help me blob.
What to Bring
Clothes, girl! But no seriously this is NOT the time to be joking around. I apologize for giving you the first impression that this digital article was going to be humorous in style and not to be taken too seriously.
What you pack on a trip to a music festival is super important shit. And let’s face it, guy, the weather in Austin in March can be pretty prettyyyyy prettyyyyyyy unpredictable. Sometimes it feels like heaven, sometimes it rains, and that one time a few years ago I froze my fucking face off. Pardon my f$#%*#.
There’s no safe play here, but I can tell you to pack less clothes than you think you’ll need because a). you know your money outfit so why even attempt to rotate in anything less than your best? Who cares if it ends up smelling like homeless BBQ vomit? If your clothes don’t stink when SXSW is all said and done then you totally didn’t do it right. And b). ideally, you’ll want to carry-on your baggage (assuming you take to the friendly skies on a real live jet plane - if you’re driving to Austin, you might want to ask the fellas over at Rand-McNally to give you some sweet tips because I know nothing about that).
I say you should carry-on because once some Austin airport employee stole my backpack that I checked and was full of brand new underwear. I shit you not this 100% happened to me (I always purchase new underwear before SXSW - you should too).
But actually maybe you should risk it and check your bag because everybody’s goddamn guitars are going to be competing for your overhead space. I don’t know. Whatever. Pack what you want. This survival guide is starting extremely well. Shall we continue?
Should you rent a car when you’re in Austin? Hell, no! There’s no parking anywhere and if you like to drink free beer at free shows in the daytime, well, you know you shouldn’t be messing around with no motor vehicles, man. Take a taxi from the airport to your hotel (this will be the last time a taxi will be available to you) and drop your shit off.
Then, if you’re one of the special people whose hotel is near all the action, you must be a real VIP Music Industry Insider, so congratulations! You, of course, can walk everywhere (assuming you were smart and packed comfortable shoes - I guess I should have mentioned that in the “What to Bring” section - OOPSIES - if only there was a way to edit these things).
If your hotel is not in walking distance to the center of everything slothful, I feel your pain on that. I stayed right next to the airport two years in a row. It was great. Just great. There’s no way you’ll be getting cabs - during the day, late at night, whenever, never. They. Just. Don’t. Come. So might I be so bold as to suggest you search out a branded street team’s pedicab service to tootle you around? Might as well give enthusiastic college kids who aren’t being paid shit some exercise.
You could also figure out the city’s bus system. It’s not too bad. Once I sat next to this guy carrying like three barrels of vegetables. Or, you could just never go back to your hotel and just stay out the entire time. I’ve never done it but that’s not saying it can’t and hasn’t been done. You just need to solve that tricky time block between 5-10 AM when pretty much nothing is going on except for the noise of a bunch of garbage trucks, a few patrolling police cars, and some passionate regret.
How to See a Show Without a Badge And Also Eat and Drink For Free
This problem is super easy to solve because we came up with the solution ourselves here at Rockness HQ (which is also my bedroom!). We’re more than just a music blob that gives you really good festival survival tips - we also make lists. Shooting for the stars over here. Living the dream.
And for SXSW specifically, we make a list every year of the best FREE shows and parties that you can go see without a badge because most have absolutely nothing to do with SXSW proper. They were just like, “Yo, SXSW, can we get in on this thing you’re doing?” And SXSW was like, “No.” And so the unofficial shows were like, “Well, too bad, sucka.”
We also made a list of all the good shows and parties with free food (“ehhhhhh is there any gluuuuuuten in your breakfast tacooooos?” - some VIP Music Industry Nerd) and/or free drinks. Please remember: just because those nasty ass bottom shelf rum cocktails are free at that branded sponsored thing doesn’t mean you have to drink (all of) them.
Many of these free shows also have RSVPs and we have conveniently provided the Uniform Resource Locator (bet you didn’t even know URL stood for that - come on - be honest for once) to those where applicable. Your best bet is just to RSVP to everything - even those shows you have no intention of going to - because it’s good to have options - and anyway, sponsors who make many of those free shows possible know the rate of attendance on RSVPs is like 0.000000015% or something which, fun fact, is similar odds to a current buzz band’s chance of even still being together in 5 years.
How to Keep Track of All The Shows I Want To See - There Are So Many! - ARGGGH! - I’m Getting Too Old For This Shit!
These headlines are getting ridiculous. “My Rockness,” man. It’s always been about “My Rockness.” Use this impossibly free service to save all the shows you probably won’t end up going to to the calendar of your choice (I prefer the Mayan’s but you might like that sexy NYC firefighter one) and have your whole plan of attack laid out for you right there on your digital screen. We worked hard to make it really easy for you because everything we do….we do it 4 U.
You can also use “My Rockness” to save bands and get email alerts from us when we list their new shows throughout the fest (more shows keep getting added all the damn time and we’re really trying hard to keep up). But that’s not all. You can use “My Rockness” not only during SXSW but also in the other fine cities we cover (NYC, LA, CHI, and to answer your question about the city you live in, yes, we have thought about adding _________ ). “My Rockness” - it’s as simple as apple pie.™
(that’s not our real tagline, obviously - have you ever tried to make your own crust? - it ain’t no roll down Easy Street - what should our tagline for “My Rockness” be? - you don’t have to shoot me suggestions right now - sleep on it)
Where to Nap
Hotel lobbies! They’re everywhere near SXSW’s center (which is somewhere around 6th street and Red River and I-35 but everything is going farther east and north these days so who can really say anymore when down is up and up is down). Some of these glamorous lobbies are more intimate than others so pick out a nice big one where nobody knows what the hell is going on and you can find a forgotten corner to snooze in relative peace. No room required. However, if some hotel employee does prod you with a last night’s glow stick and says something like, “Excuse me, are you a guest of this hotel?” simply play dumb and in dazed way say, “I remember…………….. The Alamo.” Do it right and you just might get a “yee-hawwww!” and a new friend for life. (It shouldn’t be hard to pull this routine off as you were just in the middle of a hardcore nap when some corporate cowboy dressed to the nines in brief authority decided to wake you up.)
Where to Get Away
However many days and nights you spend at SXSW there will come a point when you just need a little goddamn space. Get that dorky ass badge off your neck and out of my face, wannabe VIP Music Industry guy. Step the fuck back, brands. No, I don’t want to get a free temporary tattoo in the backseat of next year’s latest sedan while receiving an exclusive new music listen from some buzz band playing their shit live from the front seat. I’ll catch it on the webcast when I’m dead.
When you’re irritated, tired, and sick of having such a good goddamn time, I suggest a few hours retreat where you explore just beyond SXSW’s borders. There’s no need to go far. There are several peaceful attractions a mere short long walk away (aka a longish walk that’s also kind of shortish).
For example, you could go see former President Lyndon B. Johnson. Not the real dude, of course. He’s totally dead. I’m talking about the interactive robotronic LBJ that’s on display at his museum on the campus of sterile, ugly University of Texas (hook THESE horns). You’ll love it. He wears a cowboy hat. It’s a super quiet and peaceful place because nobody goes (who would?) and it’s just like Chuck E. Cheese but without the animals and games and plastic balls and pizza and fun but WITH the painful backstory of LBJ presiding over the purposeless folly and grand tragedy that was the Vietnam War.
And when you’re done hanging with robo-POTUS consider having a quiet lunch at this nearby place called Crown & Anchor because they make the best burger I’ve had in Texas. Crown & Anchor did not pay me to say this - they don’t even know I exist. “Oh My Who in the What Now?” So I can assure you this recommendation comes from the #heart. After lunch, you could also go swimming at nearby Barton Springs but I’ve never done that because I always remember to buy new underwear for my trip but never to pack my swimsuit Oh well. Or, maybe take in the city’s shopping scene and see if you can score this season’s hottest normcore item - a “Keep Austin Weird” t-shirt. There's lot more stuff to do and see. You'll figure it out.
When Is It A Good Time To Think About Maybe Wanting This Festival To Be Over?
When you find yourself watching a band twenty years past their prime at something called the Holiday Inn Express Stage. You must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Damn those enthusiastic college street team kids and their pedicabs.
How Do You Know For Sure It’s Time To Go Home?
When you start bitching to whoever else has also been wearing their badge THE ENTIRE FESTIVAL about how much SXSW “has changed.” Pffft. Kill that noise. You’re at a marathon party and you’re there under your own volition (apologies if you were forced to attend for “work” this year ooooh the Music Industry is soooo hard, you guysssss).
There are more good bands playing for you in one week than anyone has a right to see in their entire lifetime, there’s solid food and decent drink, people want to give you free shit wherever you walk, and you’re standing around bitching about having to wade through all the crummy commercials? Come on. Of course that’s part of it. Who cares. Have FUN or GTFO. It’s a party, man - a p-a-r-t-y. And SXSW is what YOU make of it. If you forget everything else I’ve told you here today at least try to remember that. This one’s on you. You want to survive? Have a positive state of mind. You’re going to have a great time. I just know it. I believe in you, bb bae bae boo boo.
Why Am I Still Reading This?
Not sure, but I do hope this SXSW survival guide has been helpful - especially because it’s the first one we've ever published. We thought we’d feel different now that it's finally posted but maybe it takes a little while for the euphoria to kick in. Nevertheless, we know you have a choice when you procrastinate from doing important stuff and we thank you for choosing Oh My Rockness.
Follow us during SXSW on Twitter @OMR_SXSW for show updates. We’ll only tell you about the good stuff. So help me blob.
Did you know that a bunch of bands play SXSW? It's totally true. You heard it here FIRST. But let's not talk about ALL of them. Many aren't worth the words. Let's just talk about the good ones... and let's limit it to 15... because the year is 2015 (A.D.)... and 15 Bands to See at SXSW 2015 sounds really cute just like these little fellas. Awwwwwwww.
Please note: the following 15 bands are all equally good. Pay no attention to the order in which they are listed. They were written out purely in a stream-of-consciousness “On The Road" original scroll style. I probably shouldn't have even numbered them. Oh well. The last shall be first and the first shall be last. And all that.
THE FOLLOWING 15 BANDS ARE THE ONLY BANDS THAT MATTER AT SXSW 2015 THIS YEAR
Vocalist/bassist Harmony Tividad + vocalist/guitarist Cleo Tucker = Philadelphia's (by way of L.A.) Girlpool. They don't have a drummer. They met at The Smell. You will be hearing a lot about their fuzz punk goodness this SXSW and you just might embrace it if you keep your ears open and your heart ready.
Mitski Miyawaki (live, she has a band - they shred) put out one of my favorite albums of last year. It was called “Bury Me at Makeout Creek" and it's the best thing since Ambrose Bierce's 1890 short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." See Mitski. Trust me. Or, don't. I have zero vested interest in what you do - other than wanting you to be happy.
Chicago's Twin Peaks (Go Bulls) make bluesy grimy glam-y power pop garage rock. They are a muscle car kind of band. The Camaro meets the Barracuda meets the Charger. Maybe Twin Peaks can be compared not just to cars but to other kinds of bands too. Like Big Star meets KISS. Or, maybe they just sound like a damn fine cup of coffee and an incredible slice of cherry pie.
Summer Moon are a brand new supergroup (I'm not going to add “of sorts" here because EVERYBODY does that - seriously, start looking for it when you read articles about supergroups, you'll see the phrase “______ are a supergroup of sorts" ALL the time) featuring Nikolai Fraiture of The Strokes + Erika Forster of Au Revoir Simone (and Erika Spring) + Tennessee Thomas of The Like + Lewis Lazar of some other bands probably. They play their very first show this SXSW before opening for Father John Misty in NYC at a small intimate outdoor club called Central Park.
(THIS BAND IS SO NEW THEY HAVEN'T RELEASED ANY SOUNDS YET - THAT'S HOW MUCH WE'RE THE MUSIC BLOB BEHIND THE MUSIC BLOB BEHIND THE MUSIC BLOB)
Ann Arbor's Pity Sex are a completely catchy fuzz punk band (are you starting to notice a fuzzy punk theme on this thing? - it's completely coincidental and will work itself out soon) that will put your ass in a goddamn delightful mood. Guitar Crunches. Pretty Noodles. Singable Choruses. Pretty Harmonies. It's all here, folks. The total package. All the way.
We recently named Sunflower Bean 2014's Hardest Working Band in NYC. They've played a ton of shows over the last year and it's almost as if all that consistent practice really helped or something because Sunflower Bean's live shows are super fucking tight. There Will Be Shreds.
Dublin's Girl Band are a bunch of dudes. HA! The name's ironic. It's delicious. I love it. This band is a stabby jabby post-punk DELIGHT. They were supposed to swing by the States for the first time a few months ago but they had some visa problems (should have used Discover, yo) and couldn't make it. So I do believe this might be Girl Band's first American tour. But don't quote me on that until I have a chance to consult with Wikipedia or my friend Declan who's real up-to-date on the comings and goings of the Irish buzz bands.
2015 (A.D.) WILL be the Year of the Screaming Female. The New Jersey band have been slinging the punk goodness for a few years now but with the release of their exceptional new album “Rose Mountain," the catchy, snarling crew are about to step it up and take it to the next level. You can count on that. So help me blob.
Alex G is a young lo-fi folk slinger who writes songs similar in substance to Elliot Smith and Jeff Mangum. Have you ever heard of those two guys? Me neither. I'm serious, though. This guy is gonna be a star. So see him now so you can one day say you saw him way back when. “My name is Sandy I'm 14 years old. My friends say I'm ugly. My dad says I'm the prettiest thing.... the prettiest thing.... the prettiest thing."
Did you miss her last year? Good news! You can see Courtney Barnett again this year. Bad News. She's gotten huge -- so you'll probably be swaying along to these slack-pop songs a little farther away from the action than you'd like to be. Sorry, man. At least you're seeing her at all. And anyway, why didn't you see Barnett in 2014 when I told you to right around this same time? I'm pretty sure I told you in 2014 that Courtney Barnett rules. No. Wait. I'm definitely sure.
Twerps are a really good jingle-jangle indie pop band and considering these chill dudes flew here all the way from their homes in Australia - which is on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD - the LEAST you could do is show up when they play songs off their excellent new album “Range Anxiety" (on Merge Records - the home Superchunk built for Arcade Fire). You're going to like the way this band sounds. I guarantee it.
Champaign, IL's Hum is/was one of my very favorite crunchy grunge pop bands of the '90s. So I am extremely interested in the fact that they're playing at least one SXSW show (too bad it happens before the music part of the fest - but nevermind that now). If you never got into these guys or know them only for their buzz bin jam “Stars" consider paying closer attention. And why not start by blasting the following song that's just quite honestly one of my favorite songs of all time. Here's hoping they add more shows.
Northampton's Speedy Ortiz are a really good band. Perhaps you know this already - perhaps not. But with the release of their new album “Foil Deer" (File Under: SICK - RIYL: RULEZ) this band have their sights set on taking over the world --- assuming global domination is part of their business plan --- maybe they just want to punk out and have fun while they're still young. Either way, they shred, and we're all better music lovers for it. I'm going to see them a whole bunch of times.
Tallahassee's Ex-Breathers are a blitz of a fucking band that were raised to blaze. They shred super quick hardcore punk that will blast a smile on your face and compel you to have FUN - even if that means dropping a little bit of blood, son. Hurry up and listen to this album that's got twelve songs and is about twelve minutes long because you're going to like it. Bet.
I'm putting METZ on this list (the breakout stars of SXSW 2013 and it wasn't even CLOSE) and ending it (remember - the order has no meaning on this thing - the last shall be first - the first shall be last - and all that) because every time I see this brutally fun punk trio from Toronto I think to myself, “this is the best show I have ever seen," and right that very minute I 100% mean it, man. Any time METZ plays - one goes. It's just what's done.