As an Austin, Texas native and lover of the Austin music scene, it’s always a joy to partake in the bustling, hectic, international, practically weeklong music and film festival known as South by South West (SXSW). I’m sure you’re wondering, “what makes it so special?” And, “is it even worth trekking across the nation (or world) to go to, given the massive amount of people it now attracts?” The answers to both of these questions are yes. Yes, it is worth your time and I’ll tell you why it’s so successful and will continue to be.
Before we get to some important points, SXSW takes place in the city known as the live music capital of the world. The festival always takes place during the perfect time of year – in the middle of March where the weather in Austin isn’t blistering hot.
Now for a secret: you don’t really need a badge, or even a wristband (unless you plan to frequent panels and press-ridden, extremely hyped up nightly showcases.) However, the festival is not exactly “teenage friendly”; it’s much easier and cheaper to go as a 21+ year-old individual. All shows during the day are free to the public whereas the night showcases vary – you can pay a cheap fee as you go to each showcase, enter if 21 and older, or enter for free with a badge or wristband. All that being said, the majority of artists playing in the evening will most likely play a day show throughout the week, so plan to see them (for free!) then.
Aside from the widespread locally-supported eateries and food trucks, strange individuals perpetuating and spreading the “Keep Austin Weird” mantra through their appearance, and the marriage of outdoor and urban vibes the city creates, SXSW is a breeding ground for musical progression. Here’s a list of some things you will most likely encounter:
1) You’ll likely run into the yuppie band member who is overly ecstatic about their release and/or show that week. Choose wisely which eager, young fellow you decide to lend your time and ears to.
2) As the festival continues to grow each year, the crowds get larger and the lines get longer as the days turn into nights. So make sure to get to showcases early and stay put!
3) Showcases will be based on a variety of things: a company or event party, a magazine, music pertaining to specific local and regional areas of the world, a particular genre, etc.
4) The venues range from large-capacity, popular venues, like tents and outdoor lawns that host big name artists, to small, intimate dive bars and restaurant or store parking lots. However, the amount of concentrated venues lining the expansive downtown area that can house a live show makes it difficult to keep track of who’s playing, and at what time and where.
5) The fact that there are over 2,000 bands practically guarantees that whatever kind of music lover you consider yourself, you’ll be able to find an artist that satisfies your particular musical palate.
6) You’ll find an assortment bands and artists: some that are just starting out with solely local exposure, to those with international fame and decades of experience. So, if you’re looking for an up-and-coming artist showcase or something more familiar and predictible, both are available.
7) Take the live experience with a grain of salt. Bands don’t always play their best at SXSW; they’re constantly on the go with little to no sleep and some are playing more than one show in the span of five days.
The future: It’s always a possibility that a festival becomes too popular and crowded, too commercialized, and too expensive. However, given that it’s a one-of-a-kind event with so many different pricing options and styles of music, it’s doubtful these will become true issues for SXSW. The film section of the festival seems to be the only concern. Given the growth of the musical aspect of the festival, it’s tough to say if the film aspect will be overshadowed in years to come.
Bands - Oldies and Newbies that played SXSW 2012:
The Shins and Counting Crows played a free, outdoor show at Auditorium Shores.
Jack White played two sets at The Stage on 6th, one set with an all guy band and the other being all girls.
Fiona Apple and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine brought back memories as they drew in dedicated, life-long fans.
Cage the Elephant, a band who signed with Relentless Records at SXSW in 2007, held a live online streaming show sponsored by Vans.
Some NYC and Brooklyn bands at SXSW:
Bear in Heaven, Oberhofer, Hospitality, Grimes, Citizen Cope, and Cymbals Eat Guitars, to name a few.
Austin local artists to check out:
David Ramirez, Bob Schneider, Alpha Rev, and Mother Falcon
Bruce Springsteen made the SXSW keynote speech to an audience of select Badge and Wristband Holders, and a few lucky ticket winners. Check out some footage below:
By: Victoria Davis