South by Southwest (aka Austin City Explosion, aka For the Love of God, Don’t Try Driving Downtownfest) kicked off this weekend, and a bunch of my friends and I have been taking advantage of the event. Most of us moved to Austin from out of state 7 months ago and have never been to SXSW before, so we’ve made a few rookie mistakes, but the learning curve is steep and I think we’re going to be much better equipped to navigate the giant music festival by the end of the week. Below are some of the highlights (and just generally notable moments) of my first weekend at South by Southwest.
Friday, March 8th
The official music portion of the festival hasn’t technically started yet, but there were still plenty of things going on this weekend. After work on Friday, some friends and I made a beeline for downtown (at least as much of a beeline as we could make on the meandering bus route) in order to get into a free party at the Austin Museum of Art. We waited in line for two hours before getting in, but since this was our first SX event, none of us were too burnt out on the line-waiting aspect of it yet. I mean, you can’t really get too mad about waiting in line to get into a free event with good music and an open bar. The only point that I got somewhat annoyed was when all the people with official SXSW badges rolled up and got to cut in front of the badgeless proletariat (I started thinking in Marxist terms at this point in the night). I guess they’ve earned those badges by being rich or working in the right industry, but still.
Once we were in, we headed up to the bar on the roof of the art museum. This was probably the best part of the night; Austin has a ton of rooftop venues which are great for looking out over the rest of the city. After hanging out on the roof for awhile, we went back to the second floor of the art museum, where they’d cleared the exhibits to set up a dance floor with the DJ. XXYYXX, an electronic music producer, was the headliner that night, but I’ll level with you– the combination of free tequila and the skills of the first DJ led to me busting out all the moves I’ve learned from Beyonce music videos, getting tired really early, and convincing a friend to cab it home with me around 11. First lesson learned from SXSW: pace yourself.
Saturday, March 9th
My housemates and I got ourselves back downtown around 1 in the afternoon for a really long but fun day. It was starting to lightly rain when we got on the bus, and by the time we got off it had transitioned into a torrential downpour. I’m pretty sure this is about the third time it’s rained since I’ve been in Austin, but as a former Washington state resident I figured I couldn’t be deterred by a little sky moisture. After getting completely soaked and walking for about a mile in the wrong direction, our group separated itself into two types of people: the ones who were willing to pay a rickshaw driver to get them to the correct bar and the ones who weren’t. I was in the cheapskate category along with one other housemate, but the rain let up while we were walking back and we got free coffee and sandwich samples along the way, so it all worked out in the end.
After finally reconvening at the correct bar and getting a couple of free drinks, we walked over to a bluegrass show at a nearby co-op. The outdoor stage and the bands that played were definitely a draw, but there was also someone with a pet monkey at this event, and I think it’s safe to say that was the true highlight.
The main event that we decided to go to on Saturday night was a free Andrew WK concert. Since Andrew WK got big around when I was in middle school and still thought Maroon 5 was edgy, I didn’t actually know a lot about him other than that he tweets about partying a lot and is supposed to put on a crazy live show. He definitely didn’t disappoint; I ended up in what was simultaneously the best and scariest mosh pit I’ve ever been in. That show definitely wasn’t a place to be if you didn’t like physical contact and getting drenched in beer.
While I had a lot of fun at the Andrew WK show, by the time we left I was ready to spend some time in a sensory deprivation tank by myself (it had also started raining, and thundering and lightning-ing, at this point, which was a strong motivational factor for going home). Unfortunately, not a single cab in Austin wanted to stop for us. At one point, a cab finally pulled over, asked us where we were going, and as soon as I told him, he sped off. I live 7 miles north of downtown, for the record. It’s not exactly out in the boonies. Anyways, 5 of my friends and I stood in the rain for 2 hours (that’s not an exaggeration) wearily trying to flag down a taxi. I became convinced that we were going to die on the streets like the little match girl, lighting the last of our matches for warmth as sad violin music played in the background. I thought I was going to cry when a cab driven by a kindly old man finally let us in at 2 am. Second lesson learned: Public transportation is rough during SX.
Sunday, March 10th
I decided to take a recovery day yesterday and never actually made it downtown. I did make a half-hearted attempt to go in the evening by walking to the bus stop with a couple of friends, but the bus was running half an hour late and at that point it didn’t seem worth it. I did get a call from one of my housemates, though, who said that “people were just throwing free shit” at them downtown and that I needed to come “reap the benefits”, but I thought back to the lesson that I learned about pacing and decided that there’s going to be plenty of other free shit throughout the week.
I’m headed to some more SXSW events today, so I’ll update the blog again soon!