Sunday, March 2, 2014

SXSW: RSVP for Nothing

This post is bound to elicit some negative reactions and I'm totally ok with that. SXSW is on the horizon and if that doesn't induce a mild panic attack then I can't even talk to you right now. Most of us are freaking out because we still aren't ready, or at least we don't think we're ready. We never think we're ready and you know what? We're right. No matter how many times you go, or how much planning you do, you are never ready for SXSW. You can plan your ass off but I guarantee something will come up that throws a wrench in the works. Whether that means the event you were planing to attend is full, or running behind, or you missed your bus, or broke a heel. Something is going to fuck up your plans. So, have three plans and be flexible.

This year, I am armed with a music wristband, a film badge and a sense of entitlement. That is why my goal is to RSVP to as little as possible. For those of you who have been keeping track of me and/or this blog over the years you know that this is a sea change that has been in the works for a few years. My first few SXSW festivals I participated in strictly free events, just as many of you are planning to do. I am not judging those of you who enjoy all that SXSW has to offer free of charge and chances are I'll be joining you for some of these events. However, my goal is to avoid the things that are giving my favorite festival a bad reputation. Namely, outrageously corporate events that have little-to-nothing to do with the festival itself. They entice you with free booze and they might have a stage with bands you like but if you're there to hear the band perform, you're in the minority. Even some of the most well-intentioned events fall prey to spring break syndrome. Honestly, how can I expect a tent full of people plied with free domestic beer to listen to an intimate set from Inc.? That's not gonna happen.

So, rather than get angry about the crowd, or the event, I'm just not going to go. Also, as I mentioned I have official SXSW wristband, which means I don't have to RSVP to the biggest parties anyway. That's right, if you check the OFFICIAL SXSW website you'll notice that Spotify House, House of Vans and several other big day parties are listed. That means if you have official credentials you ain't got to RSVP to that shit. I honestly don't know what that means in terms of your free alcohol consumption but maybe you could focus on the music instead of the booze? Just kidding, that's crazy talk.

Here's what I propose for those of you who don't have official SXSW credentials. Go to the official SXSW website and pick three showcases each day that interest you. Now look at your top 3 selections and narrow them down by artist and venue. Ask yourself, are these top tier bands? If you answered yes, then just cross that showcase off your list. Trust me when I tell you that you're not buying into the Pitchfork showcase at Central Presbyterian Church and you're not buying into the NPR showcase at Stubb's. Also, if you're hoping to buy your way into the iTunes Festival shows you can just fuck right off. The next thing to consider once you've picked your three favorite showcases for the day, find the showcase that features THE MOST bands you want to see. Chances are you're not going to be familiar with every band on every showcase but hopefully you find one with at least three bands that excite you. The next step is arrive at the venue early. In years past, when I didn't have official credentials I would usually walk from a day party, to someplace with easily portable food, take that food to the official venue and eat in line.

When you arrive at the venue you should see some volunteers near the door. Ask the volunteers which line is the cash line. Each venue, whether it be music or film should have three lines. The badge line, the wristband/film pass line, and the cash line. They will let everyone in the badge line enter, then the wristband line, then the cash line. These lines will continue to form and re-form over and over all night. So, if you're in the cash line before the doors open you're chances of getting in the venue before a new badge line forms are pretty good. Occasionally, you will arrive at the venue before the volunteers arrive, in this instance be prepared to direct strangers and form your own lines. If you act like you know what you're doing, people will believe you. As new people arrive tell them which line is which and they will follow suite.

As I mentioned, both music and film events have cash lines but I can tell you from experience that it is MUCH harder to buy your way into films. If you're interested in the film festival and you would like to purchase tickets to individual screenings, my advice to you is stay away from downtown. Your best bet for buying into film screenings is to head to Alamo Slaughter, Alamo Village, or the Marchesa Theater near the Highland Mall. These theaters are harder for tourists to find and many of them are showing encore screenings of films that already played the Paramount, Ritz or Stateside theaters. If you're hoping to buy your way into the Wes Anderson screening or the premiere of the Veronica Mars movie, I can tell you right now that you're not getting in. I suspect those particular screenings are going to be tough to get into even if you have a Film Pass.

Is anyone still reading? Well, if you are I appreciate that fact and I hope you are inspired to attend at least one official SXSW event this year. Don't get caught up in the hype, don't be enticed by celebrity or alcohol, think about the goal of the festival. Discover new music, watch indie-cinema, don't say the word "synergy". Don't worry, I'll have lots more pre-coverage this coming week including the always popular SXSW survival bag.


I just want to make it explicitly clear that I don't think every event with free stuff isn't worth your time. I will definitely be consuming my fair share of free stuff. I'm just saying that the official showcases are a superior experience and that if you really love SXSW you might enjoy the ACTUAL FESTIVAL as much as all of the parasitic, free events that surround it.