By Ramona Flume — Check out her whole Austin guide for more great recommendations!
Austin may be the live music capital of the world, but during SXSW, the musical metropolis swells to galactic proportions. So whether you’re here on business for the SXSWi or just looking to stay drunk on free beer for the duration of the festival (Interactive: March 9-13, Film: March 9-17 and Music: 13-18), here are some pointers on how to maximize your experience and navigate the mellifluous city streets.
If you’re flying in for the festival, the sensory overload will begin as soon as you get to the airport. (Yes, there will be a live band playing in the main airport lounge and your cab driver to downtown will most likely try to pitch his band’s unofficial show.) And once you throw your bags down, you might feel the urge to hit up every showcase and panel listed on the overwhelming schedule, but the most important lesson to remember about SXSW is compromise.
So while making a schedule is important, allowing yourself to remain flexible is invaluable. You won’t have the energy to see everything on your daily schedule, especially if you’re saving yourself for a late night show, so take it easy and try to pace yourself. For those who want to cover all of their festival bases, RSVPster.com, a local company, will RSVP you and a friend to every unofficial show possible throughout the entire festival for $30. It’s an innovative concept that will keep you in the loop of the week’s best events, like the festival’s incomparable networking opportunities like the Waggener Edstrom SXSW Interactive Party or the Startup Weekend Event, where the who’s who of the startup world will be rubbing elbows and making plans to take over the world. Don’t forget to bring your business cards…
There is still time to register for the festival (i.e. buy a badge: $595-$1,395), but there are also plenty of free events where attendants can see some of the festival’s biggest names without waiting in interminably long lines or going bankrupt on a platinum badge. Popular day show venues, like Club de Ville, Mohawk and Cedar Street Courtyard (which will feature Filter Magazine’s 23-band Showdown, with buzz worthy bands like Reptar and Ed Sheeran) will be prestigious, but accessible, venues worth visiting. Also, Waterloo Records—Austin’s iconic indie record store will be presenting a full weekend of free music, with knockout performers like Norah Jones, Blitzen Trapper and Of Montreal, not to mention incredible Austin-based acts like Love Inks and Gary Clark Jr. And if you like what you hear, odds are, you can buy it while you’re enjoying the tunes live. Is that SXSW bliss or what?
Central Texas has highly unpredictable weather and the most important thing a SXSW attendant can remember when packing is, “If you don’t like Austin weather, wait five minutes.” So be prepared. You might need a sweater, poncho and sunscreen—all in the same day. And the most important part of that flexible wardrobe? Shoes. Choose your comfiest pairs (yes, you’ll need a back up), because, no matter what the weather is like, you’re going to be doing a lot of walking. Also, Austin is a very casual city, even for visiting celebs and uber hipsters; so don’t be caught in stilettos.
If walking isn’t your style, take advantage of the city’s Public Transportation, call a local YellowCab or hail pedicabs—of which there will be hundreds circulating throughout the festival hot spots—because parking will be extremely scarce. And if you absolute must bring your own car, arrive downtown as early in the day as possible (i.e. before 11 a.m.) and there might be some choice spots available just east of Interstate 35. SXSW will also be sponsoring SXcycles—a complimentary bike share program for badge holders and a hotel shuttle servicing 37 official SXSW hotels.
Even though downtown boasts a number of great, late night eateries like Best Wurst (open till 3a.m.), featuring spicy, gourmet sausages and Kebabalicious, but if you’re sick of the sixth street madness, which is usually a fast-acting inevitability, head to the Rainey Street neighborhood to enjoy some delicious Indian cuisine in a relaxed, open-aired atmosphere at the G’Raj Mahal trailer. (Lustre Pearl is right next door if you want to pop over for a cocktail or show.) East Side Pies, a few miles further east, usually becomes an after hours clubs of sorts as wired hipsters congregate en masse in and around the side patio, eating pizza by the slice and relating the highlights of their day. Other east side bars, like Shangri-La—where Bill Murray performed as a guest bartender during last year’s festival—are popular after hours hangouts.