South By Southwest is unlike any other festival. It requires a different mindset and level of physical stamina than is necessary for quaint three-day, noon-to-midnight festivals.
It is a grueling week of chaos that runs nonstop, from 5 a.m. live radio shows to 2 a.m. sets on Sixth Street. It is simultaneously sprawling, crowded and intensely personal.
Feeling intimidated? Don’t be. Below, we’ve provided some tips for SXSW rookies so you can learn to cope with the chaos, get the most out of your week and generally have the SXSW experience of a lifetime.
1. Make a plan, but don’t get too attached to it.
Being flexible is by far the most important tip for SXSW rookies. Nothing is ever set in stone at SXSW. Just because a band is on the official roster, it does not mean their shows will be open for you to attend. Many shows are badge-holders only, 21+ or scheduled at ridiculous times. Bands cancel, venues reach capacity and shows often run behind schedule. Therefore, the right attitude is critical. The easiest way to avoid schedule-change heartbreak is to approach SXSW with a flexible mindset and a plan you are ready to adapt.
2. Skip big-name bands.
Those down-several-blocks lines are rarely worth it — especially when the concert venues don’t even guarantee entry. Don’t waste your time waiting in line for three hours for a band you’ll have the chance to see again. Your time will be much better spent discovering new music, elsewhere.
3. Double check to find out if events are 21+.
If you are underage, SXSW can be a tricky maneuver to pull off. A lot of events won’t explicitly state 21+ on the online invitation and still enforce age restrictions at the door. A good rule of thumb is that any show inside an actual bar — regardless of the time of day — will likely be age-restricted. Sorry, younger friends.
4. Use Twitter. Use Twitter. Use Twitter.
If you don’t have a Twitter, get one for the week — we promise not to make fun of your egg profile picture. Follow venue accounts, friends at the festival, official SXSW profiles and all of the various Twitter profiles that aggregate events and tweet info throughout the week, including rumors about secret shows. Follow your favorite bands and speakers to stay informed about last-minute schedule changes, or, again, potential secret shows. Did we mention the secret shows?
5. Bring a phone charger.
If you are following the previous tip, expect your phone to die before the night ends — all that tweeting will drain a battery mercilessly. Pack a charger in your bag, and plug it in any time you’re waiting at a venue or
6. Arrive to everything earlier than you think you should.
There is always a bigger fan than you — and usually, there are several. Lines are inevitable, so arrive early to ensure entry. Being fashionably late is neither fashionable nor possible if you plan on actually listening to music at SXSW.
7. Put comfort before style when choosing your outfit.
SXSW isn’t Coachella. Dressing fashionably is difficult in a city where the weather fluctuates from hour to hour so come armed with a jacket for cold venues and shoes that can deal with the miles you’ll walk scouring the city and standing in lines. There’s no sitting at SXSW.
8. Know that Uber and Lyft prices will be high.
Even including the inflated rates you’ll see as a result of an increase in demand, you can expect traffic to further prolong any ride you take, further driving up costs. The same supply-demand equation applies for taxis and pedicabs. Stick to walking or biking rather than relying on expensive ride-hailing companies or inconsistent public transportation.
9. Resist all urges to accept free stuff.
Unless you are going to eat it, free stuff is not worth carrying around all day as you traverse the city. The lighter your backpack, the better. You really don’t need six different promotional koozies. You just don’t.
10. If all else fails, end the night at Auditorium Shores with a huge free show.
The music at Auditorium Shores is guaranteed to be good, and everyone is guaranteed entry. Shows run Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Shows typically start in the early evening and end at 10 p.m. Attendees can opt to stand in front of the stage with the eager, youthful crowd, or relax on a towel in the back. In a festival where schedules can change at a minute’s notice, it’s nice to know there’s always at least one place you can end up.