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How I Survived SXSW: The Basics

Written by , published March 31, 2011

See related: How I Survived SXSW: Film and Interactive

How I Survived SXSW: The Music

circusmashimuswelcomA welcome to SXSW and the Circus Mashimus Lounge during the interactive portion of South by Southwest.

It’s a given that I love living in Texas, but I feel especially fortunate to live in Austin. That’s not a slam on any other city. It’s just a city that’s a great fit for my personality and my varied interests. So, with my genuine pride in the Capital City, I get excited and kick into “hostess” mode whenever a big event like South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film and interactive conference and festival draws in lots of out-of-town guests. I want to make sure they feel welcome and enjoy this beautiful place I call home. I want them to go home and talk, with affection, about their experiences.

This year, the 25th anniversary of this stellar event, was no different and I jumped in, feet first, to experience SXSW with our guests, as well – upwards of 30,000 attendees.

I want to share some of those experiences (and some of the photos I took) with you here and in a follow up blog posts, but let me first tell you – this place was packed. Maybe too much for the locals, but that’s something the City of Austin and SXSW organizers can sort out. For now, I focus on numbers and what those tourism dollars mean for Austin, and Texas. SXSW is Austin’s Super Bowl for the music, film and interactive set.

In 2010, SXSW injected more than $113 million into the Austin economy. That included booking more than 8,800 reservations totally 39,000-plus room nights from people coming in from all across the globe. The numbers for this year, though not officially in yet, may well exceed expectations and last year’s figures. It was touted as the biggest yet, and it certainly seemed that way.

livefromsxswLive from SXSW! Media outlets from across the globe covered SXSW events, which often included a glowing spotlight on the city itself.

That translates into a lot of music moohla, film finances and interactive ingots. OK. That was cheesy, I know! :) But in these economic times, that sort of boost to the system is welcomed with wide open arms!

And SXSW officials say the media coverage – all that free press covering world premiere movies, new bands, high-profile panelists and the invigorating scene – totaled in value of nearly $15 million.

Everywhere I turned there were news crews capturing the essence of it all with man-on-the-street interviews – most were clearly not local crews. From all the media outlets and worldwide bloggers I encountered to lunching at the makeshift CNN SXSW Grill, I can tell you the world had its eyes on Austin.

On top of that, the sheer volume of creative offerings helps strengthen the city’s brand identity, which goes a long way in securing future tourism dollars.

cnngrillMax's Wine Dive restaurant was transformed into the CNN Grill SXSW. Operations continued, with guests receiving free food, drink and live music.

The New York Times says, “South by Southwest now has three vibrant legs – music, film and Web – that come together to create a stool that is the envy of every other American city.”

The Chicago Sun Times says, “From its humble beginning in the Texas capital, South by Southwest has grown to become the worldwide music industry’s biggest and most influential gathering.”

I feel so proud to live in this incredibly creative city, the Live Music Capital of the World. And in whatever non-Texan accent I overheard–– whether from the East Coast or Down Under –– word on the street was always about how awesome Austin is. Deep inside, I gloat. To myself I say, “Yes, and when it’s all over, you have to go home … I AM home.” How lucky is that?!

Get a sampling at www.sxsw.com and consider a visit.

TIPS FOR SXSW

If you decide to go to SXSW next year, I offer these tips that will help increase your enjoyment factor.

Book lodging early: Hotel rooms, especially those with the best rates, go quickly. So book as early as possible. Since the bulk of activities happen downtown, you’ll want to be close as possible for the convenience factor of having everything nearby, a resting spot in walking distance and to avoid the challenges of finding parking daily.

Plan your schedule.Closer to the event, check SXSW.com for additions and updates to the schedule. Take all the heads up you can get because by the time you receive your registration packet with your pocket guides and such, the wheels are already spinning pretty quickly. Still, study that schedule as soon as you get it. The worst thing is to miss something important to you because you didn’t see it on the schedule.

Pace yourself. If you decide to SXSW 2012, remember to select a few things that are must-see/do for you and then allow the rest to be icing on the cake. You’ll be happier and stress-free. Also, be willing to go to a screening or performances alone. With so many choices, the odds of conflicting interests with friends are possible. If you really want to see something, don’t compromise that because a friend wants to see something else. You’ll have fewer regrets. Besides, there’s plenty of time to be social with an impossible amount of SXSW parties, and even a softball game, happening every single day/night.

Move to the Front of the Line.Why didn’t I encounter lines like most everybody else? Should I let the cat out of the bag?

SXSW has a fabulous SXXpress pass for any movie or music venue. They hand these out at 10 a.m. daily. It’s actually no secret because the information is printed in the registrant’s guides, but they seemed to be virtually unclaimed during the music portion of the conference. These free passes are like a “front of the line” carte blanche that works in conjunction with your badge. So, at movies and music venues, where three lines are queued up in order of badge holders (priority entry), wristbands and then single ticket holders, SXXPress pass holders are bumped to the front of the line ahead of badge holders. For the more popular shows, badge holders alone may fill a venue to capacity, so it would behoove you to get a pass because it’s basically guaranteed entry. These passes aren’t necessary for less hyped-up events, but if it’s something you definitely want to see, consider it insurance. I believe they give out 10 percent of capacity in express passes. During the film portion, most express passes were distributed by 10:30 a.m. … or sooner for the more popular screenings. Lines for the passes started at 9 a.m., typically. For the music portion, well…10 a.m. proved to be too early for that lot. I, however, remained among the few who continued to take advantage of it during the music portion, and it paid off. I rolled out of bed, went for the express pass, and crawled back into bed. Simple. On several occasions, the badge line went around the building/block and I was able to walk right in, including an evening at Stubb’s when the venue was at capacity by 8 p.m. (when I showed up) for people hoping to see Duran Duran at 12:30 a.m. I did have to wait about 20 minutes, but when the fire marshal cleared more to go in, I along with only 5 other express badge holders in our own separate line) were the first to get in and I saw Duran Duran from front and center.

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