Photograph by Polly Mackey
There is nothing I hate more than settling down to a watch a funny film only to have someone announce every hilarious moment before it crops up, it kind of sucks the fun out of things. OK, maybe there are a few things I hate more but the point remains, someone telling you exactly what to expect before it has happened can be really irritating. You run the same risk heading to any festival, those who have been before you recounting how they did this and that and how you absolutely must do the same.
Looking on the less grouchy side of life though, sometimes little tips and pointers can be really helpful and can reveal hidden gems that may have otherwise gone undiscovered so the below, rather than acting as a must do guide, is meant to just help you along the way: just a few little things that won’t dictate how you spend every waking, hung-over, half conscious moment of your week at SXSW but may help you avoid some pretty tedious situations and may even help you have a better time.*
*Reading these tips does not guarantee you will have a better time.
Photograph by Sébastien Dehesdin
Last year I went to SXSW and someone reliably informed me it was impossible to get a taxi late at night, cut to me and a friend hitch hiking it back to our hotel with a car full of drunk Texans around 4 in the morning. I now, of course, look back on them yelling ‘Y’all are from England’ before taking us through some pretty dodgy parts of town with a great fondness, but I think probably only because I was with a friend. This is not a situation you really want to find yourself in.
If your hotel is on a shuttle bus route, make sure you get outside the convention centre at least half an hour before the last one runs, which this year will be 3am. They get packed around this time of night, and if you miss the last one you’re pretty much screwed.
Or alternatively, if you know you’re going to be out late, book in advance with Yellow Cab on 512-452-9999 or The Austin Cab Company on 512-478-2222.
For information about Austin’s Public Transport system, head here.
If you’re staying downtown well aren’t you just footloose and fancy free!
Food & Drink
So you forked out for your badge, hotel and flights and now you find yourself in Austin with shall we say limited funds. Fret not my shrapnel counting revellers, there are tons of places where you can eat and drink not just on the cheap, but for free:
There are also loads of delicious food trucks and BBQ restaurants where you can spend your hard earned cash if you so desire, some of which you can check out here.
For up to the minute free food tips follow South By Free Noms on twitter.
Venues & Queuing
From Stubbs to The Beauty Bar there will be queues, they’re unavoidable, particularly after around 9pm. If you want to keep them to a minimum find a showcase or two that you like and maybe stick them out for the night. If you can’t get into see the headline act or buzz band you want to – suck it up, go see something you haven’t even heard of and besides most bands play more than once over the course of the week.
Perhaps the festivals best kept secret is that EVERY single day music badge holders can go and get a SXXpress (skip the queue) pass from the top floor of the Conference Centre. These aren’t exactly advertised but they’re not hidden either. These are one use, one venue only. So if there is a headline band you just absolutely have to see, it is well worth grabbing one of these in the morning so you will be given priority entrance later in the day. They are limited, so the earlier you can get hold of one the better. Obviously when venues are one-in, one-out you still have to wait but they can be the difference between getting in or not.
Staying In Touch
Last year I bought a disposable phone and it was pretty useless. I paid for a certain amount of minutes and texts but it had trouble dialling English numbers, its battery drained far too quickly, it had no internet facilities and to be honest everyone kept forgetting I had bought one in the first place so just called my original phone. In my opinion your best option lies with seeing what your mobile phone service provider can do for you while you’re abroad. Being able to stay in touch and online on the go is pretty vital for keeping tabs on surprise performances and exactly how to get there.
It is easier to get in touch with friends this way too, and once you’ve found everyone and are happily stood watching Jack White play in a parking lot, the only other friend you’ll need is aeroplane mode.
To avoid astronomical roaming charges turn 3G and roaming off when you’re not using them, it may use slightly more battery turning things on and off this way but it will save you money, plus if you read the below essentials you’ll know you should probably carry a charger around with you anyway.
(Slightly Boring) Essentials
Sunscreen – Austin is surrounded by desert and no one likes lobster chic.
UPDATE: The weather is actually looking pretty stormy for next week, so maybe swop that optimistic sunscreen for a more realistic umbrella/waterproof
Water – it is surrounded by desert.
Sunglasses – unless you like walking around all day scowling at the sun and working on your frown lines.
Layers – it can get pretty cold at night.
Good footwear – you will be walking around, a lot.
I.D – just about every venue will ID you, regardless of badge, wristband or wrinkles.
Cash – a lot of places don’t accept plastic.
Phone charger – your phone will run out of juice fast, keep a charger on you and plug it in whenever you can. Or invest in one of these.
Earplugs – because no one wants tinnitus.