The Freeloader’s Guide to SXSW Music
“Hey, David Bazan at Mohawk at 2PM,” texted Stephanie. It was March 2007. I’d been an Austin resident for six months and had just heard of this music conference and festival called South by Southwest (SXSW) from a few of my AmeriCorps cohorts. Apparently, this festival came with all sorts of free day shows, and as a Pedro the Lion fan, I was eager to catch Bazan’s set for free. Little did I know that in the upcoming years, I’d catch Of Monsters and Men play an acoustic set in a backyard, Snoop Dogg in a giant Dorito’s vending machine, and Phosphorescent on Willie Nelson’s ranch – all for free, complete with unlimited free alcoholic beverages and in some cases, food.
After attending show after show for years (and even eventually learning to take a few days off work for the full experience), I was surprised to find that not everyone knew that you could take full advantage of SXSW for free. Eventually, even The Guardian caught onto this phenomenon and published these tips just last year. Over the years, I’ve learned that there are several approaches you can take, as outlined below.
Objective: Find Specific Bands
In recent years, I’ve found sched.org to be particularly helpful with tracking down specific acts I wanted to see. By adding these acts to my schedule, I could see conflicting times, as well as formulate alternate plans in case lines were too long. Other than that, the bands’ websites and social media sites will help you track them down.
Objective: Find Big Name Shows
This one is tricky, but doable. A couple years ago, I noticed the construction of a giant Doritos vending machine. I hopped on social media to find details and happened to notice that Doritos’ official Twitter account was giving away free passes, so I grabbed a pair of passes. The brand promised a big, surprise act, and I didn’t want to miss out. Later that day, while catching Zola Jesus at Fader Fort, I ran into a music journalist friend who informed me that Snoop Dogg was the surprise act. And that’s how I ended up eating Doritos sliders and drinking cocktails out of giant convenience store cups at a Snoop Dogg show.
Last year, MySpace hosted that big Justin Timberlake show. In order to get tickets, you had to register on MySpace to win tickets. Occasionally, MySpace tweeted out a downtown intersection where you could meet them to grab a pair of tickets. So, as usual, social media is pretty much the most important aspect of finding such shows.
In my opinion, the best Twitter accounts to find out rumors and locations of secret acts (as well as likelihood of gaining entry) are @rsvpster and @CameronAtSXSW. These people are good.
Objective: Find Free Food and Booze
Austin360’s SXSW Side Parties database is your best friend. You can sort parties by day and free food/drink offerings. Also, for impromptu or unannounced freebies, check out the Twitter account @SouthByFreeNOMS.
Objective: Find New Music
Check out @OperEveryBand. Step outside. Walk around 6th Street and see where you can get in. Chat with people wearing musician wristbands while enjoying local craft beer at Yellow Jacket Social Club. Sometimes, it’s necessary to RSVP to specific parties, but you can pay $35 to have companies like RSVPster automatically RSVP you for hundreds of parties. Things have come a long way since those days when we all relied on a party spreadsheet a nerdy friend of a friend made that happened to get forwarded to hundreds of people.
Also, check out Twitter contests for entry to parties like the Heartbreaker Banquet and Spin Magazine’s annual day party. Last year’s lineup at Heartbreaker included Shovels & Rope, Phosphorescent, and Jim James, while Spin’s party included Chvrches, Solange Knowles, and Kendrick Lamar. A good tactic involves finding sponsors and artists and following them on Twitter. You never know who’s going to be giving away passes.
Drink water and coffee. Find coffee at Rio Rita, Progress, Halcyon, Royal Blue, Caffe Medici, Austin Java, and Houndstooth Coffee. Eat regular meals at parties, food trucks, restaurants, convenience stores, grocery stores, wherever (or you risk passing out; I know from experience). Wear sturdy shoes that can withstand elements ranging from surprise thunderstorms to unidentifiable substances on bar floors. Dress for unpredictable Austin spring weather – it can easily be either 40 degrees or 80 degrees, depending on the year. Have fun, keep an open mind and flexible schedule, and just go with the flow. You’ll never know where you end up or who you’ll see and meet, which is all part of the charm of SXSW.
As an Asian American kid growing up in Appalachia in the ’90s, it wasn’t exactly easy to find role models who looked like me. Fortunately, my parents loved watching the Olympics, and I discovered figure skating (and Asian American figure skaters) at an early age. By the time I was in high school, my bedroom walls were plastered with posters of Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan alongside ‘N Sync and Devon Sawa. This particular autographed photo of Michelle Kwan was one of my most cherished possessions.
I’ve been at the Texas State Capitol about five times in the past few weeks to witness the GOP-led Texas Legislature push through legislation that would make abortions nearly inaccessible in the state. After work or during lunch, I arrived at the Capitol to sit in the Senate Gallery during Wendy Davis’ filibuster, submit my opposition to HB2 via iPad on Capitol grounds, submit my opposition to SB1 via card to a clerk, pass out packets of speaking points to witnesses in line, rally with a Dixie Chick, and march with thousands of people wearing orange shirts. It took a full week to realize one very important point.
Protesting is often for the privileged.
Every single time I visited the Capitol, I noticed that the majority of people at the Capitol, either wearing orange to oppose HB2/SB1 or blue to support these bills, were white. Buses full of mostly-white anti-choice folks arrived from out-of-state. Bus fare from Washington, DC was a mere $25 for anti-choice students. Hoards of blue-clad conservatives arrived at the Capitol early in the morning and stayed all day.
These people, under the proper unfortunate circumstances, are precisely the people who would have no trouble obtaining an abortion if needed. These people, able to either not work or take time off work on any given week day to travel across the state or country to support lawmakers, are singing, chanting, and praying away the constitutional rights of those unable to make the trek to Austin to fight for their rights. These people have very little in common with the Texas women they’re damaging, and they’re unwilling to empathize with women who find themselves in need of abortions for various reasons and unable to take a few days off work to drive hundreds of miles to Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, or Houston to receive the procedure.
In fact, 78% of Texas teenage mothers are not white. Disadvantaged and colored women are the ones who hurt most by these same lawmakers’ massive cuts to the state’s family planning budget in 2010. Of course, after realizing that these cuts to family planning would eventually cost taxpayers up to $273 million in Medicaid funds to pay for these unplanned babies, the lawmakers scrambled to reinstate funds into the family planning budget earlier this year. But, the Republican-led Texas Senate would probably consider family planning not germane to abortion discussion.
With that in mind, privileged, teenage, non-Texan, white boys in blue shirts have no business deciding the fates of colored women across Texas. Religious teenage boys who yelled, “Ew! That’s disgusting,” upon seeing a protest sign with a sketching of a vagina have no business fighting against abortion. So, as a Texan woman of color, I’d just like to tell them all to get off my lawn.