Local Current Blog

Surviving SXSW: A guide for those attending, and those who aren’t

Over the next five days, you are going to hear an awful lot about the South by Southwest festival, particularly the music portion as it officially kicks off tomorrow. The Current will be journeying to Austin, Texas to report on the festival live, and I will be working alongside The Current’s program director Jim McGuinn and on-air host Mark Wheat to bring you up-to-the-minute news and reviews from the trenches. On this blog in particular, I’ll be covering the festival from a local beat and checking in with the dozens upon dozens of Minnesota artists who travel to Austin to perform each year.

Whether you are attending the festival or just following along with the coverage from home, I thought it would be helpful to compile a list of quick tips for surviving the week ahead. And no, I’m not even trying to be dramatic by using the word “surviving”; for those who have never gone, the entire experience can be quite overwhelming, but if we stick together and hold hands during the scary parts we’ll do just fine.


1. Let go. There is something exhilarating about the chaos of the festival — the random pop-up shows; the buskers on every street corner; the fact that you can never sit down, ever. But that randomness can be hard to handle, especially if you’re a Type A person like myself. True story: The first year I attended the festival, the hour-by-hour itenerary of shows that I had painstakenly written out for myself quickly unraveled before my very eyes. Some shows required higher credentials than I had been given, some were simply at capacity, and others were way further across town than I had anticipated. At one point, I ended up wandering down 6th St. alone fighting back tears of frustration (I’m kind of a wimp like that). But the lesson that I learned? You can’t plan this one out. Just let go and succomb to some aimless wandering, and you’ll be surprised how many shows you can just stumble into accidentally.

2. Tend to your basic human needs. This seems like a given, but you wouldn’t believe how many people fizzle out before the end of the fest because of things like sunburn, dehydration, or just plain exhaustion. Wear good walking shoes, drink lots of water, take breaks, wear earplugs, and try to eat at least one meal sitting down at an actual restaurant instead of jogging past a food truck.

3. Fist bump your fellow Minnesotans. Each year, it seems like the number of locals attending SXSW grows exponentially. This year especially, there are at least two different all-Minnesota showcases happening each day, not to mention the myriad one-off sets planned by MN acts at both official and unofficial parties. It may seem counterintuitive, traveling all that way to hang with people you could easily see at the Turf Club, but there’s something cool about bonding with the home team all those miles from home. It’s a bit like summer camp in that way. So make some time to check in with a few familiar faces or at least high five each other on the way to your respective shows — there’s nothing else like it.


1. Take advantage of all the free goodies. With so many different media organizations participating in the feeding frenzy, even those who aren’t attending can access some sweet musical freebies. For example, NPR will be live-streaming several of their shows and events, including the keynote speech by Bruce Springsteen (you’ll find an embed of those streams on this very blog starting tomorrow), and many magazines and websites have put together free MP3 samplers showcasing mostly new, up-and-coming acts. Here are a few: SPIN’s Best SXSW Acts of 2012, IODA’s SXSW Sampler, Free Music Archive’s SXSW 2012 Playlist, and the Don’t Mess With Texas 2012 Sampler.

2. Get out to some shows. There’s still plenty going on around the Twin Cities, especially with St. Patrick’s Day coming up on Saturday. And with a couple hundred of the most avid showgoers exported to Texas for the week, you might even have a little extra room to move around. We’ll be posting stories about a few especially notable local events on the blog later this week.

3. Let go. You know what’s just as annoying as a whole Twitter feed clogged with chatter about SXSW? A Twitter feed flooded with people complaining about the people who are tweeting about SXSW. If you’re already nearing SXSW burnout, just remember that the whole thing will be over by Sunday and we can all get on with our lives. And if you seriously can’t hear one more thing about it without passing out, there are people who can help. It’s going to be ok!

Follow all of The Current’s SXSW coverage here and follow my updates on Twitter at @LocalCurrent.