10 Ways to Make the Most of South by Southwest (SXSW)

Research bands, sessions, films, etc. in advance. If you’re a middle-aged person like me, reading lists of younger music acts is like reading another language: you don’t understand a word. But unless you use the Filter by genre or Listen features on the SXSW app and also Spotify or other music streaming service, you are doomed to wander into random bars and are likely to get stuck listening to something you hate. There are also plenty of Twitter pages and websites that help you with making choices.

Have a daily plan and also back-up plans. Failing to plan is planning to fail. The days I looked at the app and plotted out several things I wanted to see and also back-ups, I had a much better experience. Lines are long, depending on your badge, and even with a Platinum, expect to be denied access to a lot of the first-tier stuff. The app is also frequently updated, so reload the app often.

Expect to miss a lot and to wait in line. A lot of the time you’re going to have to wait in those lines. SXSW is a HUGE, monstrous, ginormous octopus of an event with many tentacles. There’s no way to see even 1% of it. Unless it’s an unheard of group or film or whatever that few people care about, and there are plenty of those, be prepared to wait. So get over it, bring a load of patience, snacks and water, and strike up conversations with the usually friendly people in line with you.

Be flexible and adventurous about seeing new things. If you only want to see A-level celebrities and their art, you will be sorely disappointed. Some of the best things I saw I had no knowledge of in advance and really enjoyed them. In fact, they were among the best things. So yeah, be flexible. You can even go to the Wellness area and take yoga classes if you want to literally be flexible. Yoga with Adriene (Pilcher is her last name) was there but I didn’t know til too late. But that’s ok, because I do my own daily yoga.

Eat real food and drink a lot of water. This seems obvious, but you can get busy and forget. Trying to avoid processed grains and not wanting to lug around cold quinoa and vegetables, so I made sure I brought snacks and water. But I ended up buying some food most days. Not a problem if you have a job and plenty of money. But either way if you’re going to 12 hours of music, film, sessions, etc., you’re going to need your energy.

Rest. I took two days off because I was out way longer than usual. Because of that, my sleep schedule was really off and still is. That was partly because it takes time for me to wind down after biking home, eating, and blogging. That was disappointing, but I tried to do too much. So try to take care of and pace yourself.

Be outgoing. At one level, SXSW is a huge networking event. Approach it with that mindset. In my case, I was looking for contacts in the music industry, and I did some of that. But when I was at a film with TV icon Dick Cavett and he was taking pictures afterward, I got over my usual shy self and went right up to him. On the way, I saw movie critic Leonard Maltin, and had a chat with him. You never know who you’re going to meet that you might be able to help, or who can help you.

Bring earplugs. These are crucial if you have sensitive ears or just want to protect them. I have a pair that filter the heaviest sounds but still let some in. But there were a few times I had to put in regular earplugs because the room or speakers were just too loud. So I was glad I had them.

Walk, bike, bus and shuttle. There’s not a good reason I can think of to have a car at SXSW. If you have money to burn, sure, waste it on $40 parking fees or Uber and Lyft surge pricing. I found biking to and fro allowed me to see more than if I walked or took the free shuttle. Occasionally locking it was challenging but I brought both locks and even locked my seat, and never had a problem.

Relax, have fun! It’s easy to get caught up in consuming as much content as possible that you forget to enjoy it. A few times I would just sit down at the Convention Center or stand on 6th Street and watch the sea of humanity parade by. Or just get away from the crowds. But a main point of SXSW is to enjoy and learn from creative people doing interesting things. Don’t stress too much about whether you absorb and remember everything, because you won’t.

ADAB Roundup

  • SXSW was invigorating, frustrating, awesome, and exhausting. I lost count of bands, films, workshops and events I went to, but it was worth it. Following up with the people I met may take some time but hopefully some good things will come out of that. I’m looking forward to getting back to a regular schedule.
  • I got about 71 miles on the bike last week. That wasn’t too shabby. But still no long rides. As it warms up and hopefully my sleep and health improve, we’ll see if I can do that.
  • I couldn’t quit posting on WordPress every day, so I’m still posting photos on days I’m writing the book. This means that my “real” blogging schedule for now is Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, so I’m writing the book Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. So far so good, but I need to figure out the difference between blogging and memoir and what the plan is for my book.
  • However, WordPress is telling me I’m about 30% of capacity and will have to upgrade to a paid version. This does not make me happy. So I may start posting fewer pictures. Which I really should be putting on Instagram anyway, but that would require I sign up for Instagram and then spend time engaging people there.
  • I’m currently sitting in my third WordPress MeetUp about site organization. Hopefully it leads to better looking site at some point.
  • The deadline of unemployment running out is looming. I fear that if and when I go back to a full-time job as a temp or otherwise that I will not have the energy to keep up my writing, yoga, walking and other activities. That makes me sad. I guess I can write about that, but ugh. So I’m hoping to find a job that I really love or gigs that pay a lot of money that I don’t hate.

What about you? What are you up to? Do you have any SXSW stories?


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4 thoughts on “10 Ways to Make the Most of South by Southwest (SXSW)

  1. Good tips. I have been to SXSW a time or two. The first time was overwhelming. I guess I didn’t realize it entailed that volume of venues. Knew better the next two times I went. Austin is a fantastic town, especially for music. 😃🤙🏻

    Liked by 1 person

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