Festival Guide: Crash Course in Attending SX
Ed note: we’re seeing the same questions pop up about the festival over and over again – ‘How do I get in to X party? Is there an RSVP? What does ‘official’ showcase mean?’ – So with the help of @SXSWhoa, we put together a run down to answer these questions with hope that it helps both SX first-timers and vets to prepare for those crazy 10 days in March. Most of this applies to the music-side of the fest – look for an interactive guide soon.
Often as we’re browsing the festival tag feed on Twitter we see people confused as to why they need to pay hundreds of dollars to see their favorite artist perform – example: “I wanna see @fucktyler but the SX website is charging $700 dollars for a ticket.” — well, that’s not exactly the case.
The festival is first and foremost a conference – it’s about the panels for both interactive and music where industry leaders and innovators come to share their experiences, knowledge and ideas once a year. The music-side of the fest isn’t like other big festivals like ACL, Coachella or Bonnaroo – beyond not being confined to a single location, the primary focus is as an industry event for industry people, an event where labels, A&R, sponsors, techies, film junkies, artists, and fans can all come together and party, while working. However, since the fest has grown and changed over the years, the rise of unofficial events has changed the game for access to artists performances.
Get your party strat straight:
Since the standard model of a music festival does not apply here, the festival schedule can change and you have to adapt in order to go with the flow. Different party strategies work for different people depending on your end goals – some people make spreadsheets for every artists they want to catch (or must see for work), others try to get into the few specific bands on their list by staying at one day party for an entire afternoon, while other people bounce around to attempt to catch 30+ bands in one day, while only watching 10-15 minutes of each set. It’s not uncommon to see a giant line, to ask someone standing it in who they are trying to see – and for the response to be “Actually, I’m not sure.”
With so much going on at once, the acronym of the festival might as well be changed to FOMO. Bands performing at the same time as other bands, overcrowding when 2000+ people want to pack into an 800 person venue, but all of that is part of the fun of the experience. With an open schedule, you can discover something new.
Official vs Unofficial:
When an event is listed as ‘Official’ – it means in order to attend – it’s badges-priority, then wristbands (for music), then sometimes, depending on the event, you can purchase a ticket at the door (if the event has not sold out/at capacity) or the event might be free and open to the public (again, if it has not met capacity). The official events are what make the festival – having a badge is an entirely difference experience than trying to go the all-free route. Can you RSVP for official events? – Sometimes. Will you need a badge to get in? Most often yes.
Why do unofficial events happen?
Everyone wants to get on the action – with so many bands in town for the festival – brands, websites, companies – see the opportunity to host events ‘unofficially’ – therefore, they are not a part of the festival, and not requiring a badge to enter. These events are the ones that often have an RSVP system in place to promote the event. These parties are the ‘day parties’ and night parties that happen during the festival — there are regulations in place for when an official artist can play outside of their showcases. Therefore, these unofficial events will abide by these rules by either hosting artists not on the official line-up or by scheduling performances in the afternoon or very late night. Do you have to pay for a badge to see countless bands play? No, but know that it’s also going to mean waiting in lines and figuring out the requirements for entry to unofficial parties.
SX Guest Pass:
New for 2014, the Guest Pass is a free pass to get into several of the side events associated with the festival including the Gaming Expo, Flatstock 43, Music Gear Expo, Digital Creative Job Market, Renegade Craft Fair and the Outdoor Stage at Butler Park (formerly Auditorium Shores shows). You register for a Guest Pass online, get one at one of the many pickup locations listed on their website or on-site at the doors of select events during the festival.
Why are all these people wearing party wristbands?:
For both unofficial and official events, parties will issue individual wristbands to get into their events. Even if you’ve RSVP’ed to a party, you still have to go pick up the wristband from the event before you can actually get in to a party. Events like Fader Fort and Hype Hotel will announce their wristband pick-up hours via email and social media once the fest begins. The common move is to go pick up your wristbands (after RSVP’ing) for these event first at the beginning of the week. Bringing a beer and tacos to go stand in the Fader line on the Wednesday at 10AM is standard – you’ll be doing that with about 300 other people – and you’ll need to have your ‘Plus 1’ with you to grab their wristband at the same time. Most fest vets will go through wristband pick-up for unofficial events as soon as they’re able and will wear the wristbands all week – just in case they want to get into the event.
Are there all-ages shows?
Yes, but they are difficult to come by since most events are held in bars or have free alcohol. SXSWunderaged put together a list of options for those under 21. The best are always the Urban Outfitters back lot party, Waterloo Records Day Parties, South by San Jose, Homeslice’s Music by The Slice as well as parties at 21st Street Co-Op and other DIY events.
SXLineup.com: @SXSWhoa and @CameronatSXSW have curated a “lineup” of some of our favorite artists playing this year. It is set it up so you can click on a band to see where/when they are playing as well as a music video to get acquainted with the artist.
Spotify playlists: Listen to both official and unofficial bands before coming to Austin.
Facebook groups: there are several Facebook pages and groups that only track RSVPs – RSVP for Your Life is a good one – it’s not difficult to search around to find these groups and pages with information on events.
ATXshhh: What started as a Google Doc years ago — has become a useful festival schedule making tool. For $5, you can build a timeline of parties and backup parties for the fest. You can see who has what for free and who is performing where. It’s a great tool for building a basic layout of how you want to tackle the festival.
Using Twitter to Mange SX:
Finally the most important tool in existence for the festival is Twitter. It’s the best way to do your pre-festival research. It’s the best way to stay up to date with short lines, freebies, pop-up shows during the festival. Information moves quickly and the difference between being at the front of the line and being left outside while your favorite band is performing can be minutes. Know which accounts to follow and always be charging your phone. Here is our list of who to follow for SX 2014.
We hope after reading this you are just a little more prepared for what you are getting into. It’s about just knowing what to expect, being prepared to adapt, and allowing yourself to just go with it. If you do plan on attending the festival in no badge/wristband mode this year a good rule of thumb is 1) do your research first 2) have a back-up plan.