When people find out I live in Austin (or close to it), they almost always ask if I’m going to South By Southwest (March 17-21 for the music festival, March 12-21 for the whole thing). Answer: I wish. I have been several times and mostly had a blast. Definitely discovered a lot of great music. However, I don’t know if or when I’m going back. I probably won’t unless I can get in with a press pass, which isn’t likely since my newspaper (The Hill Country News) is very local and we’re also working on a special section right around that time.
First time I went to SXSW, I got in with a wrist band, which is affordable, but now the demand is so high it’s almost impossible to get one. When they announce that wristbands are on sale, you have only a few hours to get to the location. Since I work in the burbs, that means it’s never gonna happen. I can remember when you had at least a week to mosey on down and pick up a wristband before they sold out.
Then assuming you did get one, everyone with a badge gets in ahead of you. So most venues and most shows will fill up before you ever get in. The Fire Marshal’s office is very strict on the issue of overcrowding. When a venue is full, that’s it. No one else gets in. I still got plenty of enjoyment out of SXSW as a wristband attendee, but now it’s so crowded that even badge-holders often wait in line for hours and don’t get into shows they want to see. And the badges are EXPENSIVE. To register now for the Music festival alone would cost $750. If you registered before Sept. 15 it was “only” $595. I like movies too, but I only ever attended the music festival because music comes first for me. A Platinum badge, which gets you into Music, Film and Interactive festivals, started at $920 and is now up to $1,225. Way, way out of my reach.
Two years in a row when I worked at another publication, I applied for and got press badges, which didn’t cost me, but I was expected to cover the festival and report on it. I would do feature stories on any local (Dripping Springs) musicians in the festival and would review the bands I saw each night. The newspaper I work for now can’t really use reports on SXSW so it’s not an option.
A couple of years ago I got the bright idea of taking my vacation during SXSW and buying my own badge, $500 on my credit card. Then my friend who was going to go with me got called away on business unexpectedly. He was supposed to come back and catch a few days of the festival with me but during his trip back he got a horrible case of the flu. So I was left to wander around the festival alone with no one to talk to. Then my radiator on my pickup truck blew up and I had to get it towed, and it cost me $300 to fix the thing. I still had a good time overall, found some great bands, but it made me pretty shy about plunking down that kind of money. It was scary enough planning a vacation to San Francisco last fall knowing the possibly deadly swine flu was going around. Lucked out on that one.
You might expect me to have sour grapes and say SXSW sucks and is too corporate, but the fact is I got a great deal out of it and would love to go back some year. I discovered a lot of great music there – Gogol Bordello, Antibalas, Kinky and Melissa McClelland to name a few. Also got to see one of my musical heroes, Robyn Hitchcock, three different times. Maybe one day…
If you happen to have a few thousand bucks lying around or work for a company that would pay your way and want to sign up, you can do it at http://www.sxsw.com/. And if you get to go, lucky SOB, tell me who you saw so I can live vicariously and discover some bands secondhand.