South by Southwest Festival

I know I’m super early, but I love this too much to hold it in any longer – the South by Southwest Festival is one of the coolest things about Austin, hands down.  The festival is broken into 3 parts.  It kicks off this year with the Interactive and Film portions of the festival (both start on March 13; the Interactive runs until March 17, and the Film until March 21.)

Billy Bob Thornton at SxSW 2008 (Photo by kris krüg)

Billy Bob Thornton at SxSW 2008 (Photo by kris krüg)

In 2008, Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of the social networking site Facebook), Frank Warren (from the online phenomenon PostSecret) and Jane McGonigal (an established game designer) were the keynote speakers for the Interactive fest. The Film fest showcased the hit films 21 and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, among many, many others.

Then. . .there is the music part. The SxSW Music Festival is undoubtedly one of the coolest fests to hit Austin, because it attracts people from all across the music industry, and also brings hundreds of bands into town, both big and small. In my three years at the music fest, I’ve had the honor of listening to Neil Young, Pete Townshend, and Lou Reed keynote, have listened to Iain Archer perform in a tiny Irish pub while the guys from Snow Patrol stood next to me, and ran into Teitur (literally) on my way to a show. On a personal note, I always love the fest, because it has always been on my birthday in past years. This is the first year where I will turn 22 two days before the music fest kicks off, but that’s OK – I’m just glad I’ll be 21 for the duration of the festival! (It helps, a LOT.)

A few bands have already been named for the 2009 Music Fest, including St. Vincent, Sage Francis and Anni Rossi. To keep up with all of the SxSW announcements of keynote speakers, performers and panel folk, you can follow them on twitter, but I think it’s more efficient to check out the Austin, TX Showlist and SxSW Baby!

Elijah Wood DJs at SxSW 2008 (Photo by aaron)

Elijah Wood DJs at SxSW 2008 (Photo by aaron)

One huge complaint about the festival is that it is incredibly expensive to attend, and that if you don’t have a badge or wristband, it’s almost impossible to get into shows. I always shell out the money for a badge, because – let’s be honest, this is all I do with my life. I paid $550 for my badge this year, which is definitely a huge sum of money that many can’t afford. Wristbands aren’t on sale yet, but they are usually upwards of $100, if memory serves me. *If* you just want to pay for a few shows, make sure you arrive at the venue REALLY, REALLY early – otherwise, you probably won’t get in. And if it’s a band like Vampire Weekend, who had so much buzz at the 2008 festival that honey came out of their noses, don’t bother; it is highly, highly unlikely you’ll make it in without a wristband or badge. What happens is, three lines are formed – a line for badges, a line for wristbands and a line for everyone else. The badge folk are let in first, followed by the wristband folk, and then everyone else. And as more and more badges show up, they’ll get trickled in to the already-moving lines. It can definitely seem unfair, but remember that badge people are usually industry people, and the bands really need them to see their sets and write about them/get excited about them, etc.

Keynotes should be announced soonish, so get excited about this festival! Hey, we start celebrating winter holidays way too early, why not celebrate an awesome music festival 3 months early?

How do you feel about SxSW? Lemme know!

-Caitlin

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5 Responses to “South by Southwest Festival”


  1. 1 Brittany December 2, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    You stood next to Snow Patrol?! I love them!

  2. 2 Aaron A. December 4, 2008 at 1:13 am

    I have never wanted to spend the cash to get a wristband, and most of the time it didn’t bother me because several bands playing showcases were also doing free shows. Even a few bands not getting an official SXSW showcase still came down because of the festival and played free shows so I got to see many that way too. The big problem I have is the exclusivity of some of the “free” parties that still require an RSVP from people “connected” to the record label or venue in some way. I missed out on a few bands I’ve wanted to see for years because of those restrictions. It’s getting too exclusive and I wish bands would take the time to explore more free shows to the Austin public and all who travel for miles to see good music, because we’re still putting money into the economy and buying merch from them. Free shows for all!

  3. 3 Caitlin W December 4, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    Haha yeah Brittany, there’s a semi-funny story that goes along with that, too.

    Aaron, I definitely hear you. My close friends wanted to see The Deadly Syndrome last year, but the “free show” they heard about ended up being one of those VIP bedealies. I totally understand your frustration with exclusivity, and I do wish there were more free and inclusive shows during the fest. Whenever I get snubbed from seeing a group I really want to see during SxSW, I just try to remind myself that a big reason bands play is to get more exposure in the industry, so sometimes it’s necessary for industry folks to get first dibs.

    One great thing that SxSW has been doing the past couple of years has been the free shows AT the convention center. Last year, one of the standout shows was Sia, and the year before, Peter, Bjorn & John were absolutely fantastic. Usually TONS of bands play these, and because there are two stages, I believe usually about 10 bands get to play per day (and they will usually host these shows for 3 days.) I’m estimating based on memory, of course, and maybe it’ll be different this year. Basically, you need to know someone with a badge (or wristband? I *think* wristbanded folks got to pick up tickets as well.) The first year I went, you could basically ask for as many free tickets as you wanted. Then you can just pass them out to your friends! Present your ticket at the door, and voila! Entrance to great, glitzy performances with light shows and the possibility to end up on TV (I am actually on the 2007 DVD of performances, doing my dorky dances. . .woot.) They may change the policy this year, but hopefully not – I feel like the vibe is really good when the crowd is big and mixed, as it’s been the past 2 years.

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