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Hoboing It at the 2009 SXSW Music Conference

By ShepRitz | Music | April 1, 2009 |

By ShepRitz | Music | April 1, 2009 |

SXSW is, hands down, the biggest live party ever amassed on this green-turning-brown planet. Only in Austin, for five days out of the year, can your mind be blown with over 80 choices of what to see musically at any given minute of the waking day.

For years I wanted to join the festivities, but this was the first year that I made the trip. Stacey and I arranged to stay two days past the amazing and exhausting Pajiba-Con to experience a bit of SXSW’s music. From eating and drinking during the film fest, we learned that about 95% of the bars/venues were within walking distance from each other. The only problem I feared was transportation & parking. But there were ample parking lots available ($5-$18) and finding free street parking was surprisingly fruitful. Once on foot, you could just walk, or flag down a little rickshaw taxi cab/bike courier to buzz you along the streets to your destination. More adventurous people might have tried their bus system (which I naturally avoid thanks to my experiences with Philly’s public transport system). So transportation was not an issue. The real trouble remained: how could we plan what to see with over 1900 acts to choose from?

HOBO TIP #1: Next time, I’ll rent a place located less than 2 miles outside of downtown and rent a bicycle. Better yet, I’d buy a thrift store bike for cheap & donate it back when I leave. Whoo-Ha! I’ll probably save me some shiny nickels!

In all actuality, planning was not as complicated or overwhelming as I perceived it to be. I quickly learned that things got crazy without setting realistic limits. Taking an hour to check out the band and venue schedules made the experience a breeze. There were so many options that we were able to plan a solid list of back up acts to catch if problems occurred in seeing the “option A” bands. But as it turned out, we had no trouble getting into any of the events that we planned for.

HOBO TIP #2: If a line is out and around the corner of an establishment, remember that the venues don’t charge a thing for standing outside where you can still hear the band. Just bring a concealed flask or mouthwash bottle with the contents properly replaced and enjoy.

The most useful thing to remember was that the city’s free weekly paper is your friend. I learned to hate, love, and respect the Austin Chronicle’s wealth of information. It was the damn Chronicle that told me Gordon Gano was playing at the exact same time as my beloved Mika Miko. But I had to choose you, incoherent girl punk band Mika Miko, as you were playing along side the emo-punk/rock outfit I’ve heard about, Abe Vigoda, and other very interesting acts (like Silk Flowers: an awesomly dark electronic “Russian Devo” act) as part of your PPM record label’s showcase at Red 7. Actually, I recorded and posted Mika Miko’s opening song here! But, decision-making crises aside, The Chronicle was a great ally. It listed all the night time SXSW shows as well as the free daytime shows in very fine print.

HOBO TIP #3: Scour the FREE weekly city paper. The band schedules are all there. Just learn how to read.

What??? Free shows in the daytime???? Things just kept getting better and better! The thing I found most amazing was the list of acts that performed virtually unadvertised and unannounced during the day FOR FREE. Thanks to these listing, Stacey and I got to see the tremendous quadruple bill of Camera Obscura, Rebecca Gates (of The Spinanes), The Thermals and Cursive. It was mind-boggling, that a band like Camera Obscura with a 5 hour + pay line the night before played a free show the next day with no admittance issues. And the free show was wonderful. It was located at the French Legation Museum: a beautiful outdoor setting which set up two tents that faced each other for the event. The larger, uphill main stage tent and the smaller valley tent were 100 footsteps apart, separated by a lovely tree and shrub dotted grass hill which was perfect to lazily lounge around, picnic upon and soak up the sun & music for free. When it was all over, and I could look back at the two days, I don’t think I ever planned an itinerary so minute-by-minute accurate before in my life.

HOBO TIP #4: For scheduling issues, it is to your advantage to remember that most of the bands play multiple times throughout the festival. And their daytime shows (sometimes at a record store) are free! They even give away free things like veggie bean tacos, ice cream novelties and beer huggies! Stock up!

Free events aside, the odds were good that a band you wanted to see played a tough-to-get-into pay-gig, in which case there were three options. The first of which was the option that SXSW peddled on-line: the all access Music Conference Badge/Pass. This not only gave you first crack of getting into all the venues worry-free, but it also gave you privileged access to special industry-related events, seminars, and workshops. It also drained your savings account of $700 if you did not pre-order one. To me, this seemed like a moronic waste of money and should have only been purchased if you could really afford it or had a company write off the cost. Even still, I heard corporate badge holders complain that the outrageous price limited who could get one, which in turn, limited the audiences at the pass-only events.

HOBO TIP #5: Don’t get one. I don’t think elephants have enough blood to sell to get close to the fee, especially if you do not buy one in advance. At least check out option two.

The next option was the comparably affordable “limited supply” wristband, which you could get either online or in person at various locations for $165-$180. After all the badges went in, the second in command wristbands were allowed to break line and enter with a “no cover guarantee”. You know, when I didn’t buy the $700 badge, the $165 wrist band sounded honestly (yet deceptively) affordable. Even though I would only be there for two nights, I considered buying one for a while. But I quickly discovered logic and rationality, and decided to not buy one.

HOBO TIP #6: If you are a stickler for scheduling, and plan to hop-scotch from venue to venue, seeing band after band all five nights, then this is the way to go. But don’t try to be a Superman with your itinerary — even he died.

The final and best option was to just pay at the door. Like how the GOP famously used fear tactics, the badge and wristband promotions did the same with their “Shows Sell Out! Buy A Badge!” propaganda. But the shows did not sell out because there were hundreds of shows all at the same time, servicing the thousands of people there. Stacey and I only had to wait in line for a few minutes at the PPM show, and we got right in to Maggie Mae’s “Girls Rock Camp Austin” show without wait or a question. The “Girls Rock” show was important because it featured one of Stacey’s never-seen-before favorites, the Brooklyn based sugar-pop rock band, The Besties. We also caught two other lovable bands that we had never heard before. The first was Ume, an Austin band that is one part Helium and two parts Sonic Youth and is led by Lauren Larson: an energetic and entrancing guitarist with wispy yet raspy vocals. The other band was Philly’s own Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer (sadly, I never saw them before Austin), who reminded me of a female fronted version of Fountains of Wayne in their best period (1999’s Utopian Parkway). Even though the shows we went to see were not main attractions, I believe that tickets for the highly anticipated bands went on sale before the night of the show (at least I heard some people bought Decemberists tickets before they played opening night). But what it really came down to was logic: if there were two $15 shows you wanted to see each night over the five days, you would only have needed to spend $150. And not all the shows were $15: most of the shows were $10.

HOBO TIP #7: If there is a show you are worried about, go to the venue early, pay to get in before it gets crowded, and then you can leave. The bars allowed re-admission with a hand stamp. So you can be a greedy bastard, see a gazillion bands, and still get back in to see the ones you want.

Not all the fun at SXSW revolved around discovering and going to see bands. To go into a bar at 11am, see a band play for free, and get shit faced on gin and tonics before noon is one of those things everyone should do once in their lives. The ability to do this was available in abundance. They (smartly) closed off the bar district’s 6th street to cars so that everyone could meander and stumble around the littered street. This created the perfect atmosphere for people watching, which could have qualified as a sport. SXSW offered an incredibly diverse population of 20-30 year old white indie-hipster kids, which was really not quite that diverse. The hipster uniform was in so much effect that it was impossible to tell a civilian from a musician, thus it became a game to guess a person’s status. Seeing this high of a hipster quota surprised the hell out of me for one simple fact: there was not a single bit of pretentious, holier-than-thou atmosphere that this crowd/event would generate if it was held in a pompous hipster town like Philly. The overall vibe offered during the festival was comforting and friendly. Perhaps just for being at SXSW, you received an automatic pardon from being snobbishly downcast. Everyone knew it was for everyone. Finally there was the food. Even if most of it slid toward the tex-mex side of the scale (and then right out of you, if you know what I mean), it was fantastic. Bar-B-Q was not as represented as I thought it would be, but honestly, the top of the charts belonged to the taco carts. The affordable all-hour delights capped off an evening of music perfectly with a delicious culinary delight.

HOBO TIP #8: Go to the orange and yellow taco cart on South Congress, cater-corner from Ego’s Bar. They had a-MAZE-ing egg & chorizo corn tacos and portabella & avocado tacos available at 2 or 3 in the morning at a very cheap price.

ShepRitz went home to the wonderfully cold West Philly and slept for 3 days straight following his trip gallivanting around Austin. You can see the pictures of the bands he and Stacey saw here.

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