Writing about SXSW 2013 now after the fact feels like trying to recall your dreams after a night of doping up on melatonin and sleep aids.
I sit here contemplating what in particular I should report and wonder if any of the flash moments of greatness and the wash of day to day survival aspects would really make any sense. Living out of a brown corduroy Jansport for an entire week. Sleeping on multiple couches. Jumping straight off the Mega Bus and meeting friends at my first SXSW show. Grabbing front row and shooting photo’s at the wildest Black Lips show I’ve ever been too (see Photo’s). Taking the bus, catching cabs, walking, walking, walking uptown, downtown, cross town, all over town. Getting VIP photo access with a little luck and charm. Avoiding lines without badges or wristbands. Letting the random chaotic fun of SXSW take over when you have no plan or your plan goes bust (because it will). All I have as proof that this really happened is a 16GB memory card full of photo’s (see Bucket of Rock’s Best Photo’s from SXSW) and this undeniable sense that I just experienced a life changing good time. I guess that will do. As I roughly recall my state of mind going into my first SXSW, I think that’s exactly what I had hoped to accomplish.
SXSW, the giant multi-venue music festival that takes over Austin, TX for an entire week is a mass organized event full of lunacy. SXSW is exciting and often overwhelming. SXSW is full of human comradery while the density of crowds and lines challenges your attitude toward fellow man. A lot of people (in the ballpark of 20,000 musicians, industry professionals, and music fans) go to SXSW’s music week for a lot of different reasons (to be heard, to listen, to buy, to sell, to party). Why did I go to SXSW 2013? Mostly, I wanted to see what kind of unauthorized (no wristband/ no badge) trouble I could get into with my new Nikon D700. Secondly, for the same reason I do everything Bucket Of Rock blog related. I wanted to share a music experience with many of my not so fortunate or not so well informed fellow music enthusiast right here in Frederick. Lastly, why not! It sounded like an epically good adventure full of the thing I love the most, music.
There was plenty of luck to be had at SXSW 2013. Unless you like standing in large crowds and paying a pretty penny, skip the badges and wristband and events that require them. The growing number of jaded big industry professionals would agree with me. Go see Usher in Philly next time he comes around, don’t waist your SXSW magic on the official generic big stage show you could see anytime anywhere. The best things in SXSW life are FREE. Somewhere along the line SXSW started becoming more known for the spectacle of odd ball music mash up on the official stages which tend to deter attendance at the up and coming band showcases. I heard some regulars complaining that SXSW 2013 was lame in comparison to the past few years. I couldn’t have imagined it being better. I was there to discover the undiscovered and there were more opportunities to do that than I could possibly take advantage of. Go to the free record label day parties if you can at all possible get your whit’s together by noonish. If you get the itch to see some bigger names, check out the band on twitter and facebook daily, get their entire SXSW schedule, do some research, and go to the show with the smallest stage and most free or discounted libations. It’s a bit of up front work, but it pays off big. Free admission (or even $10) + Free/ Cheap food and drink + crowd intimacy is the perfect recipe for FUN. These are also the events all of you unofficial music industry professional are most likely to score VIP access and/ or a word with an important new contact. At the Shooter Jenning’s Day Party at Threadgill’s I was standing around with my camera in hand and managed to convince the security guy to hook me up with a stage pass so I could shoot with all the other professionals. Many times at Club De Ville with camera in hand, I was able to waltz right up to the side stage landing and shoot till my hearts content. I caught some photo’s of The Walkmen this way and there was tons of FREE beer! Once more, I was standing in the crowded Mohawk Van’s Stage area and spotted the steps as the perfect photo op regardless of the big “No Standing” signs. I walked over and wiggled my camera at the security guy, got the ok, and got some great shots. One of my favorite days was a FREE completely open house party on the very last day of SXSW 2013. There was FREE donated tofu, shared BYOB beer, plenty of conversation and good music in the most welcoming of pale sea blue painted wooden floor living rooms. It was like the SXSW fever had broken and we were all reveling in our survival. This might all seem a bit trivial I know, but SXSW has a funny way of affording you the opportunity that YOU need if you let it. No, I didn’t meet Jim James, although I did see him and the Flaming Lips in concert for FREE at Auditorium Shores. But who am I, in a vast hierarchical sea of music and industry professionals? What I needed was to put some miles on my camera, pass out a few business cards, and to have the most easy going fun time I possibly could. I was lucky. I got that. I wasn’t the only one, I like this legally blind guys report (Blind South By) on his last minute unofficial emersion into SXSW 2013.
While lady luck can kiss you at any moment no matter who you are, SXSW isn’t as romantic of an experience for all. As a music industry professional (bloggers, photographers, record label recruiters) SXSW is a fully worthwhile venture and you can do it for next to nothing besides your plane tix and cost of living. For musicians the equation gets much more complicated. The most important part is often the most exploited part. I doubt I’m the first to point this out and maybe it’s common knowledge for you touring musicians, but for the record… There is certainly an exponential curve between hours of free play time and mainstream popularity. Undiscovered, unsigned, truly independent artist will bust tail playing something like 5 – 10 shows in seven days for pennies (usually free) in an attempt to reach new audiences and offset the chance that Jim James is playing at the same time. If you’re a local independent band, don’t even bother going to SXSW if you’re not going to milk every hour you’re there for opportunities to play. This is a party about you, not for you. You are required to exhaust your self and you will not make any money. Keep your eyes on the prize and network at the artist tent, with other showcase artists, and who ever else might be floating around. This is your payoff. Big business comes from knowing the right people or at the very least as many people as possible. Here in lies the dichotomy of SXSW greatness.