Monday, March 7, 2011

The Neurotic's Guide to SXSW.

Well I suppose it's time for me to write something about SXSW, huh?

The truth is, SXSW makes me both excited and terrified.  If you are an Austinite, attitudes about SXSW generally have one of two inflections:

1. Unabashed enthusiasm.
"Pass me the Redbull and my stack of business cards, because my new social network start-up / band / film / blog and I are going to make!  A!  Splash!"

2. Annoyed resignation.  
"This traffic is bullshit."
 "Who are these people." 
 "Get me the F outta Austin."

It's true.  Either you love SXSW and have been preparing for weeks, or you avoid the traffic and the city's manic energy altogether.

You hole up in your house or you skip town, and celebrate that other week the country recognizes, i.e. Spring Break.

But I admit it.  These days, I squarely belong to Group #1.  I ordered the business cards.  I applied for the press badge.  I joined some speaking panels.  I even hired a blog designer.  (And am crossing my fingers that the very screen you're reading now will look even prettier in a week or so).

Because the truth is, I love the way SXSW slaps me around a bit.  In one week, it stuffs me with more shows and free booze and creative contacts than I could ever possibly take in.  Historic things happen during SXSW, like when Twitter was announced there in 2007, and Bill Murray guest bar tended at Shangri-La last year.  At least I consider that historic.

So it's all undeniably thrilling for a person like me, but that doesn't mean I don't have a few nerves about the whole thing.

"Am I doing enough for SXSW?  Surely I'm not doing enough.  What's my panel schedule?  What if I'm late?  What if I'm wearing white pants and get my period while speaking on the panel?   Wait -- screw panels -- which shows should I see?   I don't even know which bands are playing!  And how does SXSW Film even work??" 

It all turns my brain into an echo chamber of anxiety.  Which is a little bit ridiculous, considering it's SXSW.  Not a Libyan revolution.  Perspective:  I lack this. 

So to deal, I've made a little list of the things that give me SXSW neuroses.  And, ways to alleviate them.  Do you have tips of your own?  If so, I'd love to hear them in the comments section.

For now, here is my quick and easy guide to not becoming a SXSMess.

 The Neurotic's Guide to SXSX:
Trouble-Shooting SXSW for Increased Well-Being and Insanity Prevention

Problem #1: You are disorganized.   First, realize that we all are.

I am not lying to you.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, who jumps in for a fulfilling SXSW experience is flying by the seat of their pants.  The only people who are organized are probably the SXSW organizers themselves, and one of my friends who is in fact a SXSW worker has to take a stiff drink every morning just to get through it all.  Are you sober in the morning?  You're one step ahead.

If you're a film/interactive/music industry worker and participating in panels, you already know when and where you're speaking.  If you're just there to listen to other panels/talks, practice the Rule of Three.  Pick three good ones each day that you absolutely must see, then allow yourself to wander just a bit.  Don't make yourself crazy.  Just open up your little schedule and circle the daily best.

If you're not an official "industry" person but are, like many of us, a SXSW enthusiast, then you basically just want to get your party on.

Again: The Rule of Three is here to help you.  Don't try to fit in absolutely every party every single day.  You will not.  Pick three good parties, three good shows, three good screenings, or a combination thereof.  By embracing the Rule of Three, you leave yourself room for spontaneity.  And friends, those accidental SXSW discoveries are often the most magical.

Problem #2: You do not know where to party Or, maybe you have an inkling, but there's just so many parties it's hard to know which ones to pick.  (Poor us!  What a burden to bear.  Too many parties.)

To help you and to help me, I'll be posting one solid free event each day during SXSW.  I used to try and post all the best things going on each day during SXSW, but forget that.  I plan to be out living it!  So check into Austin Eavesdropper during SXSW week for one daily SXSW Recommendation.

In the meantime, here are is a list of 25 free SXSW parties via local blog Republic of Austin to help get you started.

Problem #3: You cannot get around Ah, a common problem.  While SXSW is concentrated along the Red River corridor between roughly 12th and 4th streets, there's tons of stuff scattered throughout the city: From the east side to downtown Whole Foods.

Now, a true confession.  Besides ACL, SXSW is really the only time I bike.  (Apparently I require acronyms before mounting a bicycle.)  If you don't have a bike already, you can rent from any of these 13 businesses.

I have to tell you, I adore biking during SXSW.  No parking, and I can usually zip around faster than the cars stuck in downtown traffic.  Do beware of crazy motorists, though.  The SXSW attendees are drunk, the non-SXSW attendees have road rage at the sudden car clog in our fair city.  I often feel like I'm taking my life in my hands when I bike down 6th St.  So be smart: Swallow your hipster pride and wear a helmet, and don't bike at night without a flashy light thingy. 

There are also shuttles to SXSW, and when you're going from party to party, lots of pedi-cabs (as well as real cabs).  I'll be honest with you though, it's tough to get cabs during SX.  You may want to plan your Rule of Three events to be within walking distance from each other, or just wear good footwear and embrace the trek.

Whatever you do, driving and parking is the least desirable option.  There are never any good spaces, and you'll just get frustrated having to park out in the sticks. 

Problem #4: You are hungry.   Out-of-towners, did you know that Austin is the Food Trailer Capitol of the World?  I just made that up, but I think we're well on our way to being crowned.  There are food trailers beckoning to you from every downtown corner, with delicacies ranging from Turkish kebabs to empanadas to cupcakes.  Here is a full list of them.

For those fuzzy-headed mornings, here are 50 places to brunch during SXSW.

And, if you are a SXSW veteran you know this already.  But lots of parties hand out free food.  In my opinion, SXSW Interactive does this the best:  I think it's because they have the most investors and thus the most money to throw around.  These usually happen on Monday and Tuesday nights, when SXSW Interactive is wrapping up.

Problem #5: You don't have a SXSW badge or a wristband, but you still want to go One of the biggest misconceptions among SXSW newbies is that you have to flash a badge or wristband to get into all the parties.  Which is wrong, oh so sadly wrong!         

To enjoy your SXSW experience sans wristband or badge, all you really have to do is keep an eye out for the free parties.  And then, RSVP to them.  Check Partay Peeps, Showlist Austin, and Do512 to get the comprehensive party lowdown. 

So there you have it.  SXSW sanity achieved!

* * *

Now that we feel empowered and calm, I thought I'd tell you where I'll be during SXSW in an "official" capacity, as opposed to straight-up partying capacity, if you'd like to meet up and hang out.

SXSW Interactive

I am speaking on two panels:

Sunday, March 13, 3:30pm: Building Community in a Blogger Eat Blogger World  (we'll be talking about why it's cool / important to network with your blogger "competitors."  I specifically will be talking about why I think blogger competition is a big fat myth!)

Wednesday, March 16, 3:30pm: Welcome to the Future: The Rise of International Social Media (scroll down to see our panel description.  We'll be talking about Facebook and revolutions and stuff.)

SXSW Music

I will be interviewing bands at noon on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, for Express Rocks TV.

If you are a band with national pull, I would love to talk to you!  More details on this forthcoming.

What are your tips for SXSW success?  Where will you be hanging out?


TrophyBoutique said...

Great post, lady! I have a mixture of sxsw feelings, depending on how much I'm allowed to attend/take off from work. If I have to work I am resentful and angry and have road rage. If I don't have to work I am happy and drunk, but disorganized and don't know which party to attend. My best method is to find a pack of friends (because you don't want to miss everything because you're texting all the time about where to meet up/which show to go to/how to get everyone you know in one spot a la New Years Eve) and to just ride bikes down to RR/EA and check out what's free. You will always bump into someone who knows which place has what kind of free beer, and you just go with the flow. Making a plan always ends in frustration for me...

Katie said...

It's so sad, this is my first year of being fully employed & not on spring break, tears...With the American work ethic of we don't believe in vacation, I do not want to take anytime off. I'll be like TB with a lot of road rage...although the weekend I will be in full on SXSW participation mode.

Thanks for the post!

renee kristine said...

we were in austin a few years ago during sxsw, but didn't go to many of the shows/films. which i kick myself now.. especially since i have a kid and who knows when i'll go again! but our friend Bob lives there and puts on shows, holla at your boy productions or something!

Morgan said...

Ah, I wish I could go this year. Is it sad that I got really excited over kebab? I haven't had it since I was in Austria. Sigh.

Tanya (a Taste of T) said...

This is awesome! I am really excited for SXSW. It's what convinced me to live in Austin last year and I need to introduce my womb to it.

Jess ( said...

Thank you! This is great! This is my first year as a SXSW-embracer, rather than a SXSW-scrooge, and I was nervous. Now I feel full of excitement. I think the real trick is to maintain an acceptable level of sobriety... otherwise the whole week is just one big hangover.

kellynD said...

I am SO excited! I really wish I could get to see you speak, that'd be way too neato!

Dad said...

I dub thee Queen of Austin-Stands-For-Fun

Anonymous said...

buy a band wristband on craigslist. they show up beginning thursday 3/17 and get cheaper the closer you get to the end. they will get you to the head of the line before badges. also free food.