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SXSW 2012 Recap and Tips!

So, my Spring Break was last week, and I didn’t spend it chilling on a beach in Cancun. Nope. I finally fulfilled one of my life-long dreams and attended South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin. I’d wanted to go ever since I found out about the event from my friends at HackCollege, but I had never been able to attend until now.

The best part was that I didn’t have to worry about travel or lodging – I was able to ride down with some friends and stay with a couple of amazing people!

Since we got into town on Monday, I actually missed the Interactive part of SXSW, which is the part I’d always heard the most about. As it turned out, though, that was for the best since I hadn’t bought one of the super-expensive badges.

Instead, I ended up in the middle of the Music portion of the festival, which is actually the biggest and most popular part. I was able to see some of my absolute favorite bands, including Woe Is Me. The trip was worth it just for that.

Other awesome stuff from the trip:

  • I got to tour the capital of Texas. Note: The capital building there is actually 10% larger than the national capital in Washinton, DC – by design. “Cuz those assholes in Washington ain’t gonna have a bigger building than us!”
  • I found an awesome Japanese-style arcade just north of the UT Austin campus called Arcade UFO. If you’re ever in Austin, you should check it out. Lots of great fighting and rhythm games.
  • Food in Austin is awesome. Among the most memorable places we hit up was Hoek’s Death Metal Pizza, which is pretty much just like it sounds. Watching people headbang while they give you pizza is awesome.
  • This doesn’t really have much to do with SXSW, but the people I stayed with are huge comic geeks. While I was there I was able to read through the entire Scott Pilgrim vs. the World series. Wow. Best comic series ever. I can’t recommend it enough for someone looking to get into comics or who just wants a good (and hilarious) story.
  • I finally got to meet Shep McAllister and Chris Lesinski, two former writers at HackCollege, both of whom inspired me to start College Info Geek.
  • I got an awesome Sex Bob-Omb poster at the convention center and gave it to my friend.

This is a huge event, and I highly recommend that you attend at some point in your life. I think most universities have their Spring Break during the music portion, so finding the time shouldn’t be that hard.

Since SXSW is so big, it can be confusing. That’s why I want to give you some tips I learned along the way.

7 Essential Tips for SXSW

1. Go when you’re 21. Seriously, being 20 put a huge damper on my trip. Since most of the bands play in bars, you have to be 21 to see most of them. There are a few all-ages shows, but on the whole you need to be 21 to get the most out of SXSW – even if you don’t plan on drinking.

However, if you decide to go when you’re still underage, you can still have fun. You might even be able to get into bars using some of Chris Lesinski’s age-hacking techniques.

2. Network with amazing people. All the cool kids go to SXSW (though most of the people I wanted to meet were only at Interactive).

I was able to meet Shep and Chris there, but other people I knew who attended include Bud Hennekes, Srinivas Rao, Joel Runyon, and Colin Wright. SXSW is a crazy awesome networking opportunity. Bring some of your awesome business cards.

3. Don’t worry if you can’t afford a badge. SXSW badges are insanely expensive – like, over $500 – but you can still have a lot of fun without one. I certainly didn’t have one!

If you’re planning on going for the Music portion, having a badge will is really only useful for getting into a few very high-profile events. Since most of the bands play in bars, you can just pay a the cover price at the door to get in. It’s usually $10-$25 for a show, and a lot of shows are free. You’ll be able to see a lot of live music for very little money.

If you’re going for Interactive or Film instead, you probably do need to get a badge since most of the events are actually at the convention center or at places officially sponsored by SXSW. However, if you’re going for the networking potential these two portions offer, you can still meet up with tons of great entrepreneurs, bloggers, indie filmmakers, and other people outside of the scheduled events. Twitter is your friend here.

4. Check out the rest of Austin while you’re there. Since I wasn’t 21, I let the rest of my group hit up some shows and kicked it solo for a few days. I took this time to walk around and see some parts of Austin that aren’t part of SXSW, and I’m really glad I did! I hit up the state capital, found an awesome arcade, walked around the UT Austin campus and checked out a few buildings, and walked around Zilker Park. I also walked over 25 miles throughout the week 🙂

5. Bring good walking shoes. Like I said, I probably walked more than 25 miles during the week. Probably more than 30. Since a lot of the events are at the bars, SXSW ends up being a really spread-out event. Add in all the cool places you’ll want to eat at and the landmarks you’ll check out, and you’re looking at a lot of walking.

6. Use the bus system. It’s pretty darn good in Austin and it only costs $1 for a bus ride. That’s way better than taking the cabs! It really helps to have a smartphone; Google Maps has a public transit beta feature and it works amazingly in Austin.

Do be aware that the busses will get delayed when the downtown area starts getting crowded. You may have to wait awhile to catch a ride.

7. Sunscreen. Wear it.

Alright, now you’re ready for SXSW. I’ll end this post by including a few pictures for my trip. See you next year 🙂

Shep and I
Shep and I with Vermin Supreme
Shep and Mike
Shep McAllister and my friend Bill Riley playing touch-pong
Lou and I
Me with Lou Aronson, founder of Votifi
Band of Skulls
Band of Skulls playing at Showdown at Cedar St.
Texas Senate Chamber
Texas Senate Chamber
Gorillions of Dollas
Gorillions of Dollas
Arcade UFO
Fighting games at Arcade UFO
Immortal Guardian
Immortal Guardian playing on the street. These guys shred.