Forget about the music....what are you going to wear? What do you need to pack?
You may want to do your prep shopping now so that you can focus on music research and your schedule closer to the event. And trust me, you want to be physically comfortable during the festival so you can just focus on the fun - and not your aching back and feet. Or shopping for what you forgot.
The dayshows are mostly outside, with a varying degrees of tent coverage for sun or rain. The night shows are in bars or big tents. If the schedule says "patio" it really means a parking lot + a big tent + portables. Most bars have an outdoor area, which is great when it's warm, not so great when it's pouring rain. You will be standing in a lot of lineups outside all of these, and the weather will vary. You will likely go out early for breakfast and day shows and go back to your hotel around 4-5 to shower, nap and get ready for the night shows. Yes, there ARE events that START at 2:00AM. You are on your own for those. Good luck.
1. FLY CARRY ON ONLY
Given the volume and number of connecting flights into Austin, the chances of your checked bag being delayed get crazy. I find a wheely carry on and a mid size duffel as my "personal" bag holds everything I really need. Wheely goes overhead, duffle under the seat. I use a string bag for my passport/wallet/glasses/boarding pass. Many of the small plane connecting flights let you to gate check your carry on anyway (like Porter). Buy your tolietries when you get there. If you MUST check a bag, tag it with your connecting flight number, your Austin address, and a prominent cell number. Delayed bags will get delivered to your hotel. Pack two days of clothes in your carry on, just in case.
2. IT'S ALL ABOUT THE SHOES
This is the key thing you need to think about: comfortable shoes. You will be standing up on hard pavement for four solid days. You need cushion and arch support. Open shoes/sandals are okay for daytime shows, but I like having closed boots/shoes for nighttime. There are a lot of gravel back alleys you'll be walking through, not to mention wet bathroom floors. Bring minimum 2-3 pairs of shoes to rotate, lots of socks, Dr. Scholl's athletic insoles as backup. You may want to buy new shoes NOW and break them in. Get a pedicure or cut your toenails before you go. I could not be more serious: do whatever you need to do to make sure your swollen feet won't hurt. High heels are completely ridiculous: the hot girls are all wearing heavy boots with pretty dresses. And tattoos.
3. BRING LAYERS
It could be 80F or it could be freezing. You need layers. My daytime uniform is a black tee or tank top (black to hide food stains, y'all) and jeans, with a hoodie or long sleeve shirt/jean jacket/leather jacket/polar fleece jacket to layer up at night or if it gets cool. Bring a lightweight raincoat w/hood and/or mini lightwight collapsible umbrella. It will rain one day - always does. Bring a warm tuque and gloves, just in case. They saved my ass last year when a cold front came in and half the daytime shows got cancelled. Everyone in Austin seems to own a North Face polar fleece vest for a reason. There are Lululemon and REI stores besides Waterloo Records and the big Whole Foods downtown if you need an emergency weather shop. Again, you may want to buy some of this stuff now.
4. SUN PROTECTION
Put sunscreen on your face and bare arms, feet, etc. every morning, regardless of the weather. The morning weather will probably change. Sunglasses: I always bring a back up pair. You need a sun hat, even if you never wear hats. Put it in your day bag. I pack a "face stick" to reapply to my nose, etc., if I'm worried at all about exposure. This is easy to forget about when you're half drunk and watching bands all day. At night, you will see people running around with 3rd degree sunburned faces. You do not want to be one of them. And you will notice that Texans do not generally have tans.
Austin is the allergy capital of the US. Even if you do not have allergies at home, there is a good chance you will get them in Austin. The SXSW week is usually the week all the trees flower: it's grey when you get there and green when you leave. Pack some Claritin or Reactine just in case. I start taking them pre-emptively about a week before I go.
In addition to sun and allergy protection you need: 1) Earplugs - for the loud bands, bad sound checks, your afternoon nap, and the loud partiers next door. 2) Those small packs of Kleenex for the ladies - the TP is gone by day two, and Mexican food makes my nose run. 3) Wipes/Wet Ones - for both the sloppy tacos and stinky portables you will be dealing with. 4) Purell. You will make friends in bathroom lineups when you pull any of these out of your day bag. Good conversation starters. A sleep mask is a good idea too, for afternoon naps. Pack these or make a Walgreens run PRONTO when you get there. FWIW, I also bring Beano. And Polysporin ointment, just like Mariah Carey on tour.
7. GOVERNMENT ISSUE ID
EVERYONE gets carded, regardless of age. It is illegal to be inside a bar in Texas without identification. You need to carry ID with you at all times. I do not like to carry my passport around to shows, but use my drivers license or health card instead. The fun part is when the 21 year old doorman says, "wow....you look really great!" when he realizes you are his mother's age. Don't get shut out of a bar because you didn't pack your ID. This is strictly enforced.
8. LOTS of U.S. $1.00 BILLS
Drinks are ridiculously cheap in most bars (by Toronto standards), and there is tons of FREE BEER to be had at day shows, but it is customary and polite to tip $1.00 a drink. Try to catch your bartender's eye when you put $1 into the wine carafe on the bar, and chances are she'll serve you again first before the lout who didn't. The Brits get this wrong all the time. My fav handwritten sign at Emo's is "'Cheers Mate' is not an acceptable tip in Texas!" Try to load up on $1 bills now if you have the chance. They go fast. Also: most bars are cash only. I get my US cash before I go at the CIBC US ATM. And, Austin city buses are $1.00 single fare or $2.00 for an all day pass. Having a $20 bill is not going to help - they do not make change.
9. A GOOD DAY BAG + MINI PENLITE
Needs to hold all of the above, and your BOTTLE OF WATER, camera, phone, T-Shirts and other swag that you may buy, etc. Messenger bag or backpack - up to you. You will have people behind you trying to see the band, so keep that in mind. You don't want it to be so big that it pisses people off. And a penlite is handy to have in dark bars at night.
MORE INFO TO FOLLOW:
SXSW FIRST TIMERS GUIDE #2: What's with all these 'unofficial' parties? How do I get in? What about the RSVP thing?
If I am missing anything, just ask.
Awesome! Does Rad Jen rule or what?
If I were going to SXSW, here are some bands/artists who I have never seen before who I would love to check out.
Slim Cessna's Auto Club - This is How We Do Things in This Country.mp3
Buy: Jesus Let Me Down (2006)
TUE 15 Panache Party, Scoot Inn
WED 16 Anso Party, Spider House
THU 17 Panache Showcase, Red 7, 12:10AM
John Vanderslice - Sea Salt.mp3
Buy: White Wilderness (2011)
WED 16 Tiger Mountain and Noise Pop Present: Brooklyn vs. The Bay!, 3:30pm
WED 16 Dead Oceans/Secretly Canadian/Jagjag showcase, Red 7, 10:30
THU 17 Schubas Party, Yard Dog Folk Art Gallery, 1:35pm
THU 17 Paste Party, Stage on Sixth, 5:30 pm
FRI 18 KEXP's live broadcast, Mellow Johnnys Bike Shop, 6:30 pm
J. Roddy Walston and the Business - Uh Oh Rock 'n' Roll.mp3
Buy: J Roddy Walston & The Business (2010)
WED 16 Stubb's 8:55pm
THU 17 No Depression Showcase, Soho Lounge, 1:00am