I can't think of a cute intro: I was at SXSW this year for the first time and now I'm going to tell you about it. The band wasn't playing, unfortunately, but I went out there with some friends to see what this tiny hole-in-the-wall music festival is all about. Oh wait...it's huge. Basically, the entire city of Austin becomes a playground. That sounds like it could be a disaster (save for the one drunk driver who injured and killed several people), but I was stunned to see that, overall, it's not. For those who hate reading sentences, here is a quick list of highlights from my trip:
Bands: The Joy Formidable The Colourist Prides Aloe Blacc Neat things: The shows at Cedar Street Courtyard made cool use of GoPros and had every drummer wearing one, with the video projected on a screen behind the band. Lots of female musicians! Sisterfriends! Food/Drink: BBQ & food trucks in general Green Mesquite BBQ (chili cheese fries!!!) Chi’Lantro - Korean-Mexican fusion truck 512 Brewing Co beers
General facts, thoughts & observations: ♞ The majority of the shows I saw were free day shows. Night shows catered heavily to festival badge holders and we didn't have those. ♞ We never waited in line for more than an hour. Win! When the line was too long, next! ♞ Every venue I visited, no matter the size, had fantastic sound systems and front of house engineers. ♞ Every band was good. Even if I didn't like their music, they were top notch at what they did. ♞ People were friendly, nice and generally well-behaved. As a Philadelphia resident, this was noticeable. (I love Philly) ♞ I didn’t see many alternative or acoustic instruments. Most of the bands I saw employed electric guitar/bass/drums/keys. I don't know why. Is that the trend this year? Maybe. I suppose there is quite a lot of dance pop happening now. Come to think of it, there were so many acoustic guitars and banjos at LAST YEAR'S Grammys, perhaps wooden, acoustic instruments have already jumped the shark. Please let us know if this is the case and we will promptly not give a hoot. ♞ Austin is bigger than I thought. I kept wanting it to be smaller (area-wise) than Philadelphia because I'm an east coast elitist jerk, but it's not. I made some shoe mistakes. ♞ Austin is not flat. Also, somehow, everything is uphill. ♞ Austin is a pretty awesome town. I'd like to visit it on an average day.
Ok, now for the true meat and potatoes of a travel diary - a day by day breakdown!
Day 1: Finagled our way into the RocketFuel party at Clive Bar. It was PACKED, raining, and half the bar was outside. Luckily, they were serving free local craft beers - 512 Brewery - to dull the pain. Delicious. Also had my first Lone Star. Tastes like PBR. Oh, it's made by Pabst. The Colourist was playing as we entered and we missed the first few songs getting settled in. Great set. I was so excited to see a female drummer in real life. I was transfixed. She takes the taco - great drummer and singer. The band was tight and the songs are catchy as hell. After their set and a few beers, I ran into Maya, the drummer, in the crowd. I said dumb words like "you're awesome" and "I play too" and likened seeing her to seeing a unicorn. Sigh...I'm way less charming than I think I am when I've been drinking. The Joy Formidable took the stage. Admittedly, I didn't know a lot of their stuff, but WOW, what performers! So much energy, so happy to be there, such a huge sound for only three people. Infectious. Go see them. Stuffed our faces with burritos from Chi’Lantro food truck. err. mer. gerd.
Day 2: Walked almost 3 miles to downtown Austin from our rented house. Worst.Idea.Ever! Tried to go to Game of Thrones exhibit but the line was forever in the sun on the hottest day. Many sad feelings. A friend got us day passes to the Interactive trade show. There was air conditioning and free beer. We saw several cool things, but the highlight was a Japanese app called LogLog. Yes, friends, it's a poop diary app. And in true Japanese fashion, it came complete with a turd mascot that was somehow adorable. One of the guys was also wearing a plush version on his head. It's only available in Japan, but they promised a US release soon. I'm not saying I won't keep an eye out for it. We ended the evening with a dip in the Barton Springs Pool, followed by fire pit, and local Adelbert's beer.
Day 3: The roughest day Warning: Megan meltdown commencing We finally figured out the bus is the way to get around. But it was too late. Our legs and feet hurt so much that I was on the verge of Hulk SMASH all day. Stood in line for ~45mins for Taco Bell Hype Hotel and saw some bands. Free beer - new Miller Fortune, which is essentially high ABV High Life. I put a few away. I can smell the alleged free Taco Bell, but don't see any. Leg pain, plus oops drunk, plus unattainable free food = I am the worst person. For the rest of the day, I am varying degrees of Negative Nancy. Sorry to everyone who had to deal with me that day. On our way home, we hit Green Mesquite BBQ. There was sitting and there was beer. I began collecting myself. Chili cheese fries, JESUS GOD YES! Sooo good. Plus, some of the most tender, yet lean, pulled pork I've ever had. Total redeemer. Ended the night at Uncle Billy's Brewery for a couple beers brewed in-house. They closed at 12am. We got there at 11:45pm. The bartender let us stay until 1am and gave us excellent insider tips. People are nice here.
Day 4: My favorite day Caught Aloe Blacc. Quite good. Headed to Filter Magazine Cedar Street Showdown to see The Colourist again. Really great venue - it felt like a little oasis in the madness of SXSW. First up was Scottish band, Prides. Check these guys out. They were fantastic and I fell instantly in love. Saw The Colourist again. They killed it. Their album just came out last week. Buy it. (Fun fact - Both The Colourist and Prides were in Philly last week. I attended both shows and can't say enough good things!) GoPro cameras were everywhere on stage. They even strapped one to each drummer! I found this extra exciting since it's rare to see a show from the drummer's perspective. All the GoPro feeds alternated on the large screen behind the band. Really cool setup. Next, Hangar Bar for a rooftop show!!! But then realized it was a screamo band! We stayed for a few songs, but then left in search of food and a crowd in which we wouldn't be the oldest by 10 years. We ate an actual sit-down dinner at La Condesa. Go there if you're in Austin. Came home for fire pit, beer, s'mores, and talks about the meaning of life.
Day 5: Lack of sleep and abundance of beer caught up with us - late start. Went to Maria's Taco Xpress for breakfast tacos. Line was too long for Windish Agency party, so we went to Cheer Up Charlie's instead. Bands in the back and beers the courtyard. Spotify house and Pandora Discovery Den also had forever lines, so went to Easy Tiger for beers outside. Went to Chuy's, where GW Bush's twin daughters were caught drinking underage. We made a lot of "underage Bush" jokes. Didn't get to see a ton of bands, but had fun exploring more of Austin.
Day 6: Rain. Tried to go to Rachael Ray's Feedback party but the line was insane. The first people lined up at 3am. Apparently this one is a big deal, but we had no idea. I couldn't justify spending my last day there waiting in line for hours in the rain. Bummer, Blondie was there. Went to the Swan Dive and saw Tumbleweed Wanderers and Holy Esque. Snuck into the VIP area at Empire Garage to see Dum Dum Girls. Win! Lost at attempts to get into a few other venues, so went to the Handlebar for beers. Then it was back to Cedar Street Courtyard for Royal Blood. Bed early to get up at 5am and head home.
THE END! (pictures below!)