Monday, March 10, 2008

SXSW: A Survival Guide

I lived in Austin for seven years and pretty much avoided the whole experience of the SXSW festival. Sure, I went one year, but that was enough for me. It was the most insane experience I ever had. Everybody who is somebody (or wants to be)in music is there, from the label execs and A&R guys to the bands to the denizens of fans making the pilgrimage to the Live Music Capital of the World. And rightly so. This is arguably the biggest music showcase in the United States. Any band that wants to make something of themselves play here.

This is not so much a who's playing post, although I will get to some noteworthy artists, but more of a what to find around the wonderful host city of Austin, Texas. If you are going to this event blind, you may want to get some basics before you get there.

First off, the city is huge! I mean its a long drive from one end to the other. More than likely, most of your time will be spent downtown near the venues along 6th and 4th streets. But there are venues all over the city (venues are in red on the map) and you probably will not be staying anywhere near downtown. If staying downtown, consider yourself lucky, I suggest walking or a cab. If you are driving, grab a map and stick to I-35, Mo-Pac (Texas 1) and the grid portion of the city. There are really no east-west highways through the center of the city and parking is difficult. Mind the 'No Parking' signs, you will be towed. Get there early and don't move your car or take a cab. It may cost more, but it'll save you the frustration of finding parking or paying extremely high lot rates. And a little tip, avoid going east of I-35. Not the nicest of neighborhoods. Try to avoid contact with Austin City Police. They have a tendency to be quite unfriendly to those who are drunk and/or disorderly in public. They will be out in force. Be respectful, and they shouldn't give you any issue. If you must touch their horse (yes, Austin has mounted police), ask first!

Of course, food is very important. Luckily, there are great places to eat around town. Don't just go for the fast food joints. Here are some of my favorites:

Chuy's is the place for great Tex-Mex food. The place is a little off the wall, but the 'Big as Yo' Face' Burritos are as advertised, the Chicka-Chicka Boom Boom enchilada add a little spice, and if you think you can pack in some grub, try the Elvis Presely Memorial Combo. My preference is the location on North Lamar, but that may be a little far for some. Stop by the one on Barton Springs (a lot closer to downtown) and don't forget the Creamy Jalapeno sauce with your chips and salsa! And from the owners of Chuy's is also Shady Grove, a more Americanized flavor, but in the 'Keep Austin Weird' motif. According to Jen, the Green Chili Cheese Fries are the thing to have. Look for them on Barton Springs as well.

If you want something a little faster, unwrap your monster at Freebirds World Burrito. They make your burrito to your specifications. Again, if you have a big hunger, the Super-Monster is the way to go. Just try and eat it all in one sitting. And make a sculpture out of your foil for display for all future customers. You can find one below the river on South Congress (SoCo to the locals). Since you are down on South Congress and looking for something quick, grab a slice from Home Slice. Open late! (Slices available till 3 AM on the weekends!) And there are plenty of slice places along 6th street. Need late night eats with more filling pwer than pizza or breakfast anytime? Kerbey Lane provides the closest diner experience, without it actually being a diner. Try the Paris Texas platter, french toast and migas. Or go to Katz's, an authentic New York style jewish deli/eatery on 6th and Rio Grande.

BBQ is big in Texas, but it is not what we know here on the East Coast. There are plenty of places around the ciy, but close to the action is Stubb's, not only a great music venue, but they have pretty darn good food too. If you are checking out a show there, grab some ribs or brisket beforehand. 8th and Red River, just look for the sign.

I'm sure most of you will not have much time to do anything else but go to the conference, check out bands, and wander around the scene soaking it all in. But if you do have time, talk a stroll through UT campus and along the drag. See the famous Daniel Johnston wall drawing. See the tower made so famous by some nutjob who decided to shoot people from it. Tour the Capitol Building. Walk along Town Lake for a more peaceful experience. Take a hike to the top of Mount Bonnell for a bird's eye view of the area. Get naked at Hippie Hollow. Take a picture taken with everyone's favorite homeless cross-dresser and mayoral candidate, Leslie. You can't miss him, he usually wears a feather boa. If you are staying through St. Patty's day, there are some lively celebrations at the local Irish pubs. As for the famous populace of flying rodents, not sure if the bats that live under the Congress bridge are back yet, may be too early for that.

Of course, the music is why we all go to SXSW. If you want to see a specific band, get to the venue early before it reaches capacity, which happens frequently, especially at the venues along 6th. The big show to see (from the IA standpoint) is the DC Does Texas gathering at Cream Vintage on the 13th, featuring Jukebox The Ghost, Le Loup, Georgie James, Middle Distance Runner, These United States, Pash and Carol Bui! Philly bands Peasant, Hoots and Hellmouth, The A-Sides, The Teeth and Dr. Dog will also be in Austin. And stop by and see some of my favorite locals: The Drawing Board and The Boxing Lesson. Tell them I sent you. Check a previous post for some more great Austin bands to see (sorry, music links are dead). For more details and music of artists at this years festival, check out the list on the official site.



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