Every year for two weeks in March, Austin is transformed into an alternate reality, a reality in which South by Southwest, commonly referred to as South By, is the only thing that matters. During this time, it’s almost impossible to do anything in Austin that doesn’t involve South By. Traffic increases to an unbearable level and many of the usual hangout spots for locals are converted into venues for events and concerts.
Although a lot of Austinites complain about South By, and the negative side effects that accompany it, I’ve found that the easiest solution is to just attend the festival. It’s a lot easier to deal with the issues brought on by South By when you are one of the attendees that is causing these problems.
Because of this, I have attended South By every year since 2007, except for 2014 when I was studying abroad in Scotland. Although I’ve never bought a wristband or badge, I usually take part in the festival for several days every year. However, there was one year in which I attended South By every day. This year was 2015.
South By 2015 was insane. If a concert is a 100-meter sprint and a typical music festival, camping or non-camping, is a 5K, then South By 2015 was a marathon. A typical South By day involves walking miles and miles, standing in lines for hours, drinking little water, and staying up late. If you’re only attending the festival for a few days, or any music festival for that matter, it’s relatively easy to push through until the end, but if you attend the festival for the full two weeks, it quickly turns into a gamble of whether or not you will pull through. Additionally, the nature of South By, specifically the fact that there are thousands of events and concerts during the festival, many of which you need a wristband, badge, or some sort of credential to get into, creates a vibe of survival of the fittest. Your experience at South By, including who you see perform and which events you go to, is largely determined by whether or not you are strong enough, and willing to, push yourself, mentally and physically, to the limit. If you are successful in doing this, your experience will be incredible, as I found in 2015.
Here are a few South By 2015 moments that stood out to me:
Seeing Odesza twice ~ The first time my friends and I saw Odesza during South By was during the day at the Gatsby, which is a small venue on Sixth Street. They put on such a great show, and we had such a fun time, that we decided to see them again a couple days later. The second time was at night at the IFC Fairgrounds, which took over Palm Park during the festival, and it was even more extraordinary. This was due, in large part, to the fact that it was raining. Although rain at an outdoor concert is usually unwelcome, it combined with Odesza’s typical relaxed, yet uplifting sound to create a truly magical experience, and for that, I am so happy that I was able to see them twice during the festival.
Being filmed by National Geographic ~ One of the events that my friends and I went to was sponsored by National Geographic. All throughout the venue, there were promotional materials for the magazine and tv channel present. This was not surprising because, as you’ll quickly learn if you attend South By, most everyone you meet will be promoting something and will want some sort of action from you. What was unexpected was what happened after we had viewed all of the promotional materials. As we were getting ready to leave the event, we were approached by a man who worked for National Geographic. Him and his crew were filming a commercial for an upcoming tv show and asked us if we would be willing to be in a few shots involving us bursting through a door and celebrating winning a contest. Naturally, we said yes. I’m not exactly sure where the footage ended up or if they used it at all, but we had a great time being filmed and it was a really cool experience.
Meeting Sir Mix-a-Lot ~ As my friends and I were walking downtown one night, we struck up a conversation with the people walking next to us. As it turned out, one of them was Sir Mix-a-Lot’s manager and much to our disbelief, Sir Mix-a-Lot himself was walking a few feet in front of us. Although we mostly talked to his manager, we did get a chance to meet Sir Mix-a-Lot and get a photo with him (See below) and he was extremely nice.
Although these are only a few memorable moments of my South By 2015 experience, these moments showcase the unique essence of South By. Whether or not you have a wristband or badge, there’s always an event or concert you can go to, something you can experience for the first time, and someone new you can connect with. You don’t have to buy a wristband or badge to have an extraordinary time at South By. All you have to do is approach the festival with an open mind and with a smile on your face, and great things will happen to you.