Day 1: South By Southwest 2011 | Music | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Day 1: South By Southwest 2011

Doin' Spring Bring in ATX for FREE

Friends, warm weather, great food and (free) drinks in mid-March. Sounds like a trip to Cuba, right?

Throw in 2000 bands playing over a five-day span and 130,000 music fans roaming the greater downtown area of Austin, Texas and you get the audiophile’s version of Spring Break.

It’s time again for South By Southwest, the world’s largest music conference that brings together some of the biggest names, hottest buzz acts, and countless other bands who are just trying to get recognized past playing the dingiest of bars.

In other words, for a fan like me, it’s heaven. Downtown Austin — hands down, one of the coolest cities in the United States - turns into a throng of insatiable party-goers, looking to get into see groups of all genres. It’s not uncommon to walk along a closed down Sixth Street (think Pizza Corner on steroids) and hear metal in one bar, country in the next, indie-rock coming from a rooftop and new wave from a stage set up on a side street.

ADD/ADHD sufferers, rejoice. This is the festival for you.

But one of the best things about SXSW is it brings out the inner music snob in you that gets to tell friends years from now you saw bands before they broke it big. And not just in regular old venues. If you’re lucky, you’ll see future stars play shows in vacant parking lots, bookstores, coffeehouses, BBQ joints, and for serious, dental offices.

This is my third SXSW in a row, or “South By” as those in-the-know call it. Every year it’s overwhelming by the sheer amount of great bands to see. This is also the second year I am forgoing the purchase of a wristband.

Generally, if the Gods of SXSW don’t deem you media-worthy and turn down your media credentials because they don’t think you’re important enough (twice for me, didn’t even try this year), badges cost upwards of $750 to get into every single show. If you know an Austinite, they can make you their plus-one and get you a wristband for $135 in advance or $165 on the week of the show.

Here’s the thing: you don’t need all that shit. Save your money for a pair of new cowboy boots or snappy retro tees at one of the many vintage stores along South Congress Ave. You can see a boatload of music for FREE.

Two years ago, as an experiment, I wrote a blog about doing SXSW for free after I was tipped off by some Austin-living friends. One of the best things about SXSW is all the day shows are free. Sponsors line up in droves to shill out good money to get some of the best buzz bands to play their day parties so they can advertise their clothes, food, TV shows, magazines, and more.

As for night shows, there are always a handful of unofficial parties that are free. This year? Some little-known dudes from New York called The Strokes and some friend of Jay-Z named Kanye are playing free night gigs. If you really want to get into an official gig, most bars have tickets for us poor folk to get into the venue as long as you’re willing to line-up early to get in.

Some tips for those who wish to attempt SXSW for free include:

1. Do your research

-There are countless websites that list the official and unofficial. Find them and make a list of the bands you wish to see. My current list is over five-pages long. That’s just the free shows, folks.

2. Use your friends

-If you know friends that live in Austin or are headed to Austin, crash with them to save money. If you know music industry peeps, cash in favors to get on the list at official showcases.

3. Bring a flask and a granola bar

-Don’t pay $5 a drink, regardless of the awesome exchange rate. Bring a flask with your favorite libation to last you through the day. Many day parties offer free food. Load up on the goodies so you don’t have to buy anything other than a slice at one of the many food trucks later that night. If you can’t find the free stuff, bring a few snacks to tide you over.

4. Attend the off-the-wall night shows

-Some of the easiest shows to get into don’t feature bigger name acts. Don’t be afraid to check out the bands you’ve never heard of. You might discover a diamond from the tumbleweeds.

5. Be resourceful

-Talk to locals. They generally don’t pay to attend SXSW because they all know where all the cheap, free, and fun events are. Also, don’t be afraid to convince a bouncer to look the other way. If you get kicked out, there are only hundreds of more venues to get into.

Stay tuned throughout the week to read about this Coast reporter’s experiences, exploits and cash flow. Possible acts to see tonight: Ghettosocks, P.S. I Love You, Diamond Rings, The Sounds, Gold Panda, Beach Fossils, and many, many more.

Stay tuned throughout the week to read about this Coast reporter’s experiences and exploits. I will be bringing you photos, video interviews, and insight about doing it right in Austin,TX over five glorious days of 20-degree-plus weather while catching the best music on the planet right now.

It’s going to be a helluva week. Yee-haw!

-Johnston Farrow

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