How not to freeload at music festivals: SXSW edition

The following is not a guide to attending South by Southwest on the cheap, but a chronological list of my own recent mishaps while attempting to do so. Take these self-indulgent vignettes with a grain of salt, as they are not necessarily representative of SXSW or its free events.

My free SXSW experience began on a bittersweet note at Tumblr’s unofficial showcase, headlined by alternative rock icon Stephen Malkmus and his band, The Jicks. I ate at the crowded Iron Cactus before lining up in the mid-30 degrees Celsius rain and waiting for nearly 30 minutes just to get in behind the endless number of people in front of me. I ended up staying for two bands and then leaving, due to being drenched and shivering in the roofless half of The Mohawk.

In my second day of freeloading, my friend and I circled around Sixth Street for hours without actually attending any event and maybe walked by Wes Anderson. Other than my friend being approached by multiple companies profiling “people of SXSW” because of her purple hair and getting a picture taken with a monkey, it was a relatively uneventful day.

The next day two of my friends and I unenthusiastically went to the Mohawk to see a metal band. The steep cover cost of $15 prompted us to leave, which — in hindsight — was probably for the best. I had a minor allergic reaction to some pad thai prior and was then experiencing a disorienting Benadryl high that likely wouldn’t have enhanced the overall musical experience.

The day after that, I took a couple Metro buses to see the last 30 minutes of a Black Lips show, but was not allowed in for reasons that are still unbeknownst to me. Still not entirely discouraged, I made my way to Trailer Space Records to see the Burger Records showcase. It didn’t take me more than a second after seeing the line outside the door to realize that it wasn’t worth the wait.

On that Thursday I attended the free show outside Waterloo Records, and — at last, after numerous failed attempts — managed to see a band. The Orwells rocked out some rad garage-pop hits while their sullen lead vocalist gave the audience endearing death stares.

That night I went to the Sight & Sound Festival curated by Juxtapoz magazine to see a reunion show by my favorite San Franciscan synth-punk band, The Coachwhips. Needless to say, they didn’t disappoint. After The Fresh & Onlys played a refreshing, reverb-drenched set, and together Pangea bashed out angst-oozing garage rock, The Coachwhips set up a rug in the audience and played there on cheap, dirty equipment while a mosh pit encircled them with each member of its tidal mass convulsing violently toward the band. The Coachwhips played for about 15 minutes, then packed up and left.

My SXSW experience wasn’t completely lackluster, mind you. Sixth Street’s street performers bore the impressive display of a middle-aged man in an adult diaper, a rapper spitting rhymes about pop icons interspersed with meaningless expletives backed by a cellist, and some dude playing violin inaudibly while wearing a wolf mask and patriotic spandex pants. The Sight & Sound show was pretty gnarly too. Despite missing most of the bands I intended to see, I still enjoyed myself and learned a valuable lesson: you don’t need to pay $625 to purchase a music badge to see live shows at SXSW, but only if you’re willing to RSVP and plan for shows well in advance: something I didn’t give much thought to.