Austin Tales: How to Survive SXSW

True crime and true stories from the industry's annual bbq.

For the uninitiated and the experienced hand alike, the annual music-industry circus known as South by Southwest can be exhausting. The insane amounts of free booze and food make this debauched festival like MTV Spring Break for music nerds: Everyone’s wasted, you’re constantly forced to make tough decisions about which shows are worth seeing, and if you’re in a band, you’ve got to stay coherent enough to play your own sets without falling off the stage. It’s sure to be a wild time in Austin, Texas, today through Sunday. Herein, some of Seattle’s SXSW vets share memories from years past, words of wisdom, and life lessons.

PB and Lone Star

“I was going to be in Austin for South By for five nights [in 2008] and I had $150 to do the whole six days on, so my first stop was the grocery store. I got PB and J and ham and cheddar cheese. And a bunch of Lone Star Beer. When I was leaving my hotel room every day—that was paid for—I had my SXSW tote bag filled with PB&J and ham-and-cheese sandwiches and beer.” — David Bazan

Yes, that’s Willie

“The first year was rough. I remember we were sleeping in our van in the Four Seasons hotel parking lot. We were just crashed out there for three days, and oddly enough, security didn’t bother us, except for one time when Willie Nelson’s tour bus came in and they cleared out the entire parking lot. And somehow we managed to slip through that one too. It was funny—they opened the door and this big plume of smoke comes out the door. He’s got two security guards with him, but they were pretty cool.” — Snow Keim, the Blakes

SXSW sober?

“I’m curious to see the other side of things. [Blue Scholars DJ] Sabzi’s done it the last two years. Well, he’s sober all the time, so big deal. But is it possible for someone who doesn’t have a lifelong self-imposed sobriety rule to do it? We’ll see.” — MC Geologic, Blue Scholars

Fly, boys

“The road to SXSW is populous. This year we’re flying down to Austin. I would recommend that option. Our spirits will travel the long trek with our friends in Grand Hallway, the Maldives, Champagne Champagne, and a host of other bands touring down this year.”— Philip Kobernik, Hey Marseilles

“I flew down and it wasn’t so bad. I was in a rental car and it was pretty plush except for just making sandwiches and drinking cheap beers. That part of it’s fun. Playing music down there for me is one of the biggest wastes of time there is.” — Bazan

The right food groups

“I think everyone in the band has the unanimous opinion that the best place we went was the Salt Lick. It’s a barbecue place way out in the middle of the prairie, like, 30 miles from Austin, but it is totally worth it. We got the “family style” meal they have, which includes every type of BBQ item you could want (and they keep bringing more until you can’t eat any more), plus it comes with the best blackberry cobbler I’ve ever had. So worth it.” —Luke Smith, Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head

“There’s a bar with a rooftop on it, and on that rooftop is a man who sells scrumptacular jambalaya. He will be sought out. Even though it was free, Colin [Hey Marseilles drummer Colin Richey] got tipsy last year and paid $20 for it. [Hard-rock club] Red Eyed Fly is pretty badass as well.” —Kobernik

The party bus

“You could get on the Red Bull bus and get, like, a Red Bull and vodka. But you know I was there to play my shows, but also to have a little fun, and so…it was fun. And it was dope because at the end of the night whenever we’d be driving home, dropping everybody else off at their homes, I was the guy with the sandwiches. I think everybody really appreciated that.” —Bazan

“The whole thing seems very surreal. Like Kanye West playing on the same stage just moments after us, running two miles to see Devo, running into Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the street, eating breakfast next to The Darkness, ending up on the Red Bull party bus, getting in a band feud after another (nameless) band pretended to be us in an interview, Big Boi playing ‘Bombs Over Baghdad’ and other jams, staying in a crappy motel with no toilet paper.” —Smith

Advice for newbies

“If you bring your own booze down, it is a lot cheaper. And also, don’t pee off of any [clubs’] balconies into the river. They don’t like that.” —Bazan

“Don’t believe your friends when they text you that they’re all in the VIP room at the strip club near your hotel, and that you have to come right away. DO plan your days ahead of time (if only for reference) and RSVP for shows/parties you want to get into.” —Kobernik

“Stop tweeting how awesome everything is. We know already.” —Geologic