I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve attended SXSW. It’s a dizzying number primarily because SXSW is a dizzying experience. I do remember my first trip being ultra-concerned with what to wear. It poured down rain, and it turned out, the only thing I needed to worry about was a rain poncho. I used to get so frazzled by the massiveness and excitement of it all – kind of like a kid at the state fair. I wanted to go on every ride, eat every snow cone, and visit every single booth. I’ve gleaned a few insights in my old age, so I’m here to offer some tips on how to survive SXSW.
1. Be where you are. You can’t do everything. You’ll find yourself sitting in a session and pondering what is going on in that session next door? You’ll get an exclusive invite to a party to find out it’s not so exclusive, and you’re just one of a cast of thousands. Then bolt. When you do land someplace just be present. You can’t be everywhere and do everything, so live in the moment, whatever that moment may be.
2. Don’t overdo it on the alcohol. You will be offered free drinks, lots and lots of free drinks, starting at around, oh, let’s say 9 a.m. on any given day. Do not (and I repeat DO NOT) accept every free drink offer. You’ll get hammered, a.k.a. blotto, as in plastered, wasted, wall-eyed and downright pissed, and then you’ll really miss out on SXSW.
3. Frankly my dear, it’s not really about the sessions (despite what I said in tip #1). It’s about the connections. I see people I haven’t seen in ages every time I go to SXSW. Then there are the people I ONLY see at SXSW. Usually friends from Atlanta like Jessica Kirkwood who I just ran into at the airport, and Jodi Fleisig from Porter Novelli who I only run into in the bathroom. Same bathroom every year, mind you. What that says about us, I don’t know.
You must know Laura Levitan, OG of social media marketing. In the past six years, I have ONLY seen her at SXSW. Never in Atlanta, where we both live. I once had a big issue with my Comcast service and took to Twitter to complain. I was livid, and the guy who responded was so nice. He was none other than @ComcastBill of Comcast customer service fame. We got to talking on Twitter and realized we’d both be at SXSW, so we decided to meet for coffee at the Radisson coffee shop. I see Bill every single year now at SXSW. I keep up on his life, new babies, and his moves. I even tried to get him to move to Atlanta to work at Cox. He’s now living and working in Texas at USAA. I’ll tweet him a link to this blog post and make a date.
It’s the random, unexpected connections that make SXSW “south by.”
4. Wear comfortable shoes. SXSW is not a fashion show unless your fashion accessory of choice is geeky glasses. If you don’t believe me, refer to my previous blog post about the unique hipster chic that is SXSW. Events span the distance from the convention center to Timbuktu. Uber and Lyft are banned in Austin so if you do need to catch a vehicle style ride, download the Fasten app. Austin being Austin has a bike share system called SXcycle that’s kind of cool (so that rules out flowing dresses).
I like the Pedicabs – they make me feel like Jane Austen being carted about by horse drawn carriage, only the horse is usually some hunk of an Austin guy. My only suggestion is to negotiate your rate before you go. They have this sort-of socialist system where the Pedicabs claim you pay what you want, but what that really means is that they want $20+ bucks for anything that’s more than around the corner.
5. Get bat crazy. Not drunk (see tip #2) but actually crazy about bats. Austin has one of the largest bat populations in the country with over 1.5 million, most of whom live under the Congress Avenue Bridge. My favorite place to watch the bats is from the lawn on the Four Seasons. You head over there at sunset, order a cocktail (which contrary to tip #2, will NOT be free at the Four Seasons, but they have an excellent mixologist there, and I love a concoction made with Tito’s Vodka & St. Germain).
It’s truly a magical sight. The bats come out from beneath the bridge, first in a small trickle and then in a spiraling pattern that rises up and dances in the sky, making dark magical spirals that look like a painting in motion. It’s truly a wonder AND beneficial to have a small moment in nature among all the excess that is SXSW.
So those are my five tips for surviving SXSW. Remember, this city’s motto is “Keep Austin Weird” so be weird, be present, see the bats, and enjoy every moment!