For brave souls purchasing a SXSW Music wristband for the first time, the possibilities seem endless. Unlimited access to 1,500 acts for five days? The bands represent incredible value and access for their pricing, but first-timers should also be aware that they come with some limitations. Here are five strategies to make the most of your time at SXSW.
1. Post up early
Let's be clear: Wristbands "allow" access, they don't guarantee it. If a marquee act you enjoy is playing a midnight show at a venue, consider arriving at 10 pm to catch other acts on the bill. When the surge of badgeholders hits at 11:30 pm, you'll be inside with a drink while 50 of your fellow wristband holders are shut out due to capacity. If there's something you must see, go early, and don't leave.
2. Get obscure, and ramble freely
Every year at SXSW, wristband holders complain about long lines at marquee showcases. There's a lesson here: avoid the biggest shows. The fest has 70-plus official venues per evening, and you'll have no trouble getting in to 55 of them. Why not go see the Japanese electronic act or Icelandic folk singer that won't have the budget to get back again? The festival is rooted in catching small acts to discover new favorites, and it still excels at this if you let it. The other benefit here: You can switch venues from hour to hour until you find a showcase you love.
3. Roam outside the main corridor
Most SXSW music attendees stick to Red River and Dirty Sixth streets. If you leave these areas, you'll often find lighter crowds, even in nearby spots like Rainey Street. We've had good luck with big-name showcases at ACL Live and Austin Music Hall because with the walk, many attendees simply aren't willing to gamble on space being available. It's worth checking Twitter or just taking your chances — even the iTunes Festival let wristbands in for a couple of big shows last year. Venues like Emo's East are also less likely to be accessible to pedestrians based downtown, making them an easier in.
4. Embrace adverse conditions
Cold weather, rain or late nights can provide unexpected access to big names. In the past, we've strolled into Damon Albarn and R.E.M. at Stubb's without waiting, simply because the shows ran late and a number of attendees opted to head out. This is especially true at outdoor venues, though the 1 am showcase lines are often smaller than you'd expect.
5. Monitor social media
With Twitter, you can often find line intel easily (assuming you can get a signal). Follow key players using the #sxsw and #sxswmafia hashtags to spot opportunities and avoid line pile-ups. And to that point, investing $16 in a backup battery like Amazon's "Jackery"
is a must.
To separate the party kids from the actual fest attendees, many unofficial day parties offer priority access to official badge and wristband holders. If you see a line, it never hurts to ask a staffer if this option is available. At worst, it isn't, but they'll often wave you through.
Hotel booking and packages
SXSW keeps a block of hotel rooms open for badgeholders and also extends the courtesy to wristbands. If you don't have a place to stay, email them at email@example.com for current availability. This also presents a workaround for out-of-towners: If you book a hotel room
through the fest, you can bypass the ZIP Code restrictions and buy two wristbands no matter where you're coming from.
When heading to SXSW for the day, note that your day may last 14 hours. Packing the following items will come in handy:
Cash for drinks and tips
SXSW pocket schedule