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South by Southwest remains one of the best musical experiences in the world. You get to see your favorite up-and-coming acts in smaller-than-average venues, eat the most delicious Tex-Mex in the state, and drink for free. That said, SXSW is also an unabashed cluster-fuck. It may blow every other music festival out of the water, but it still has its fair share of annoying setbacks. So if you’re heading to Austin this year, be prepared to deal with these insane problems.
Long, pushy lines.
Lines are unavoidable, but assholes don’t see them that way. In fact, most festival-goers think they have a golden ticket that separates them from the regular riffraff. Photographers, journalists, bloggers, and "friends of the band" will try to weasel their way right in front of you. Just keep your cool and let the doormen do their jobs. More often than not you’ll get in without an issue.
If you're one of those people going to every hot showcase in town, you may need a secretary to keep track of all your wristbands. From the Fader Fort to the Windish showcase, every mini-event requires another disposable piece of trash slapped on your arm. Really, though, you should just be thankful that you don’t have to keep track of actual paper tickets. And another word of advice: don't brag about your disposable bling on Instagram. It's not a good look.
When you cram thousands and thousands of people into local venues and bars, the bathroom is going to be the first place that goes from an acceptable eyesore to satanic lair. Be prepared to see some seriously heinous shit. The best advice is to find a restroom away from 6th Street and do your business in the hotel before you head out.
Getting shut out of shows.
Unfortunately this does occasionally happen. If a band is particularly hyped and you don’t arrive early, chances are that a venue may stop letting people in. The best way to avoid being left out in the cold is to plan your showcases beforehand. If you really want to catch DJ Rashad, get to the venue early and post up. The hundreds of people waiting at the door will be sorry they didn’t do the same.
Bands going on late (or not at all).
As crazy as SXSW is for fans, it's even more crazy for artists. It’s not unheard of for bands to schedule ten to twelve appearances during the week. The result, unfortunately, are some seriously frazzled musicians and managers. Bands running from one venue to another get caught-up, programmers cross their wires, and shows sometimes start late. If an event is running late, trust that the issues will be sorted out soon enough. Then again, you could just head next door where there’s probably something just as cool happening.
The beer and liquor at SXSW is free or extremely cheap. Inexpensive alcohol has become synonymous with the festival. Unfortunately, the free booze comes with a great big asterisk. Just like any “open bar," there’s usually a time limit on drinks. There are also long waits, meaning that two hours of on-the-house Sailor Jerry can quickly turn into a tangle of overly sober folks pushing toward the counter. Speaking of which: Just because drinks are free, doesn’t mean you don’t have to tip your bartender. Do the right thing, jerks.
The flip side of all the free booze is that audiences tend to get very drunk. While this is surely a noble-enough pursuit for someone at a concert, your drunkenness shouldn’t come as a detriment to others at the festival. Even so, it's nigh impossible to get through a week of SXSW without seeing at least a few drunken altercations, a few emotional meltdowns, and some public vomiting. Know your limits. And if someone looks like they’re in trouble, help them out.
While pedicabs offer an easy open-air option, they’re slow. Cab companies like Austin Cab or Yellow Cab are inundated with requests. Uber may look like a good option, but they hike fees when demand increases. Of course it’s possible to rent a car, but you’re going to be too drunk to drive. There’s really no winning this one, unless you can borrow an extra bike from an Austin local. Prepare to walk. A lot.
Annoying young people.
As fun as SXSW can be, it’s also a really good place to grapple with your mortality. That girl on molly dancing to every song? She’s suddenly the most annoying person in the entire world. And as for the PA—was it always this loud and poorly mixed? Don't be a hater: If you’re not having a good time, you should probably get the hell outta Texas.
The crowds in Austin can be amazing, with everyone having the time of their lives as they vibe to the music. Unfortunately, they can also feel like a bunch of jaded New Yorkers who just descended on a once-pure event. So if you see a thirty-something journalist looking like he or she would rather be somewhere else, grab them a beer and remind them how much fun they're having. After all the bullshit, it’s still totally worth it, right?