There’s a certain fanboy/fangirl endurance that goes into committing to waiting on an artist for nearly three times the length of their actual set that I’m just not that into; especially on as packed of an occasion as SXSW. For those who’ve been turned down access to a venue before they could turn up, there’s a maddening listlessness to having your meticulous show spreadsheet dwindle into nothing more than a crumpled document ink-stained with failures. My first night was every typical SXSW and then some: arriving late, capacity crowds, restrictive access and my own exhaustion.
This year felt different for the badgeless. If the numbers are correct, then a small city of influencers and hopefuls have rocketed Austin’s population up at least 30,000. Thousands of bands, hundreds of films and countless start-ups meant to change the world fell prey to the busker’s dilemma throughout the week: finding the fine balance between “engaging” and “interactive” (both buzzwords across the board) and being just inaccessibly cool enough to be alluring.
Such is South By. You’re spitting distance from the next big thing (Grieves; I’m calling it now.) and the idols you’ve held dear, yet it’s damn near impossible to possess the right devices, RSVPs and wherewithal to do it all. For the listless, we present a list of great moments off the beaten path: the things around SXSW that are just far enough in the fray to be sadly overlooked.
Buskers: Some of the best musicians that annually grace SXSW never play a showcase and only barely make it into venues to catch some tunes as a fan before returning to their own set just outside its doors. Buskers include musicians like the loveable Ann Arbor-based Violin Monster and artists alike. The allure of the street performer is so strong that it’s prompted articles from Austin360 and interest from Jimmy Kimmel live producers, who were briefly on the hunt for potential guests.
Truly Interactive: Recently SXSW added an extra letter to its name in the form of a lower case “i”, which stands for interactive. Interactive acts as a code word for those previously mentioned tech-centric influencers packing panels with nearly the same future as a Tyler, the Creator-led bum rush. The most readily accessible form of interactivity was just a mile walk from the Austin Convention Center at Republic Square. Gorgeous interactive sound and light sculptures, including this ribbon-like structure, responded to touch with music and muted hues.
Bounce: In all my wanderings, nothing pulled me closer to a venue than the siren song of the booty-clapping drum beat typically found in a bounce song. Resting on a rooftop in the completely idiosyncratic business-scape of Congress St. was NOLA bounce queen Katey Red, who energized a tightly packed audience with an uber-catchy headlining set. Bounce has seen a surge in popularity thanks in part to Big Freedia’s reality show and her benevolence in trying to teach Miley Cyrus how to twerk. Clearly SXSW had taken the advice to heart.
Punk: Remember the good ol’ days of SXSW when not everything was sponsored by Doritos and the spirit of DIY was aligned with the intent of the festival — nay, experience — itself? For those aching to return to the roots of a rather organic festival experience, Austin’s quirky as hell Spider House provided just that. A myriad of showcases were put on by local bands and record labels, with the type of merch tables you’d expect at a rock show: easily accessible and with personnel committed to the music around them.