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Column: The “unofficial” guide to SXSW’s unofficial shows

Column: The “unofficial” guide to SXSW’s unofficial shows

Column: The “unofficial” guide to SXSW’s unofficial shows
March 06
00:47 2014

Stephen Young // Contributing Writer

With the bummer of having to wait 12 more months for the return of 35 Denton staring us all right in the face, you may be wondering where you can find your reasonably priced music discovery fix this spring break.

Oddly enough, the answer is the music portion of South by Southwest, Austin’s behemoth of a festival running from Tuesday to Saturday next week. One, and maybe the only, benefit of the overwhelming corporate sponsorship, which has attached itself barnacle-like to the festival’s hull, is that it’s possible to have a ton of fun at “unofficial” concerts for a price that won’t leave you on a ramen-only diet later in the semester.

To pull it off, you’ll need a few things. First off, you’ll need a place to crash. Austin hotels are ruinously expensive.

Fortunately for us, we all know somebody, or know somebody who knows somebody, who lives there. It’s like finding an HBO Go password: connect the dots, figure out who has what you need and then buy them a six-pack for their troubles. If you’re doing things right, you aren’t going to be getting much sleep anyway.

Second, it helps to have a willingness to take public transportation or have some friends to carpool with for the 225-mile trip south. If you’re traveling alone, Megabus is awesome. The buses are comfortable, have Wi-Fi and power outlets and can be quite cheap.

Using Megabus, round trips from Dallas to Austin during the festival can cost less than $40. The buses depart from the DART East Transfer Center in Downtown Dallas, which can be reached easily using the A-Train and DART’s Green Line rail service. If you’ve got friends to go with, carpooling is an obvious choice because gas is expensive.

While you’re in Austin, you won’t have to worry about having a car because you won’t be able to park anywhere near downtown anyway. Be prepared to walk everywhere. Once you’ve had enough, catch Austin public transit back to wherever you’re staying. Some buses run as late as 3 a.m. and the services only cost $2 a day.

Lastly, to get into to all of the free, unofficial SXSW events, you’ll need to fill out a ton of RSVP forms online. For the price of your personal information, you can get free music, and often-free food and booze. Start with the big parties, like Hype Machine’s Hype Hotel, which has free Taco Bell, Tito’s Vodka and Miller products all week and go from there.

Use a guide like’s SXSW side party finder to find all the free events and then RSVP to everything. Even if you think the event is something you won’t like, you never know what will happen on the ground. You can’t count on getting into anything specific, but you can count on having a blast. Flexibility is paramount.

Keep an open mind. Bring a good pair of walking shoes and keep a phone charger with you at all times. The number of people crammed into that small of any area causes service issues that will drain your battery like you wouldn’t believe.

If you ever find yourself not having fun, go somewhere else. SXSW is about discovery—you never know what you’ll find wandering around.

Five Acts to See

Keeping flexibility in mind, here are five acts that’ll improve your life if you manage to catch them.

Charli XCX

Charli XCX is the acid edge that bubblegum pop needs. Lyrics that aren’t so stupid they make your head hurt, the occasional throbbing ‘80s style synth and a live show that affirms that, no matter where you are, you’re in the right place. She’ll be performing free sets Wednesday at the House of Vans Wednesday day party at Mohawk, Thursday in the Waterloo Records parking lot and Friday at the Flamingo Cantina.

F—– Up and Perfect P—- 

Two punk bands you definitely shouldn’t Google, but should seek out if you’re on the ground in Austin. Torontonians F—– Up haven’t released a new album since 2011’s critically lauded “David Comes to Life,” but has recently ramped up touring in preparation for a new album. They were as raucous as ever at Club Dada in January. Don’t expect anything less in Austin.

Perfect P—- plays noisy punk music. It’s loud for sure, but it’s got enough melody to create some intrigue. Also intriguing, despite appearances, the band’s name isn’t some juvenile joke. As lead singer Meredith Graves told Pitchfork, it’s a statement about affirming her place in an imperfect world, “I’m perfect and I’m not going to go on thinking that I’m supposed to dislike myself.”

Both bands will play a number of free sets next week, but you can catch them both at Stereogum’s Thursday day party at Mohawk.


This bluesy-garage rock power trio will soon be a bunch more famous than they are now, all thanks to the rollicking sets they’ll turn in on and around Sixth Street next week.

Front-woman Leah Wellbaum’s vocals have just the right amount of melancholic menace – and she can shred guitar, too. As of now, they only have an official showcase—at the Palm Door at 11 p.m. Thursday—booked, but the band’s Facebook promises some yet-to-be-announced free, unofficial shows throughout the week.

London Grammar

London Grammar is perhaps best known for its feature on Disclosure’s mesmerizing “Help Me Lose My Mind,” but the band’s material is just as moody and just as good. The band’s stage show isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but the tone it sets is ideal for a worn-out late night, which bodes well for its 1 a.m. set Thursday at the Hype Hotel.

Special Honorary Mention: St. Vincent

The Lake Highlands High School graduate, known to her friends and family as Annie Clark, would undoubtedly be on the list, but this guide is about doing SXSW on the cheap. Right now, it looks like her only set in Austin will be at Stubb’s during NPR’s Wednesday night showcase.

Like the rest of the official showcases, you need a badge or music wristband to get in, and those credentials don’t come cheap. That being said, you should make sure to check out her just released, self-titled fourth album and, if you’re sticking around North Texas next week, go see her at House of Blues on March 14. St. Vincent, both the performer and the album, are absolutely remarkable.

Ten more to check out of you’re in the right spot at the right time: Phantogram, Angel Olsen, White Sea, Speedy Ortiz, Fat White Family, Hospitality, Ice Eater, Warpaint, Deap Valley and Tweens.

Feature photo: UK based artist Charli XCX. Photo courtesy of Charli XCX Facebook page 

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