SXSW: The Good, The Bad, and The 'Are You F@#$ing Kidding Me?!'

Lady Gaga at SXSW 2014
"This special SXSW performance from the legendary Stubb's BBQ brought to you by DORITOS!!"
Mention SXSW (a.k.a, the South By Southwest festival in Austin, TX) to anyone on the A&R side of the music business and they will more than likely roll their eyes and tell you what an unbearable slog it is to have to go to Texas for a week or so every year and watch all that live music, talk to all those bands literally begging to be signed, and max out their label's expense account.

Oh, you poor babies.

Meanwhile, those on the marketing and promotion side are busy pounding the streets all over the ATX hyping the latest releases by the bands the A&R types signed at last year's festival. For these people, SXSW has always been more work than play, always has been, and for that they should be commended. While the rest of town is literally partying their ass off, these people are making sure the bands are where they need to be when they need to be and that the releases they're here to promote wind up in front of as many eyeballs and earholes as possible.

As an artist, it is a supreme thrill to be chosen to perform at SXSW. Ask any one of them and no matter how nonchalant they may seem about it, notice how quickly the letters "SXSW" ultimately wind up in their press bio for years to come. For some, there will be no bigger thrill in their careers than to say they rocked the SXSW festival.

Typical SXSW street activity
"Yep, this is my last SXSW, I swear it is."
But they've got to get there first. There's a whole lot of Texas between wherever your band is and Austin, TX and if the trip doesn't sap your fortitude, your arrival in town will. Whatever feeling you may have had about being special when you were chosen to play the festival will no doubt dissipate once you realize you're but one of a gazillion other bands here to kick ass and take names.

It can be overwhelming in that respect and you might just be depressed for a minute or two, but then a cute 20-something will hand you a complimentary icy cold beverage and the next thing you know, it's a party! 

My first SXSW was in 2010. I was there to run merch for one show. Feeling this was a make-or-break point for my new tour merch company, I went all-in at great expense with an agreement to split merch profits 50-50 with the artists. Working out the deal well in advance, we printed up the shirts with time to spare, and made every conceivable arrangement to ensure all went smoothly.

The day before the show, Alex Chilton dies of a heart attack.

Did I mention that Chilton was the headliner of the show that was my sole reason for being at SXSW?

Needless to say, as sad as I was about being potentially stuck with a truckload of t-shirts that were printed solely for this event, I was even sadder about Chilton's untimely passing.

Amazingly, the show went on and wound up being one of the most magical musical moments of my life. Oh, and we sold enough t-shirts to make the effort all worthwhile.

What I remember most about the rest of the festival was not paying for a single meal or drink the whole time and seeing more shows in the span of a few days than I would the entire rest of the year, and all without a badge or wristband. Oh, I had them, I just never needed them.

To me, SXSW wasn't about the exclusive showcases and popular ticket acts, it was about the free shows that popped up in parking lots, laundromats, and food truck courts all over town. It was also about the 20 other bands you could see per day at the three or four record stores all within walking distance of one another or seeing the same band five times in three days without even trying (good thing I liked the band).

Sure, SXSW is too big, too corporate, and Austin itself stopped being weird long before I ever got there, but when has that ever stopped a kid from having the time of their lives? SXSW is where you go so your inner child can remind the rest of you why you fell in love with music in the first place.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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