I went into my South by Southwest experience this spring break with enormously high expectations. For those who are unfamiliar with SXSW, it is a citywide music festival/conference in Austin, Texas. Both stadium-fillers and up-and-comers flock to the city to perform. I expected to be seeing concerts until I went deaf and could no longer stand straight.
Unfortunately, I am 20 years old.
Within my first two hours of the festival, I was pushed away by a bouncer after waiting 20 minutes in a line. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time in Austin, but it would have been way better had I been 21 or older.
I went in naïvely and totally uninformed that the vast majority of shows at SXSW are 21+. My massive range of choices quickly shrunk to sifting through riff raff (sadly, not the rapper RiFF RAFF) to find shows that I could actually attend. I had to take what I got.
My first night, I was rejected from the G.O.O.D Music showcase, which is Kanye West’s label with Pusha T and Big Sean, among others. This is where my troubles began. I then tried to get into the surprise show by Kanye West and Jay Z. The line to get into the show, however, went around multiple blocks, if not the entire city of Austin, and I did not have the magical Samsung wristband to get in. I finally found a show I could get into – Tyler, The Creator at the Mohawk.
This show happened to be the most infamous show of the night and not for musical reasons. I got into the show around 11:30 after waiting in line for 45 minutes. I watched California punk veterans, X, perform, now all in their 50s and 60s but still able to put on a great show. I was watching from a balcony that overlooked the stage and a fence to the street outside. During the show, I suddenly saw a cop car blast down the street and people run in panic in every direction. A drunk driver had plowed through the busy street killing three people and injuring 22. Needless to say, Tyler did not perform. The aftermath in the street after security let us out of the show was one of the most chilling things I’d ever seen.
Thursday was a better day. I went to the Pitchfork Day Party during the afternoon, which had about a dozen different artists performing. My three favorites were electro-punk band Future Islands, whose fantastic new album ‘Singles’ is out this week; indie-folk group Mutual Benefit (their song “Golden Wake” is amazing); and producer, Lunice. The funniest moment of the festival occurred at the day party when rapper Isaiah Rashad’s DJ spun various current rap hits, and after 21 minutes of this, announced that there was in fact no one lined up to perform, and then asked us to put our threes up. (I have no idea what that means either.)
Thursday evening was a lot like Wednesday evening in that I didn’t get into any shows and eventually settled on going to the Mohawk again. This time the A$AP Mob was performing with their stars A$AP Rocky and Ferg. I had to wait through a combination of god-awful no names and amazing surprises like YG and Paul Wall. When the Mob finally went on, Rocky and Ferg were hanging out in the crowd. By the time they went on, the fire marshal shut down the show for being too crowded.
Friday afternoon I saw electro-pop group Phantogram and legendary bar band, The Hold Steady. The rest of the afternoon proved unsuccessful with a steady stream of 21+ day parties.
That night, I started at ambient group Hundred Waters then moved to rapper B.o.B. The general opinion of B.o.B. is that he’s a pretty gimmicky pop rapper, but thankfully he brought out auto-tune crooner/rapper Future for the song “Same Damn Time.” After I watched about 25 minutes of Flying Lotus-slash-rapping alter ego Captain Murphy and his compatriot, Thundercat. I had to rush out of FlyLo to get to indie surf rockers, Real Estate. Their show had to be one of my favorites of the festival, featuring great songs like “Green Aisles” and “Talking Backwards.”
Overall, I had an amazing time at SXSW. I just wish I had been 21. Ironically, I didn’t care about drinking until I faced frustration at being banned from certain shows. I would recommend the experience to those willing to pay for a badge or wristband and travel. I am still deciding whether to skip the festival next year or to come back with a 21-year-old vengeance.