A lot has been written about the South By Southwest festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas in the last couple of years. So much that I decided to book a week off work and have my summer holiday in March to see for myself.
The music side of SXSW (there was also a convention but for some reason I decided to skip that and see the bands instead) is held in about 50 venues / bars. They're located closely together over about one and a half square miles area but mostly along the famous 6th Street, this makes it very easy to venue hop.

When I first booked my trip to South By Southwest I was under the impression that it was purely in the evenings (and early hours of the morning) that the music was taking place, which in truth is correct for the official part of festival but then there are the afternoons where record labels, music federations, publications, etc will put their bands on and to convince us mortals that their show was better than the other 50 odd venues they used the age old tactic of offering free beer and food. Obviously I was strong enough to resist, well until I reached the bar that is. Walking along 6th Street in the evening with the crowds and music coming from every direction was an amazing experience and one that I expect would never happen here. Most of the venues, even the bars with converted stages had good sound systems, putting to shame some venues here.

So what about the bands there? Well there was such a diverse mix, for example at the British Music Federation's 'T for Texas' afternoon event a local Country & Western band were followed by Gallows! Now that was different. I even stumbled across Haale � a girl from New York of Iranian descent playing a mix of psychedelic rock and traditional Iranian music - nice to sit down a chill out to. There are far too many bands that impressed to list but I will give a mention to Winterkids, The Hot Puppies, The Hedrons, The Sunshine Underground, Plan B, Gallows and Victorian English Gentlemens Club for all doing great sets and getting the locals going, especially as most would have been unknown before. Seeing a couple of locals doing mod style dancing to The Hot Puppies was bizarre but fun. Out of the new bands I came across, Semi Precious Weapons from New York were awesome, definitely a band to look out for with great energy and charasmatic performance, even if it was blistering hot outside at midday.

Highlights for me will have to be seeing The Stooges, Winterkids gig at the Whisky bar (which Teenage Vogue agreed with), The Hedrons playing a hot gig (so hot my friend got sunburnt) and definitely the free beer! Downsides were missing too many bands because they clashed with others and missing one band because I over slept (sleep was in short supply all week)!
I got chatting to Rebecca Newman, the lead singer of the Hot Puppies about SXSW and she said "We had such a great time at SXSW... met so many new people and saw so many good bands! But also bumped into many people we know from home.... it's funny to travel all that way, and see the same people in the audience that you do when you play in Cardiff.... but without the cactus juice, corona beer and dodgy barbeques!" I think that summed it up perfectly.

If you're planning on making the trip next year then there are a few things it's worth being aware of before you part with your hard earned cash. The festival is really geared up to industry people who will be walking around with their badges hanging around their necks. This sadly does give them priority in getting into venues but in my experience it was only the larger venues (Stubbs, Emo's, La Zona Rosa, etc) with the bigger names that were tricky getting in to. Even if there was a venue you couldn't get in to, there would be plenty of others worth going to, no matter what type of music you liked.

There are wristbands which, although do not guarantee entry, do give priority over those paying cash and means you don't have to pay any entry fees for the duration of the festival. Some venues did say "No Badge / Wristband = No Entry". These are officially only available to local residents but I managed to find a local ticket agent selling them at about double the cost (face value was about �80 so still cheaper than a Reading / Leeds weekend ticket). Be warned though, the wristbands do come with an electronic chip and the venues do scan them.

The locals were very friendly and despite the obvious possibilities did not hike prices up because of the festival. There is a big selection of hotels to choose from with varying prices and even if you stay a few miles outside of downtown, a taxi ride cost about $15. Although getting a taxi ahead of about 2,000 other people late at night can be tricky!

One thing I will say about SXSW and any other gig in America; they are very hot on ID, carry it with you all the time or you might not get in. For the younger people out there, wait until you are over 21 before considering any gig in the States as they would not care how far you have travelled, you won't get in. Some venues are all ages but you really would not be able to experience fully what SXSW has to offer.