To say one is on edge does not compare to the head swimming involved in the week leading up to the event – reading that a projected 27,999 other people will arrive the same weekend won't help the cause. Regardless, like the quality approach to anything, nothing would cure these ailments except the full-fledged grabbing ahold, gritting the teeth, and holding on tight.
On the flight in, one can meet just as many locals who've had their South by Southwest fill – "I'm just getting the hell away from all the traffic" -- as those who are coming home for it – "I needed to be home for it." All of them will recommend it and give advice -- thanks Dallas-Love Field airport. One of them, with encouragement – ahem, the concept of free alcohol at a destination is powerful -- will even offer a ride – thanks as well to Melissa.
Then, on the ride in, can one finally get the sense of what he or she is going to be a part of for the next week. One can find out why everyone keeps Austin weird; why SXSW is an institution at this point; why millions upon millions are spent; most importantly, how a single week can completely alter the course of a life. If potential is sought, nowhere else needs to be searched – how many bands, managers, journalists, wives, husbands, producers, studio executives, brands and apps have been found or broken at a SXSW?
Walking into the first party, Funny or Die's at North Door, proved a surreal experience. Shiner Bock, on tap, for free, really? Yes, please. Comedian Jay Larson taking the time, carrying six beers, to hug a fan – "Come here and give me a hug…a gentle one, gentle hug" -- and say thanks for showing up to the Funny Bone? Within a minute of arriving, I've already got the delirious smile plastered on my face, presumably for the week. Step outside for a blow of fresh air, only to stumble into Julian McCullough giving the gentlest of roasts to the smokers. Next stop, Friends bar for some Eric Tessmer Band. An excellent homage to Stevie Ray Vaughn, the doors were flooded when the bassist took approximately the most successful smoke break ever. Playing his bass in the street while pulling drags, the nearby Sixth Street crowd couldn't pass it up anymore.
Finally, one hits a strange, albeit comfortable couch via AirBNB.com only to wake and realize free doesn't mean consequences-less.
Luckily, there's a Salt Lick for that. An expansive acreage – took longer to find the table and waitress than to wait for the food -- of farmland and pounds upon pounds of smoked meat, it'll drown the hangover and allow the distinction of sweating pork for the day. Highly recommended, they even deliver nationwide. Luckily, it uncovered another diamond in the rough, Lonesome G. Hitting banjo blues for the rest of the walking wounded; it was the type of soothing strumming that will release the guilt of debauchery past.
And then, finally, after the wrangling of all the bands and corresponding schedules for some semblance of a personal plan and an acclimation to the area, Tuesday the 12th arrives. SXSW Music begins in earnest. Wristbands become available. Rumors fly like crazy – time would tell on the rumored Prince, Justin Timberlake, and Deadmau5 – unannounced venues pop up – looking good Red Bull stage – and bands simply finding a way to fit Austin into the schedule – Smashing Pumpkins deciding they want in, Green Day marking an early post-rehab show, and even Eric Clapton with the Wallflowers, making sure his tour comes to town Sunday night.
Its not that anyone needs a wristband for enjoying SXSW, or even a badge; it's not that anyone needed all these bands, but – as the late, great Dr. Gonzo said – once you get locked into a serious music festival, the tendency is to push it as far as one can. Nothing less would suffice for the festival that redefines the boundaries annually.