If you’re coming to South by Southwest in Austin, here are a few quick tips to make your week even better.
1. Learn the lingo. South by Southwest is called “Southby” by the locals. Attendees from out of town are “Southies.” Since you’re coming here for the event, thou art a Southie. Be proud.
2. Locals either leave town or immerse themselves. I know plenty of people who take a week vacation, get a wristband and spend the week hitting a dozen shows a day.
3. Everything is crowded. Accept it. At least people are friendly and chances are the weather will be nice. Or it could be cold as hell and rainy or hot.
4. There are parties everywhere. Some free. Some hard to get into, but expect LOTS of freebies.
5. Pack an umbrella and jacket but hopefully you won’t need it.
6. South Congress is called SoCo. Great people watching. Big free music event in the parking lot of the San Jose Hotel. Food, crowds and music.
7. Best sidewalk tables? Guero’s on Soco. I have Table Karma and no matter how crowded it is, I always get the first table near the corner. We’ll often spend a long afternoon there with friends stopping by and sitting down for great Mexican food and ice cold Coronas. There have been plenty of weekend days where we’d spend hours there with multiple generations of friends stopping by for food and beer. Becky is usually our server and she puts up with us. That’s my favorite place but there are other nice sidewalk dining spots opening. Up on 2nd street there are a dozen places with good food and drink and energy. But if it’s a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and you see a guy that looks like me, say hi.
8. Great shopping for cool local stuff on Soco from custom made boots to clothes to housecrap.
9. Another great area is 2nd street. Hip bars and sidewalk cafe’s.
10. The Bar at the W will be the center of the known universe. The Red Room there is amazing. The people are beautiful, the drinks good and the food very nice. Awesome buzz and very swank energy. Supermodels mingling with dorky interactive nerds carrying their goodiebags and laptops.
11. The One True Bar is is Peche on 4th Street. In my opinion, the best bar on the planet, anywhere, anyhow… And I can prove it. Go in and ask for a Trifecta. The bartenders will give you that “damn, you’re cool” look and ask you some questions and start working. It’ll take ten minutes, but what you’ll find in front of you will blow you away. Finish up with the burger. You’ll need it.
12. All around Peche are great venues, enjoy em all. Get a coffee and a cigar at Halcyon and sit on the sidewalk and discuss big issues.
13. There will be a thousand bands playing on 6th Street. Seriously, a thousand bands. Mostly the clubs are ratty, but well worth it. The street is often shut down to traffic and it’s an amazing scene. You’ll see a lot of very drunk college kids staggering around but they’re mostly harmless. I was talking to a longtime Austinite a few years back and she was complaining about 6th Street. “It used to be really cool but now when I go down it’s a bunch of drunk college kids…” It took her a few minute to do the math and then she laughed.
14. The Four Seasons on the lake is beautiful. Great place to eat or drink with many bands playing during the week. More upscale and chi-chi than most of town.
15. If you need a break, go jump into Barton Springs Pool. You’ll freeze, but it’s worth it. It’s a true Austin treasure and the people and energy are a big part of what makes Austin a great place to live. But don’t move here. Seriously.
16. Get out on 360 to the cliff overlooking the bridge. It’s a great local spot with the best view in the city. You’ll see cars parked just northwest of the bridge. Park there and go up the trail. It’s an easy walk and stunning. A favorite sunset spot. Don’t jump off. It’s a long way down.
17. Eat… There are a lot of GREAT restaurants in Austin. Spend lots of money there so they stay alive! Many of them are locally owned. Too many to list but you probably won’t go wrong wherever you go.
18. West 6th. It’s a pretty newly hip area. A dozen clubs opened up the last few years (the blueprint place is now a hip club… thats how things go). Everyone is beautiful and well dressed.
19. The Trail. There is a loop trail that runs along the lake. Great energy, thousands of healthy people running, walking, riding bikes, walking dogs etc. Get out on the trail and enjoy the energy.
20. The Blanton Museum. Tired of hipsters and music? Wander up to the UT campus and check out the Blanton. Great museum with a very nice collection. Peace. Quiet. Pretty shiny things.
21. Driving. The traffic is terrible. It’s always bad in Austin, but twice in five minutes during the last Southby I saw people driving the wrong way on one-way streets. Hell, one of them was driving on the wrong side of Congress. We Austinites are bad enough drivers normally, but when the town is full of tourists in rental cars, watch out.
22. The East Side. It used to be that I-35 was the dividing line in Austin. West was rich and hip and east was poor and ignored. The last few years have seen a huge influx of hip to the East Side and there are great venues there for food, drink and music. Too many great places to mention but a personal favorite is Justines. Fantastic food, drinks and energy and everyone is more beautiful than you are.
23. BBQ. We love our BBQ and there are some great mentions. Franklin’s is impossible to get so don’t even try. The Salt Lick is great and out in the sticks but County Line is great as well. Rudy’s is everywhere but it doesn’t do much for me. My favorite was Freedmans but they’re gone.
24. Lake Travis. If you want to get out town, it’s only 30 minutes west. Awesome lake. You can even run around naked at Hippie Hollow. It’s an official state nude beach. Go figure.
25. Rent a bike. There are bike rental joints all over town or you can just hop on one of the bike stands everywhere, whip out the credit card and ride away. Ride down the Town Lake Trail and do the loop. Lot’s of places to stop, enjoy the scene, eat, drink and soak in Austin at it’s best. One of our weekend adventures is to take the bikes down, ride a ten mile loop and hit all the bars along the way.
26. Need to see Austin in a vintage 1971 Citroen DS? Let’s talk. If you see one, say hi.
27. Soco Sunday. This is something I invented. It seems that every year I find myself down on Soco on the first Sunday of SXSW. There is a great crowd of Southies wandering aimlessly. Live music. Great food. All very entertaining. I always get Parking Karma and Table Karma. Meaning I park on Congress and I end up getting a sidewalk table at Guero’s and end up there all day. They’ve got great TexMex and ice cold Corona. We park ourselves on the sidewalk and friends come by and join us for a few beers before wandering off. We’ll be there pretty much all day. If you see us, say hi.
28. Other tourist crap. The state capitol is cool. Worth the walk. You can see Civil War memorials on the lawn and wonder how long they’ll still be there. The Hill Country is great. Nice roads and pretty. Lake Austin and Town Lake are really pretty. There is good fishing not far from town. There is some crazy guy in a biplane that will take you up every day around sunset with the sole motivation of irritating me with his loud plane. There are cool vintage stores and everywhere you look you’ll locals who probably work at a tech company and play bass at night.
29. We’re glad you’re here. And I always laugh when I think about the sign that used to be on the California/Oregon border. “Welcome to Oregon. Enjoy your VISIT.”
30. Fucking Scooters. They’re everywhere and they irritate everyone. You’ll trip over them wherever you go. If you’re a foolhardy soul, hop on and zip around town. They go fast and you’ll wrap yourself around a tree or get run over by another Southie going the wrong way on 6th street. Your life is in your hands. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.
31. The Michael Cross Peace, Love and Blues Band plays every Friday night at a little neighborhood joint called Stinson’s. If you want to get a genuine taste of the real Austin music scene, see these guys. They’re all old-school Austin musicians who have played around town for dozens of years. They’ve never practiced, there is no set list. They come together every Friday night and hold forth with great music that will never happen exactly again. And they have a great web site… www.bluesband.com.
I know a lot about these guys because I’m the bass player. I wrote this so I get to plug my band!
Welcome to the city I love. It’s a wonderful place with great energy, happy people, music, dance, rivers, blue skies and cook-a-chickenfried-steak-on-the-hood-of-your-car summers. You’ll love it too.