$20 In My Pocket: A Cheap SXSW Diary

Austin, TX

Ostensibly, attending Austin’s logo-infused music (and movie, and tech) industry sprawl South By Southwest is expensive. Count on inflated airfare to Austin, $200 a night for a downtown hotel room and hundreds of dollars for food and drinks — oh, and $625 for a badge, assuming you buy it early before the cost balloons to almost $800. You could buy a wristband instead for $180, but then you’d be a second-class citizen who gets cut in line on the regular.

Sounds rich, right? Never fear, noble traveler: SXSW can be done on the cheap. There are so many free parties, and the best of them are stocked with the same buzz bands and music legends you’ll find at the official showcases. Many of them boast free food and/or alcohol too. This phenomenon began as an afternoon analog to night time’s official business, but over time it’s proliferated after dark as well. Throughout my years attending SXSW officially, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to go guerilla.

So I tried it. I shaved more than $200 off my airfare by flying into Houston and catching a $2.50 round trip Megabus to Austin. Rather than spring for lodging in the middle of the madness, I crashed with a friend south of downtown. I took the bus instead of cabs. The goal: to consume as much free music, food and beverages as possible. The constraint: spend less than $20 a day, including transportation, and see how it stacks up to my experience roaming Austin with a badge. What follows are highlights both glorious and mundane for your edu-tainment. It’ll be long, but that’s how SXSW is. Come along with me hunting, looking for a come-up; decide for yourself if this is fucking awesome.

Wednesday

11 a.m. Austin’s bus service costs $2 a day, way cheaper than a cab. When I arrive at the stop, there’s a young muss-haired guy in flannel and overalls plucking a banjo. Not sure if this is a SXSW thing or a “Keep Austin Weird” thing.

11:47 a.m. I’m hustling, but in the least thugged-out capacity. Unless you take a pedicab, which doesn’t jibe with my $20 spending limit, you can’t avoid walking miles on miles at SXSW. My destination is especially remote: Waterloo Records, a brick-and-mortar shop that hosts big names in its parking lot every year. It’s farther west than most of the festivities, so I’m hauling ass to arrive on time.

Chelsea Light Moving

12 p.m. I feel bad for Thurston Moore. Waterloo’s parking lot is packed with fresh-faced Monster energy sippers, but not for him. “Hey yo,” says Thurston, “we’re a new band. We’re from parts unknown. We have a new album. We’re going to play some music then clear the stage.” Emphasis on “clear the stage”; the kid in the Macklemore hoodie and the girl who’s never heard of Moore would be much obliged. They’re here for a stretch later including Tegan and Sara plus Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. They probably don’t realize how much Thurston’s new band Chelsea Light Moving sounds like Thurston’s old band Sonic Youth minus the star power and sterling back catalog.

12:31 p.m. Three realizations: (1) Forgot to apply sunblock. (2) Bands in the hot noon sun, especially bands like Chelsea Light Moving: bad idea. (3) Should have eaten more for breakfast. Realization No. 3 leads me to my first free food of the fest, a chicken taco courtesy of the music app TuneIn, as tipped by @SouthByFreeNoms. It is a stupendous chicken taco.

Foxygen

2:02 p.m. Foxygen’s hats alone prove they’re relishing the chance to pillage rock history. Their set at the Paste party begins with hand percussion shaking, vocals echoing and jalopy roots rock disintegrating — “Rainy Day Women,” but with acid rain. They pluck from Bowie, Iggy, and the Kinks with wonderful results. Especially lovely are the female backing vocals, deployed sparingly and to maximum effect. Especially silly are frontman Sam France’s gibberish-spouting, spooky-faced theatrics. The execution is shaky, but they’ve got the ideas right. Across the street at Under The Radar’s party, Marnie Stern’s finger taps and shrieks are translating well to a pop context; the new songs are so elementally constructed that the players have room to go crazy.

Smartphone

2:47 p.m. While jogging down 6th Street to promptly arrive at my next stop, I notice a giant smartphone is also jogging down the street.

2:57 p.m. Back at Waterloo, where I have trudged sweatily again contra my better judgment, an industrious fellow cuts down part of a banner along the fence with a pocketknife. This is to create a sight line between the stuck-outside-the-fence people and Macklemore. I am a stuck-outside-the-fence person at the moment. Sometimes you have to be. Macklemore emerges 15 minutes late, then his mic doesn’t work. He raps as hard as he can anyway. I get out of there.

3:23 p.m. “You have a Twitter? Shit, I’m about to follow you right now, girl.”

3:45 p.m. My phone is already down to 10 percent battery power, which is a problem when you’re taking notes/shooting photos/communicating incessantly with the thing, but also inevitable when you’re taking notes/shooting photos/communicating incessantly with the thing — particularly when it struggles pitifully to push through a simple text message with networks so jammed up. Can’t find an outlet at the Consequence Of Sound party, but I linger long enough for the Thermals to lob six or seven jovial adrenaline bombs at me. Next door, esteemed Bloodshot Records spitfire Lydia Loveless is performing — my chance to charge up plus (dingdingdingdingding!) enjoy a spread with fruits, veggies and abundant wraps.

Sweet Potato Fries

5:15 p.m. At Fader Fort, you can count on free drinks, hip music, and an insanely long line. It’s the most essential RSVP in the SXSW crasher’s playbook. Moments after entry, a free whiskey/lemonade beverage is in my hand and Ratking is on stage. But my phone is dying again, so I enter a crazy tech room with lots of youths competing for a few outlets. Speaking of youths: outside, Sky Ferreira’s rocking a see-through shirt, short skirt, and generally strung-out demeanor, i.e. every father’s worst nightmare. I finally pay money for food, specifically $5 plus tip for a basket of sweet potato fries. I wash it down with another free drink.

6:44 p.m. Ab-Soul’s fans are here en masse, vibing hard and rapping along passionately. The TDE oddball reciprocates; his performance is nothing short of triumphant. Schoolboy Q (in a tie-dye bucket hat, naturally) joins Ab on stage to grab the torch. He frolics through his catalog with gusto; special guests include Jay Rock, Action Bronson and Kendrick Lamar, who pops in near the end to burn through “Backseat Freestyle.” Schoolboy’s “Hands On The Wheel” gets the grand finale treatment, though.

Pill Nurse

8:44 p.m. Vice’s indoor/outdoor complex Viceland is to night what Fader Fort is to daytime: free drinks, cool music, huge line. Like most of the best SXSW parties, it requires an RSVP. Inside, I visit the fake medical lounge sponsored by Beats By Dre. “Are you here for the Pill?” asks the girl in the nurse costume, referring to Beats By Dre’s new portable speaker, which is everywhere at SXSW. Here there are “nurses” with iPads so you can register to rent a Pill for the night, plus bartenders in scrubs who serve me free Bulleit and Sprite. The next two hours include IO Echo (Zola Jesus in pajamas), Merchandise (Hamilton from the Walkmen joins a shoegaze band) and my first food misstep, $7 for two mediocre sausage wraps.

10:42 p.m. Recharging. (The phone and me.)

12:03 a.m. A silhouette of cartoonishly poofy hair bounces jubilantly against a video screen’s rainbow color blasts. The Gaslamp Killer is wilding out Muppet-style while marvelously melting down hip-hop at the Brainfeeder party. I’m watching from outside the fence — forgot to RSVP, refuse to spend $15 — but this time, being outside looking in doesn’t stop me from seeing, hearing or enjoying a thing.

12:26 a.m. Replacing last year’s Godzilla-sized vending machine, Doritos now has a Godzilla-sized psychedelic screen saver tower powered by Tesla coil.

Icona Pop

12:35 a.m. It’s not normal to gain re-entry to Viceland at this time of night, but I take full advantage by procuring another drink and experiencing the final throes of Icona Pop’s next-level dance party (imagine a DJ set where the DJs sing and dance). The crowd is massive and intensely excited. “We did not expect this!” says one of the Icona Poppers. Neither did I! For the nightcap, The Joy Formidable sounds as orbit-alteringly big as arena rock bands are supposed to.

1:41 a.m. Back on the bus. I am a stump.

Hours, bus to bus: 14
Events attended: 9
Sets witnessed: 17
Drinks consumed: 5
Food encounters: 4
Money spent: $19

Thursday

11:40 a.m. I’m running again, this time to the bus stop, because I forgot about Rhye. (Why motherfuckers act like that nowadays?) Spent the whole morning thinking I had extra time. By the time the bus deposits me downtown 30 minutes later, I’m running again.

Line

12:23 p.m. My race against time seems successful till I round the corner and a mass of humanity dwarfs me. The line for the Pitchfork party is absurdly long, but not that absurdly; many of the fest’s best bands are performing there. Yesterday’s report neglected that SXSW tradition of waiting interminably outside venues, but trust that all crashers must endure this. The question becomes whether I’ll make it inside in time to hear any Rhye at all. My line-mates and I wager on how long it’ll be. I take the over. I’m right.

12:55 p.m. We’re so close. I hear Rhye faintly (how else can Rhye be heard, though?) through the wall. Five minutes later, inside at last, I see they’ve got a lite, jazzy setup rather than the dudes-with-machinery DIY artspace approach I was expecting for some reason. “Pretend it’s really dark in here,” Mike Milosh says — puzzling because it’s extremely dark. Out back, Waxahatchee shows off a rawer breed of minimalism, all the better for Alison Crutchfield’s garbled heart to shine through. Back inside for Autre Ne Veut, and suddenly Arthur Ashin’s appeal makes sense, as do the R&B comparisons. The tracks are booming and Ashin sings and dances like a man with fire inside, desperate to get it out.

Mikal Cronin

2:18 p.m. They have a charging station here too, but I’m not sure my battery budges at all with so many phones competing for current. At least you can see the bands from this area of the warehouse. I lounge comfortably while Mikal Cronin unfurls divine garage pop steeped in layers of guitar and decades of songwriting genius. You can tell all these great Bay Area garage bands compete with each other to hit the hardest; this set is so wonderfully intense and maximalist. Back outside: Parquet Courts closes with the superb “Stoned And Starving.” Back inside: Mac DeMarco leaves me numb. Then comes the band seemingly turning the most heads this week, White Lung, a splash to face from a pitcher of ice water with razors in it.

4:17 p.m. Charging dat phone, u know me!

Chance The Rapper

4:32 p.m. Hungry. I visit the Brooklyn Vegan party to grab a plate of chips with vegan queso, but it ain’t much. Yesterday Red Bull’s party had free food and drinks, but not today, so I try the Canadian music showcase at Friends Bar per @SouthByFreeNoms’ recommendation. No dice. I pick up some free Honest Tea on the street and make my way back to Red Bull, where, to my delight, Chance The Rapper is on stage. (Chance encounter, amirite?) His energy — both creative and physical — is a marvel, but too many slow jams come close to snuffing it out. “Juice,” though? He’s got it. As for me, a $3 chicken taco will suffice.

6:00 p.m. At Fader Fort, Trinidad James embodies “ignant.” DIIV youthfully effervesces along, displaying no evidence of their well-publicized SXSW hate. But that’s all a prelude to Solange, whose performance overflows with joy, fellowship, poise, and other virtuous intangibles. When she covers “Stillness Is the Move,” her voice effortlessly pretzels to falsetto summits, and we all faint simultaneously. When “Losing You” drops, we gladly put down our “camera phones” at Solange’s behest and dissolve into the groove.

8:18 p.m. Dude sitting on the sidewalk with an acoustic guitar: “Hey man! You want a song?” Nope.

Tegan & Sara at the Woodies

9:03 p.m. The Woodies is an annual mtvU-sponsored awards show/shitshow during SXSW that now doubles as a festival within a festival. It’s the kind of event in which hosts/indie rock heroes Tegan & Sara function as shiny-happy-people TV automatons while bewildered bros look them up on Wikipedia and shout, “You’re 32? I can’t believe you’re so old!” at them. It’s also a Niagara Falls of free BBQ tumbling juicily into the stomachs of Natty-drunk co-eds. This brisket oasis dries up literally seconds before I step up to claim my free dinner, which extra sucks because the promise of free dinner was what brought me here in the first place — that and the prospect of seeing Macklemore & Ryan Lewis properly in honor of this feature’s title. Their five-song set features live trumpet(?), lots of guest stars from The Heist (including Schoolboy Q?!) and an inspirational speech about how back when these guys were performing for 13 people at small-time SXSW gigs, they dreamed of playing the Woodies someday. They would.

10:43 p.m. After impatiently sitting on the convention center floor waiting for my phone to charge, I pick up a “Cuban” bratwurst with pulled pork and cheese from a street vendor for $6.25. Exquisite.

Ivan And Alyosha

11:05 p.m. I’m beginning to realize what slim pickings there are for the badgeless class at night. Sure, there’s plenty of free music, but it’s mostly typical bar bands or faceless acoustic stuff. By day, there are so many free events that the crowd naturally disperses across town. By night, the few marquee options (Viceland, for instance) get slammed beyond comfort, assuming you can even get in. So I venture to the fringes of the SXSW zone for the Chicago-rooted Mighty Deadly party. On stage is Seattle’s Ivan & Alyosha, a Local Natives-y, vaguely Americana-inflected ensemble with lots of vocal harmonies and beauteous lead guitar. It’s innocuous stuff, and not my first choice, but on a gorgeous night in an immensely pleasant outdoor bar, it’ll do just fine.

11:54 p.m. As I see it, I have two options: An Impose party with a bunch of internet-famous rappers (Roc Marciano, Meyhem Lauren, ST 2 Lettaz) even further on the outskirts, or Viceland for what promises to be a fun, goofy, absurd Snoop Lion/Major Lazer party. These are in opposite directions, and my legs are shot, so whatever I choose, I’m going all in. I bet wrong: The cops are clearing the sidewalk in front of a jam-packed Viceland; nobody else is allowed in, so it’s back to the bus with me. Presumably some notable bands will be doing, like, DIY shows on bridges at 3:30 a.m., but neither I nor my phone is energized enough to find them.

Hours, bus to bus: 12
Events attended: 8
Sets witnessed: 17
Drinks consumed: 3
Food encounters: 3
Money spent: $15

Friday

1:00 p.m. My plans to check out a couple bands before landing at Stereogum’s Range Life party for the afternoon are foiled when my bus ride into downtown takes 20 minutes longer than it did yesterday. So it’s straight to Hype Hotel for me, where I counteract two days of paying for food by funneling three free Taco Bell items down my throat. (I stuff two more in there later; consider it a down payment on future hunger.) There’s free booze too, and the transitional waking state music of Hundred Waters. Speaking of which…

Metz

2:00 p.m. “How’s everyone doing? You all awake yet? Well, we’re Metz and we’re gonna try to wake you up.” With that, the aggro Canadians blast and bludgeon us. It’s heavenly — maybe the wrong word for such bitter, angry, Albini-infected music. I realize I have a smartphone in one hand and a Doritos taco in the other: SXSW’s truest essence.

4:05 p.m. My understanding is that Youth Lagoon’s live show used to be Trevor Powers and a guitarist. Now Powers is rocking the four-man lineup, all the better to project his diorama symphonies to the heavens. It’s grand and gauzy enough to pick me up and carry me away … and deposit me at Fader Fort. The plan is to get there early to assure entry and proper positioning for the rumored special guest, whom I hear might be Frank Ocean, which means standing through sets from Ra Ra Riot and the Bots.

5:18 p.m. A crane with a banner that reads “#dontbeboring” rises into the sky. The men inside ignore the advice and go ahead with the throwing of T-shirts. At least the free drinks keep coming.

6:11 p.m. Things get real exciting real fast and it doesn’t let up for about three hours. First, Disclosure bridges the gap between Hot Chip and Junior Boys with plush 2-step garage. Then a surprise set from Texas rap hero Trae, who huffs through some hits of his own before bringing out a swath of stars including T.I., Yo Gotti and B.o.B. (Pharrell is hanging out too.) Then Future, who can’t help but seem like a slight comedown after all that, but whose “Same Damn Time” and “New Bugatti” will always be appropriate for every occasion. So much awesome music, but it’s quickly rendered a footnote.

Usher

8:16 p.m. The lights go down, and the Afghan Whigs launch into a characteristically rugged-yet-refined set. Three songs in: the “Lovecrimes” cover, but no Frank. D’oh! Four songs in, a “Climax” cover … and here’s Usher, ladies and gentlemen! This has been chronicled extensively at Stereogum and elsewhere, but I can’t emphasize how bizarre and unexpected it was, especially when Usher welcomed Sinkane’s Ahmed Gallab on stage and they all performed “Runnin'” together. Particularly for someone who knows Gallab personally from his years living in Ohio, that was the pinnacle of WTF; as for sheer thrills, nothing tops the Whigs-ified take on “OMG.” Even before Usher came back out for an a cappella encore, this was one of those moments you treasure for a long time.

9:03 p.m. My body is broken, but my spirit is “OH FUCK YEAH!” At this point, if you’re at SXSW without a badge and you’re not writing an article about squeezing the most out of it, you go back to your place of lodging and die happy. Because I am writing such an article, I head back out on the street to die a slow, painful death. After experiencing that insane celebrity pile-on at Fader Fort, I am cocky and greedy. I convince myself I can slide in and out of multiple big-time events tonight with minimal difficulty.

9:45 p.m. After a brief phone-charging/leg-resting session at the convention center, I stroll to the Green Label Sound House to see Earl Sweatshirt, but the line is long and I can hear he’s already started. Despite a relatively paltry line outside, I carry my $5 pulled beef tongue sliders and $2 cookie sandwich past Viceland with Ghostface, Action Bronson, Danny Brown, et al. The lineup is tremendous, but I’m feeling greedy, remember? I stroll to the riverside in hopes of catching some of The Flaming Lips at Auditorium Shores, but that show is already over. There’s a serious blister forming on the ball of my left foot as I approach the Mass Appeal showcase at Austin Music Hall (Kendrick Lamar, Bun B, Pusha, etc.), but one of the longest lines I’ve ever seen at SXSW sends me doubling back across downtown to pursue some less big-ticket options. My hamstring threatens to give out like an old car part. Everything about my body hates me, but I am determined to see more bands tonight.

10:29 p.m. A dude on the street brags, “I got my boobs signed by Flosstradamus.”

11:13 p.m. I end up outside Club DeVille watching the exhilarating British post-punk band Savages through a chain link fence while Thurston Moore conversates in the street a few yards away. Context: If downtown Austin was a word search, I just drew a big-azz diagonal loop across the whole puzzle. My tendons are conspiring to ruin major life events in the future to enact vengeance for tonight. No currency has been exchanged, but this is not what they call “doing South By smart.”

Nu Sensae

11:45 p.m. Starting to understand how my phone feels when teetering on the edge of shutdown all day. Perversely, I limp to the outer limits of downtown for an Impose party with Olympia’s Naomi Punk and Vancouver’s Nu Sensae. An old college buddy greets me at the door and shepherds me out back to tug from a bottle of Bulleit. There’s water and a power strip at the bar, so the device and I restfully replenish while uncouth aggression plays out on stage. Naomi Punk proves adept at writing jaggedly unusual riffs and repeating them manically until the tension breaks. Nu Sensae is crazier still — pig squeals at Millennium Falcon speed.

1:40 a.m. I stumble back to the bus and thank God there’s something soft to sleep on back at the apartment.

Hours, bus to bus: 12.5
Events attended: 4
Sets witnessed: 11
Drinks consumed: 8
Food encounters: 2
Money spent: $11

Saturday

1:10 p.m. As omens go, my bus pulling over and kicking everyone off foretells Saturday exceptionally. Apparently somebody clipped the driver’s mirror, and protocol says he has to wait for a supervisor to show up. This means (a) I’m not gonna see Wild Belle like I hoped and (b) the walk to Waterloo Records for FIDLAR just got a whole lot longer.

1:56 p.m. Despite the bus mishap, I’m four minutes early, which is fortunate because so is FIDLAR. It’s much easier to get up front at Waterloo when Macklemore isn’t playing. The Black Lips’ kinder illegitimate sons pound through their party-punk with all the energy I expected (on a final-day-of-SXSW curve, anyhow) but not nearly the snot. They even ask us to give it up for overworked SXSW sound guys. Fuck It Dog, Love And Respect?

Hot Dogs

2:49 p.m. At the A.V. Club party while the Thermals and Fear of Men are playing, I shovel free hot dogs down my throat and wash them down with free Brooklyn Lagers. This is technically cheating my “everyman at SXSW” premise — the free food and beer is only available in the VIP section, to which I’ve secured access — but frankly*, SXSW is about nothing if not working your connections.

*I’ll leave it up to you to decide if this was a hot dog pun.

4:04 p.m. The blister on my foot and Mac DeMarco’s Margaritaville music: both a constant at SXSW 2013.

Earl Sweatshirt

6:11 p.m. The music leading up to Earl Sweatshirt’s Fader Fort debut is low-key to the point of comatose — British soul-jazz singer Laura Mvula and L.A. R&B minimalists inc. — and unfortunately, so is Earl’s performance. Domo Genesis and Vince Staples are there, but Sweatshirt doesn’t bring out any big-splash surprise guests (wherefore art thou, Frank?) and his dynamic is more indolent than iconic. He still manages to flex his considerable verbal powers, but if it wasn’t for Flying Lotus/Captain Murphy’s enthusiasm propelling the set, this would be insufferably drab.

7:31 p.m. French Montana is supposed to be next, but like fellow Texas rap institution Trae, you can always count on Bun B to show up at SXSW events, and just like Trae yesterday, Bun emerges for a surprise Fader Fort set. Can’t complain about “International Players Anthem” and free beer to jump your evening off.

8:19 p.m. French takes the stage — with a band, no less — and promises “a real special night” with “a few surprise guests.” Turns out that means eternal corndogs Macklemore and Wanz, who burn through “Thrift Shop” for the umpteenth time at this festival. Later, out walks Sean Combs, who explains, “We want to keep this thing independent, want to keep this thing entrepreneurial,” in front of gigantic Converse logos before performing “It’s All About the Benjamins.” French does nothing to dispel my confusion about his fledgling superstardom, not that I expected him to; I am still here mainly to cross my fingers for a Drake cameo that never comes.

9:35 p.m. I grab $8 fish and chips with Tom Breihan at one of several food cart food courts nearby. Wanz, still decked out in his resplendent red finery, eats alone at one of the picnic tables.

TDE Party From Outside

10:26 p.m. SXSW in general is a clusterfuck, but SXSW’s closing Saturday is the most clustered of fucks. Those who’ve been at it all week drag themselves across town in an attempt to fill in the gaps on their must-see lists. Meanwhile, what appears to be Austin’s entire population surges into downtown looking to party South By style. We all vie for entry into the highest-profile events — this year, that’s Prince, Justin Timberlake, and Viceland’s star-studded closing party with Kendrick Lamar, Baauer and a rumored 50 Cent appearance — and the disappointed majority ends up wandering the streets like lost puppies at Mardi Gras. The feeling creeps in as I stare longingly at the line outside Timberlake’s “secret show,” and it follows me to the free TDE showcase, where I can’t even get in at this early hour to see openers Fly Union, Columbus compatriots of mine. It looks pretty fun from over the fence.

10:42 p.m. The despair comes to a head at Viceland. I’m surprised how easily I get inside the gate and acquire a drink from the outdoor bar considering Trinidad James is performing inside, and he packed out Fader Fort like no one else this week. Then “All Gold Everything” drops, followed by the other shoe. You know that inspirational story about the professor who fills the mayonnaise jar with golf balls (and it’s full), then pebbles (and it’s full), then sand (and it’s full), then tops it off with a couple beers (and it’s full)? It comes to mind as a torrent of humanity pours out of the indoor performance space, after which the room is still so stuffed with people that security won’t let anybody else in. I wait for nearly an hour, sipping beer and listening blindly as Action Bronson shows of his wild imagination and regal breath control, but my chances of getting into that room don’t look any more promising — and considering how claustrophobically hot it looks in there, I’m not sure I want to, Kendrick or no Kendrick.

11:35 p.m. Trying to search for more free parties on my phone at the epicenter of SXSW is a fool’s errand, even if the battery wasn’t below 10 percent (it is). All that’s left for me is to cheat the system and get into the one official showcase where I have an inside guy — Pallbearer would be a perfectly morbid/cathartic way to close out Saturday’s run of bad luck — but even that doesn’t pan out thanks to an unanswered text message. I should have made a long list of Saturday night options, but I was so foolishly convinced I would find a way to sneak into Timberlake’s show, and that I would have Viceland as a backup, that I have no idea what is going on right now …

12:05 a.m. … so I get on the bus, and my SXSW ends.

Hours, bus to bus: 11
Events attended: 4
Sets witnessed: 9
Drinks consumed: 7
Food encounters: 2
Money spent: $17

Grand totals

Hours: 49.5
Events attended: 25
Sets witnessed: 54
Drinks consumed: 23
Food encounters: 11 (plus generous access to my host’s English muffins and clementines)
Money spent: $62

Is SXSW worth attending without a badge? Absolutely. I had a blast fraternizing with friends old and new, rhapsodizing over bands familiar and fresh and drinking for free all week. (I literally didn’t pay for a single beverage.) I saw almost every act I wanted to, and most of the ones I missed would have been long shots even with a badge. My biggest expenditure by far was food; it’s tricky because free meals and snacks abound, but typically not at the shows with the best music. Our Stereogum Range Life party was a prominent exception, assuming you enjoy fast food as much as I do.

That said, if somebody offers you a free badge or a steep discount, take it. You’ll feel like a king and/or queen cutting everybody in line, and you can rest easy knowing you’ll be able to witness something worthwhile after dark. Freeloaders could probably be happy just going to Fader Fort by day and Viceland by night, except the logistics of staying to the end of Fader Fort (when all the crazy stuff happens) then getting into Viceland early (before the fire marshal cuts off attendance) is difficult, and SXSW is supposed to be about limitless options anyway. So a badge is still valuable — just not $625 valuable. Like a $50 T-shirt, there are thriftier ways to accomplish the same purpose.

Tags: SXSW