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The Guide To Making SXSW Fun (For Everybody)

Anything can happen in Austin. Be prepared.
Adam Kissick for NPR
Anything can happen in Austin. Be prepared.

The last thing anyone would say about South By Southwest is that it's an avenue for self-improvement. The annual mega gathering, which began last week for film and interactive-technology mavens and turns into a music conference and festival tomorrow, fulfills many needs for the culture nerd. Communal bonding? Yes – somewhere around 100,000 people will wander the Austin streets looking to high-five each other during this time. Fun? For sure. This is the entertainment industry's spring break, with much better music that what you'd hear at the Flora-Bama border, and mercifully fewer bros in board shorts. Excess? That's a given, whether your pleasure comes in a plastic cup, folded into a tortilla or pouring out of a nightclub's speakers. But soul edification? Inner peace? It's about as likely to hit you at SXSW as it is during a game of Temple Run.

Yet after twenty-plus years of on-and-off attendance, I've discovered that there is a key to discovering the Hidden Wisdom of South By Southwest. This kind of self-help goes beyond what any herbal remedy, extra phone battery or pair of sensible shoes offers. Those practical survival tools are givens. So is some modicum of misery, born of overabundance. That's the paradox of choice. But the too-muchness of SXSW can become a route to knowing yourself better, as a music lover, a listener, and a cultural explorer.

Here are some things you can do to make your South By Southwest experience not just a gauntlet to survive, but also a source of renewal. Making these choices can benefit anyone who comes to Austin, badge on lanyard – newcomers and veterans alike – and even those following along remotely, from the comfort of a Wi-Fi enabled home. It turns out that what makes South By Southwest more than bearable is exactly what makes loving music so important. To quote my favorite actual self-help book, it's all about embracing the full catastrophe.


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