If my 2011 South by Southwest experience had to be summed up in a few words, it would be "the spirit of rock and roll."
Armed with a gnarly excel sheet schedule of bands I wanted to see, with backups to my backups, planned interviews, plans to hang out with friends old and new, a fully charged phone and camera, and comfortable shoes...the only thing I didn't have at SXSW was a badge or wristband. That's the beauty of SXSW. There is so much to see for free, or for a nominal price. The most I spent was $10 on a showcase at night. The other brilliant thing about SXSW is that it involves all kinds of music, so my schizophrenic tastes can be satisfied as I run from doom metal and psych rock to surfer rock and hardcore shows.
The spirit of rock and roll that I speak of permeates every aspect of the festival. It's an atypical event for everyone involved. The bands have to play under extreme conditions, often not with their own equipment and in spaces not meant for live music, with some bands playing close to 10 shows across the six-day music portion of the festival. Fans have to work to find out who is playing when and where, and then figure out how to get in. It's both exhausting and exhilarating, but it's all very rock and roll. We're all there for the music.
Social media now plays a huge role in the SXSW experience. The music portion of the festival picks up as the interactive portion ends, but in reality the two intermingle. Twitter is a huge resource for staying informed about shows, whether pertaining to set time changes, discovering secret shows or just something you missed when you made your schedule. You can see a band and immediately become a fan on Facebook and download their music and tell all your friends about it. You can tell a band that you thought they were awesome on Twitter and they can respond and tell you about their next set.
Over the course of four days in Austin, Texas, I saw about 25 sets across 15 different venues. I watched one of my favorite bands, A Place To Bury Strangers (who played 12 shows at SXSW), multiple times, as well as the Vandelles and my new discovery that I fell in love with, Rival Sons. I saw bands that had been on my wish list play killer sets for the first time: Gay For Johnny Depp, Agalloch, YOB, the New Regime, Chapel Club, and Kvelertak. And I saw old favorites like She Wants Revenge, the Click Clack Boom, Eyehategod, and Pentagram.
SXSW is truly where the murmuring of buzz about bands begins for the year. It's awesome to be part of that. As Joan Jett would say, "I love rock and roll."