South by Southwest is more than just a festival. It's a choose your own adventure with live music as the central theme. The plot takes you from show to show, gathering free beer and swag along the way. A week filled with concerts and parties awaits.
The biggies this year are Uchiko, Franklin BBQ and Barley Swine -- and with good reason, they are all spectacular restaurants. Good luck getting a table at any of those places without giving the maître d' a very nice tip.
For a good variety of trailer food head to the East Side Drive-In at sixth and San Marcos. There you'll find everything from vegan 'freeto' burritos at The Vegan Yacht to a bacon milkshake at Pig Vicious to Japanese street food at Love Balls. They also have live music throughout the week.
Other exceptional trailers include: G'Raj Mahal Café at Red River and Davis (try the Rechard Masala, a Goan seafood dish featuring a spicy red chili sauce), East Side King (three locations -- try the ribs at The Grackle and, Beef Tongue at The Liberty and Avocado Buns at Shangri La) and newcomer Thunder Heart Bison Ranch to Trailer at fifth and Colorado (try coffee braised short ribs or bison tacos).
It's not a trip to Texas without Mexican food. The breakfast taco is king in Austin and while Torchy's makes some of the fanciest in town, pretty much any taco truck makes a passable bacon, egg and cheese if you need food on the go.
Ume is a household name in Austin, so learn it well (ooo-MAY). Heavy on the guitar riffs, lead singer Lauren Larson backs it up with intensity that teeters on punk rock, but not quite. If you don't believe in girl power you will after you see their show.
Fun fact: the shoegaze genre was coined by the British music press because the bands playing alt rock did little on stage but stare at their shoes the whole time. Thanks, Wikipedia! Austin locals Ringo Deathstarr do much more than stare at their shoes on stage, even though the music is classified as shoegaze.
It's hard to describe Zorch. There's a touch of Passion Pit in the vocals, some inventive song structure a la Tune-Yards and a whole bunch of instruments akin to Dan Deacon. The songs are long and flat-out fun to listen to.
Emo's moved east and will not be participating in any official SXSW activities. The former Emo's location at sixth and Red River will reopen but under a different name -- "The Main" and "The Jr." This will likely be the venue's last SXSW so stop by and say goodbye if you're feeling sentimental.
Beauty Bar at seventh and Red River is also closing its doors in favor of a new eastside location. The going away party is Sunday and features Hollywood Holt, Japanther and Bad Rabbits.
Mohawk at Red River and tenth recently underwent serious renovations. Featuring a new outdoor bar and two layers of skyboxes that look down on the stage, Mohawk somehow managed to add capacity while making the venue more intimate. Best place in town to see a show.
Don't judge a venue by its décor. Some of the best shows take place at bro bars that transform during SXSW. Many downtown venues are abandoned lots 51 weeks out of the year. Beware the pricey beer markups. $5 for a Lone Star? You gotta be kidding.
Poliça is the natural evolution of M83 and Gayngs. Vocals on the album are reverb heavy but lead singer Channy Casselle goes au naturel for the live shows and belts out some uninhibited jams. Poliça makes moody music that will stick to your bones. This band is going to be huge.
Hardly a buzz band, ANR has been around for 10 years and released six albums. Keyboardist John Robertson referred to their buzz as a mosquito trapped in a car. But after adding a third member to the band this Miami-based, electro-rock band is ready to make the leap.
As a very good friend of mine said: "I love chicken wings, I could eat chickens wings for every meal but eventually I'd get tired of it." Same goes for bands heavy on keyboard synths and electronic beats. SXSW has been heavy on these bands in recent past, is this year the industry starts going in a different direction? Grimes -- another one of those 'cute girl with a keyboard' bands -- will be a good litmus test.
FIDLAR is right in your face from the very first strum of its guitar strings. The garage/punk band is releasing a new EP the Tuesday of SXSW, which is good timing if the new material turns out to be any good.
Even though Nneka's catchy single, "My Home" technically came out last year it doesn't dilute the quality of her third album, Soul is Heavy. Her voice is reminiscent of Erykah Badu and is supported by thick, lush sounds and unique percussion.
Santigold is a poor man's M.I.A. and has taken twice as long to produce a follow-up album. Certainly her set will be entertaining but it's unfair to expect Santigold to be a headliner.
In 2010 special guest TBAs were legit -- Snoop Dogg showed up at the Perez Hilton party. Common performed at the Fader Fort in 2009. In 2011 special guest TBAs were annoying with everyone taking to Twitter to spread unfounded rumors and the actual surprise shows being impossible to get into. What will 2012 bring?
Coming of Age
Ganglians and Fanfarlo both impressed with their debut albums and ensuing SXSW performances several years ago. Now the bands have new albums to support and the sophomore slump is a very real thing, just ask MGMT. It will be interesting to see how these guys handle the pressure.
Geographer was underwhelming with its new album, Myth, which came out at the end of February. It's not bad, the sound sequences are there and the vocals still accent the violins and keyboard perfectly, but that pleasant exuberance is gone. This is a more introspective album, which would obviously affect the live show.
Having performed at Austin City Limits Festival, Fun Fun Fun Fest and now SXSW, Yellow Ostrich has crossed a lot of Austin events off its to do list. Riding their new album, Strange Land, it's time for this band to prove itself as more than a one-album wonder.
Austin's ambassador of weird, the homeless drag queen known as Leslie, passed away on March 8. The city won't be the same without her, but the imprint Leslie left on the city's identity will last forever. Thankfully the guy who rides his bike in nothing but a thong is still around.
Stop by Hickory Street Bar and Grill at eighth and Congress for Beatles Complete between 12 and 6 p.m., where ukulele master Roger Greenawalt plays all 185 Beatles songs in one day with the help of dozens of renowned guest musicians and singers.
The only thing better than SXSW is SXSW on a boat. There are several booze cruises on Lady Bird Lake, including the Rock'n Riverboat on Tuesday March 13 with music by little hurricane and White Mystery. There's also the BAMM.tv Riverboat Music Showcase on Wednesday with Hollis Brown and Lee Koch.
Millions of dollars in free merchandise will be given away in Austin this week. Whether it's tacos, iPads, ice cream, gift cards, etc. you better believe there is some contest giving it away. Check Twitter, stay on Facebook, keep an ear to the street and believe in good karma if you want to win.
The Flatstock Poster Exhibition and Collectors Show is a free exhibition at the Austin Convention Center that features concert posters spanning decades of musical movements by more than 100 artists. Bring your wallet and decorate your home.
Free beer isn't entirely free, be sure and tip your bartenders. But the respect has gotta go both ways, bartenders shouldn't make patrons feel guilty and don't get to pander for tips. Before you act like a jerk put yourself in the other person's shoes.
Beluga's fate was sealed once Facebook purchased the adorable little messaging app and sure enough it was killed off in November 2011. The best remaining option is GroupMe, which does basically the same thing but isn't as cute.
If you don't mind being stalked for a few days download Find Friends. It lets you track friends via GPS so you know exactly where they are -- no checking in or texting required. You can turn your location on and off so when if you go to an embarrassing concert all your friends won't find out.
Rather than wait in line at the bar at the end of the night just use Tabbed Out. Available at many locations around Austin, the app lets you view your tab in real time, tip your server and close out all without having to give the bartender your credit card so after last call you can close your tab on the cab ride home.
Been there, done that
The Shady 2.0 SXSW Showcase takes place Friday (March 16) at the Austin Music Hall and will feature 50 Cent performing his debut record Get Rich or Die Tryin in its entirety. The freshman in college version of myself is incredibly excited about this show.
John Mayer announced his showcase at Stubb's is cancelled. For shame.
If you haven't seen Miike Snow then by all means, seek out the band and dance crazy for an hour. Same goes for Local Natives, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Little Lo, Wavves, Black Lips, etc. These are all wonderful bands, but they've performed in Austin countless times and will continue to perform in Austin for years to come. Go check out something you haven't seen yet, discover the next great thing.
BOYCOTT AT ALL COSTS! Seriously, don't tell me Little Boots is playing a show if all I'm getting is the lead singer plugging her iPhone into the PA system. Not cool. Refuse to support any artist hosting a DJ Set. Let's make musicians afraid to host a DJ set. The fans need to get the power back. NO MORE DJ SETS!
Bands that should have been invited to SXSW but weren't
As far as local guitar players go, there are few better than Tristan Shinnick who plays lead guitar for Your Friendly Ghost. The band's free form psychedelic lets him run wild on the solos.
Wanderdusk is a tadpole of a band that has yet to figure out who it is. The band's songs are raw and loud. It's too bad Austin won't get to see them live because they sound rowdy as hell.
Even though Ali Holder & the Broken Hearted didn't get accepted for any official SXSW showcases, the Austin locals will be playing multiple times throughout the week. Holder provides smoky vocals and her bandmates back her up with violin and bass.
Drink whatever is free, of course, but if you have to pay for booze follow these guidelines:
Lone Star< is the unofficial beer of Austin hipsters. It is easy to drink 10 of these without realizing it so be wary. Bonus points if you can solve the puzzle under the cap.
Austin's local microbrewery scene has taken off in the past 12 months. In addition to mainstays (512) and Live Oak, check out the newcomers Austin Beer Works, Jester King, Thirsty Planet, Hops & Grain... Circle Brewing... Black Star Co-op... seriously this list could keep going.
Most people don't realize there is a brewpub right in the heart of downtown. Lovejoy's on sixth and Neches pours several self-made beers and is hosting plenty of good shows all week.