South by Southwest (SXSW) might just be one of the most eclectic (and insane) festivals in the world. It's become something of a brilliant disaster, with throngs of people and a band list that will soon need its own billboard just to fit everything.
If you are lucky enough to get to see this spectacle, you may be a little daunted at how easy it is to get distracted, lost or both. The sensory overload provided by the throngs of people is enough to put anyone in a daze.
There are some (previously) unwritten rules you can follow in order to have the best possible time at SXSW. Rules like:
01. Don't be afraid of new music.
This may sound like some sort of new-age fortune cookie, but it's true. You cannot dismiss an act just because "you're not into jazz-country fusion" or, heaven forbid, you've never heard of them. Going into SXSW with an open mind and a curious attitude is paramount to how much you enjoy yourself. It's the perfect excuse to expand your musical palette or at least get some good stories.
02. Watch for free beer events.
Some time ago, companies figured out that people will be much more receptive to whatever new sales pitch they have if they provided compensation. More specifically, liquid compensation in the form of bubbling, cold goodness. Biting the bullet to get free beer (usually found at events where normally you wouldn't want to show your face) is a sacrifice you should gladly make.
03. Have a plan. A really, really flexible one.
It's good to map out where you want to be and what things you want to see, because trying to take in everything SXSW has to offer is like trying to drink an ocean. However, don't let your carefully scripted tour force you to miss out on some of the sheer randomness that will be on display. Having a plan that is easily disposable will make sure you have enough direction not to wander aimlessly while still being able to enjoy things you had no idea were going on. Just remember how to find your way back to the hotel.
John Grimley writes The Oil Slick blog for GuitarWorld.com.